Monday, December 25, 2006

2 Christmas Homilies

Pope Benedict XVI
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: “God made his Word short, he abbreviated it” (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of l ove, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, "The Poorest Deserve the Best"
Three days ago in Bethlehem, I was holding a new born baby in my arms. He had been abandoned by his mother, found by the side of the road and taken into the St Vincent Creche, attached to Holy Family Hospital – along with dozens of other children who had been similarly abandoned, usually because they’d been born to single mothers in what’s often still a fiercely patriarchal and puritanical society. But other stories from the crèche and the wards remind you of some of the even bigger challenges of the region.

The hospital has the best resourced maternity unit in the whole of the West Bank, equal to the best in Israel; we were privileged to be taken in to the intensive care unit to see babies born at twenty five weeks who had survived thanks to the care offered by the astonishing staff of this institution. But because of the current storms of political conflict within Palestine and the local and international sanctions against the Palestinian government, no-one is sure where the next month’s salary is coming from. For the state-of-the-art equipment, they depend on foreign donations. Keeping a child alive in the neonatal units costs at the very least hundreds of dollars a day; and there is no governmental budget to help. All of us in our group of pilgrims felt that we were witnessing a continuing miracle of dedication, achieving standards any British hospital would be proud of with next to no reliable fallback in financial and organisational terms.

And what stuck in my mind and I’m sure the minds of my colleagues was a remark made by Dr Robert Tabash, the medical director as we stood over an incubator in the intensive ward. All of this was important, he said, simply because ‘the poorest deserve the best’ (I promised I would quote him today by name; it’s the least I can do to give him the honour he merits). ‘The poorest deserve the best’: when you hear that, I wonder if you can take in just how revolutionary it is. They do not deserve what’s left over when the more prosperous have had their fill, or what can be patched together on a minimal budget as some sort of damage limitation. And they don’t ‘deserve’ the best because they’ve worked for it and everyone agrees they’ve earned it. They deserve it simply because their need is what it is and because where human dignity is least obvious it’s most important to make a fuss about it. And – to put it as plainly as possible – this is probably the most radically unique and new thing in Christmas itself brings into the world.

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