Christmas Eve 2008 - Fr Terry Tastard

 Underneath the crisis of our times there lurks a spiritual crisis.

The world has got faster. No it does not spin any faster on its axis. But you know what I mean. The human world spins faster than ever. Faster downloads. Faster spread of information. Faster travel. Instant assessments. We expect everything to be quick, immediate.

It causes great strain on us as individuals. It causes, I would even say, great strain on our institutions. I think that one of the causes of the economic crisis of our times has been this great rush. Discernment takes time. Wisdom takes time. Too often our financial culture has taken information and treated it as wisdom. There has been too little assessment, too little scrutiny, too little judicious examination of the facts, because these things take time. Our families too feel this pressure of time. More and more is demanded at work, with consequences for time spent with family.

Compare and contrast that event at Bethlehem that we remember this Christmas. Here we have God entering into human nature. It tells us that God will take time. In fact, if you think of it, God took a great deal of time to prepare for this moment. The gospel according to John probably first circulated among Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria. When they heard the gospel read to them they would have recognised the opening words: In the beginning., In the beginning. You see, those are not only the first words of the gospel according to John they are also the very first words of the Bible. The book of Genesis starts with those same words: In the beginning. So in the gospel according to John the story of the incarnation opens not with Bethlehem but with the creation of the world, of the universe, in fact. Christ was there too, for he was with God and he was God, in the loving embrace of the Trinity. Now, the same Christ comes into the world for a new beginning.

God gave the world time. God, who created the world, allowed it to proceed and unfold at its own pace. Then, when humankind appeared, God called a people to be teachers of others, and promised a Messiah, who would be the very presence of God in their midst. The prophecies, the expectations of the Messiah, led to this birth. It took hundreds of years to prepare for this moment. Even now after the angels have packed their bags and gone away, it will take thirty years more for this moment to come to fruition. Because, you see, God still gives us time. The infant must grow and mature and yes, even learn. In Christ, God shows himself to us in human life so that every stage of human life could be the place where we could learn to recognise God.

If you were asked what the greatest gift you could give would be, what would the answer be, I wonder? Love? Understanding? Kindness? Affirmation? All these things are good and right, but you know, they all depend on giving your time. Unless you are prepared to be present to people, and I mean really present, not just absent-mindedly sitting next to them, that you cannot really love them or understand them. In Christ, God among us God the Father has given us time. Christ is the visible presence of God,s love among us, of God,s time. As we hear in the letter to the Hebrew, He is the radiant light of God,s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, (1.3). You could even say that Christ is eternity reaching into time. Eternal love, made known in this world of change and chance.

We read in the gospel according to John: To all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God (John 1.12)

You became a child of God by baptism. In that sense, it is God's gift to you. But every gift needs to be accepted, unpacked, appreciated by the recipient. In this sense, becoming a child of God takes time. There is no substitute for time. Time given to prayer, time given to Mass and the other sacraments, time as we wait on God. There can be no spiritual life without time. Sometimes it feels like wasted time. Yet we will discover, to our surprise, that during this apparently wasted time given to God, God has been shaping us. The very act of giving time has consequences consequences that speak to the spiritual crisis of our times. You learn to respond rather than to react. You seek wisdom as well as knowledge. You open up your deepest feelings to God, your longings and your searchings, without fear so that God,s love can enter deep into your soul and shape you in the way that he alone can shape you.

And by looking today on Christ, the human face of God, you and I learn that God can, after all, be found in life, despite its confusions and uncertainties. In our anxieties we turn to that face, and find peace. For in the time we give to this meditation, we find again and again the truth spoken of by John: It is the only Son, nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known, (1.18).

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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