Christmas Blessings 2021 | Fr Greg Barker

As I write I am mindful of the sad loss of our Bishop, Bishop William Wright, who succumbed to illness recently. It has been tragic not only to his family but to our Church.

Bishop Bill was this Diocese’ shepherd for ten years and guided our Catholic community through difficulties most of us may not have been fully aware of. He did that with a strength of character and dignity that was something of a light for not only this Catholic Church but for many others in the broader community. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.

His message this year might well have been born out of the challenge of his illness and the quiet acceptance of God’s plan as it unfolded, even if the end or purpose was hidden from his eyes. ‘It is hard to die even for a good man’ (Romans 5:7) we are reminded in the words of St Paul. Bill died with great grace and dignity and a strength that faith gives.

It feels like we have been anticipating Christmas this year for a very long time. I want to say that it seems the Christmas decorations started appearing soon after Easter, a slight exaggeration perhaps. Maybe it was a sense that this year is, was or did ‘suck’. And whilst I was very optimistic last year that 2020 was going to give us ‘clear’ vision and a bright future with many opportunities, COVID came and changed our world forever. 

I was not so optimistic this year. The early anticipation of Christmas maybe was a reflection that I was not alone. Even with a year full of challenges Christmas trees going up in October and the tinsel and glitter already about, may have been a little premature even for a community feeling the effects of a ‘gloomish’ year.

I was recently reminded that COVID came on the back of flood, fire and drought – 2019 was not such a great year. This year our communities were once again called to dig deep and accept some ‘big’ challenges. Resilience sometimes is hard to find especially in the face of multiple hurdles. We did it and here we are celebrating Christmas once again.

I cannot forget the images that came out of Afghanistan this year as the Taliban once again took Kabul. Tragic is a word the springs immediately to mind. I feel for the people left behind but am grateful for the wider world community who responded with such generosity. The response from many nations rescuing thousands, taking them to waiting open arms who welcomed, comforted and made a place for those seeking safety.

In recent days the interviews with young female Afghani soccer players, teachers, medical staff and others who would have been denied the freedom to be all of those things has been heart-warming. I hear in them a sadness too that these necessary skills will be denied the Nation of Afghanistan, their homeland.

These good news stories fill us with hope amidst the sadness as the more vulnerable women, girls and children find sanctuary right across the globe. There is something about the human condition mostly that simply wants to help and save. We are intrinsically good, created that way by a God who loves us and who sent his own Son to save us. That’s the heart of Christmas isn’t it.

Jesus was a refugee. Soon after his birth he and his family were forced to flee oppression and violence and make a home in a neighbouring country. We have great example of what ‘making a home’ looks like for those that seek sanctuary.

The infant who is born to us reminds a world with its broken parts that intrinsically there is good in all of us and that somehow, some where we are worth saving. Eventually that Son, the good ‘man’ of Paul’s letter to the Romans, will give his life for us. That’s the hope of Christmas.

For now, we gather in our Churches and our homes to celebrate the birth with great joy. The tree, the tinsel and the glitter, the presents, the effort of Christmas all builds in anticipation of that moment that salvation enters our world.

This year has been a year of lockdown and isolating, yet I feel more connected to those people and events than ever before. I am amazed at the numbers of people who have gone out of their way to make more regular contact with a neighbour, parish member, work colleague, friend and member of their own family than ever before. I have been reminded of what really is important in my life. That’s the joy of Christmas.

How did being in lockdown make us more connected? Have more conversations? Be more aware of those who live alone or are more vulnerable to loneliness and aloneness? It is a modern-day miracle! I never thought I would be so grateful to technology, which had been the bane of my life till two years ago. Whilst I cannot say I am grateful to COVID it has reminded me to of what my priorities should be.

This year has seen many challenges no doubt but also some amazing graces and blessings. As you sit around your tree this year with your family and friends remember to give thanks for the blessings they bring to your heart and home. At the heart of everything is Jesus, the Saviour born to us and who in his unconditional love reminds us to be what we have been created to be, intrinsically good!

Have a wonderful, safe, and joy filled Christmas. May 2022 be COVID free!

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