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11-KANE

Light a Christmas candle for Christ

With public spaces rejecting Nativity cribs, displays of the real meaning of Christmas are needed in our homes, writes Fr Michael Kane.

Every year new stories emerge of town halls or public squares or shopping centres protectively neutralising themselves from the true message of Christmas. The latest to adopt this secular position was a shopping centre in Stirling which refused to put up a crib, declaring themselves to be ‘religiously neutral.’

Strangely, such a move carries a badge of honour in a progressive, multicultural, and tolerant society such as the UK.

Religious neutrality is considered a very noble ambition indeed. However, the response of the Thistle Shopping Centre has been met with a sense of dismay by Christians and non-Christians alike, and earned them the unflattering title: ‘grinch’ of Christmas. Perhaps Christian shoppers should adopt the same neutrality when deciding where to spend their money this Christmas.

In the end, these episodes signal the direction of travel in an increasingly belligerent society with its strident agenda to rid public spaces of religious symbolism.

 

God’s love

The Crib, of course, is not a symbol of division, nor intended to cause offence or discomfort. It’s a timely reminder of God’s gentle love for us. The crib also highlights the modern day scandal of children who are born into poverty, and the strength of families to endure adversity.

The Crib is a symbol of enduring humanity, as much as it was the first home of God Incarnate. It’s a symbol we should universally welcome in our public spaces since its message is universal and speaks to every human heart. It’s not a symbol to be appreciated by Christians alone.

Thankfully there are no such threats (yet) to public nativity displays in our parishes. Last week our own parish handymen Paul and David spent a day reassembling the life-size outdoor nativity scene just outside the parish house.

 

‘hasn’t been born yet’

Once the figures were placed inside and the lights switched on they moved their attention to the giant Christmas trees for our church sanctuary.

At 3pm that same day a young boy arrived at my front door, frantically telling me: “Father, Father, somebody’s stolen the Baby Jesus from the crib.”

I had to remind him that ‘He hasn’t been born yet.’ In fact the Baby Jesus was safely tucked away in the sacristy awaiting the Christmas Eve Masses. Nevertheless, such exchanges with Coatbridge piety are encouraging indeed!

In the weeks ahead many more families and children will look to our crib scene as a visual reminder of that first Christmas in Bethlehem. They will place their prayer intentions safely under the hay or at the feet of Our Lady, in the sincere hope that the Baby Jesus will grant their prayers.

In previous years some children have even left another Letter to Santa in the crib, ‘just to be on the safe side!’ Coatbridge children are certainly learning a ‘belt and braces’ approach to Christmas requests!

 

Preparation

Aside from the (almost complete) nativity scene there are lots of other preparations to be made around the parish at this time of year. For example, the Church has to be prepared for our carol concert, and decorated suitably with flowers for the approaching Christmas Masses.

I also answer dozens of calls asking the rather unusual question: “Father, what time is your Midnight Mass at? People are genuinely shocked when I respond ‘Midnight, of course.’

This is to say nothing of the frantic Christmas card writing and Christmas dinners; and the assembly of the ornate indoor crib (below) on the Church sanctuary. These old, weathered figures are beloved by the people of our parish, not least because one of the kneeling Wise Men looks unmistakably like a former saintly parish priest, Canon John Moss. I have noticed that his wry smile seems to follow me around the altar.

 

New traditions

This year I have added a new tradition to our preparations at St Augustine’s. I am asking that all homes in the parish display a red Christmas candle in the window on Christmas Eve between 7-9pm (wax or battery operated to appease the health and safety enthusiasts).

We have purchased hundred of candles for this purpose, all ready to be snapped-up this weekend after the Masses. It is my hope that these candles will be shared out among all the homes in our parish. They’re meant for practicing Catholic families, the lapsed, Christians of other Churches, and everyone in between.

Such a tradition is still kept in parts of rural Ireland. There the candles shine as a symbol of welcome to the stranger on the road. But our candles will signify something else. They will burn as a sign that our homes are filled with the light of joyful expectation, as we await the birth of the Christ-child, the light of the world.

The candle is also a public display of faith, at a time when the essential meaning of Christmas is fading in our culture. Its light tells others that we cherish the meaning of the advent and Christmas seasons and the re-celebration of the Bethlehem Christmas.

Though there was no room for Him at the Inn—and perhaps no room for Him in our town squares or shopping centres—our simple red candles signify that He will receive a warm and loving welcome into our homes and families. Perhaps we could all think about bringing this noble tradition across the Irish Sea to Scotland this Christmas.

 

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