This Christmas our celebrations will be very different. Not everybody who wishes will be able to attend Mass in person on this “feast of feasts”, as Saint Francis loved to call it. Sadly, there will be empty places around many family tables for the Christmas dinner. And we are facing into yet another “lockdown” as 2020 draws to a close.

Certainly, it is not the Christmas anyone of us would have wanted or even imagined this time last year.

However, at its heart the loveliness of this season still remains available to us.

On the first Christmas Mary and Joseph experienced many difficulties and Palestine was riven by social upheavals of all sorts. Yet God’s coming to us in Jesus brought delight and hope to all who recognised the sublime Gift.

And today, while many of the externals are altered for us, this core reality of the feast remains constant and unchanging.

Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel: God with us, God for us, God close to us – even in a time of pandemic. “The Word became flesh and lived among us” – and still does. 

Only faith can save us from the sense of dread and sadness that can shroud our days during this strange time, and Christmas is a celebration of faith. 

Wherever the Christmas Child is born again in a welcoming heart, wherever Jesus begins to reign anew in a humble soul – that is where light and love dawn once again.

This grace comes from somewhere very deep within us, indeed flows from the very heart of God, as Howard Thurman tells us:

The tides flow out from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime:
They find their way to many shores
With gifts of remembrance, thoughts of love—
Though the world be weary and the days afraid
The heart renews its life and the mind takes hope
From the tides that flow from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime.

Dear friends, our prayer as friars for you is that the reviving tides of Christmas may reach the shores of your life and home during these days so that courage replaces fear and gladness any sadness of heart.