The Bishop of Derry has told local people that new life is always beautiful, precious and full of unimaginable potential.
Speaking at Christmas Masses Dr Donal Mckeown said “parenthood is never easy” and talked about how the Christmas story is centred on a child.
“However sweet the figures in the crib may look, this is about an awkward child,” he said. “The birth was inconvenient, far from home and in less than ideal domestic circumstances. The bible stories talk of someone rejected by everyone from the king to the innkeeper – and acknowledged by smelly shepherds and strange outsiders from the East.
“As parents know, children come in all shapes, form and conditions. Some are yearned for and some come as a surprise or even a huge challenge. The Christmas story tells me that the inconvenient child, the child with baggage, the child who will struggle at all stages of their life have their own dignity and destiny.”
“A new birth can bring much joy, but every parent also knows that a sword of sorrow may well pierce their hearts at different times,” he said.
“The wisdom of every child asks us to engage with reality and not try to wish it away. The precious baby in the Bethlehem manger tells us something about the God who can come into our lives in tiny life and awkward births.
“As Mary’s boy child shows throughout his life, the foolishness of God can be wiser than human wisdom. Our modern culture assumes that the comfort, reputation and convenience of the adult may be much more important than the life of the awkward child. The feast of Christmas challenges that line of argument at its core.”
Bishop McKeown said over the last number of days he had heard various people talking about the ‘true message of Christmas’.
“I knew what they meant, that Christmas is more than just a party and gift time,” he said. “But, maybe the real strength of Christmas and the enduring popularity of the crib, the carols and the celebrations, is that there is no one single ‘true’ meaning.
“In every congregation, there is a huge range of experiences and the Bethlehem baby has a different ‘real meaning’ for a child with their family and an older person with nobody. It can be celebrated as the birth of the King of Peace or as an example of poverty and exile. The celebrations can be laced with memories of good days or scarred by recollection of harshness and disappointment. Christmas can be a multi-coloured dream coat for some – but not for all.
The Christmas story is not just a nice tale about distant events, a story that the child in each of us still loves. It is a carefully crafted adult story. I suggest that it deals with more real themes than do flying reindeers or jingling bells!
“For me, Christmas is not a just story about something far way in time and culture. It is a celebration of themes that every age has had to struggle with – the joys and challenges of parenthood, refugees and the quest for peace on earth.
“The awkward questions asked by this most inconvenient child may actually open the door to priceless uncomfortable truths.”