Our Christmas Message

The traditional place of the birth of Jesus

I have two different experiences of visits to the town of Bethlehem in Palestine. In the first I went with friends, one January. We hired a car at the airport and stayed in a hotel just across from Manger Square. Bishop Richard Moth, who was to have been the fourth member of our party, had to pull out at the last minute. He had arranged the itinerary and accommodation. He had also booked the places where we would celebrate Mass. Early in the morning we three went to an almost deserted Church of the Nativity and I was able to celebrate Mass beside the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. For me, it was great privilege and something that will remain with me always. My second experience was last November when I was able to travel again to the Holy Land, this time with a great group of people from our parish.

The Church of the Nativity was a must on our pilgrimage. The queue to enter the grotto, the traditional site where Jesus was born began outside the Church itself, and it took us about two hours before we got to the steep steps that lead down to the Cave of the Nativity where the fourteen pointed star on the floor marks the spot where the child was born. This was not for the faint hearted. There was much pushing and shoving in order to get our few second of kneeling and kissing the spot and have quick photo before being ushered up out the cave on the other side.

Thanks to St Francis, who began the tradition, the crib it is an established feature of every church and many homes. We need not go to Bethlehem to the Cave of the Nativity to enter the mystery of so great a birth. This Christmas let us stop here and rest awhile. Let us take a few minutes to gaze and contemplate the scene. What is Jesus saying to me this Christmas?

Fr Anthony celebrating Mass in the Cave of the Nativity

People queuing or scaling to enter the Cave of the Nativity

Blessed Charles de Foucauld spent time in the Holy Land in order to come to know Jesus. Here is how he imagined Christ speaking to him;

I was born, born for you, born in a cave, in December, in the cold, on a wintry night, in poverty and in solitude, unknown even to the poorest. Why was I born in this way? So that you may believe in my love, since my love for you knows no limit. As I have loved you so much, put all your hope in me. I teach you to love me. Loving you with such tender love it was not enough for me to give myself to the world in the Incarnation. Ever since my birth I have shown myself to you and have put myself entirely into your hands. Ever since then you have been able to see me, hold me, hear me, serve me, console me. Love me, love me, for I am close to you. I give myself to you completely. In my great goodness I did not give myself to you just at my birth for a few days or years, but I gave myself into your hands for ever, till the end of time..

‘I became this little child, so gentle and vulnerable, for you. Do not be afraid of me, come, take me in your arms and adore me, caress me as a child loves to be caressed. See, I hold out my arms to you. Be not afraid to caress me, a little tender babe. I am your God, but I am gentle and smiling. Be not afraid, but full of tenderness and love and confidence.’

Fr John and myself wish you all a blessed Christmas.

As together we face the restrictions of travel and social contact because of the pandemic let not our hearts grow cold and may we not become indifferent to this most wonderful event that changed our world forever. God is with us, and the light has shone in the darkness.

Canon Anthony Charlton