As I speak to you, members of the Body of Christ throughout our Diocese, I am mindful that, together, we carry the news of God’s saving love to all. We carry this message to all our drought-stricken farmers, bushfire victims, the sick, all those in hospital, and all the beautiful and brave women and men who stood with these people as “pillars of hope” in these recent tragedies.
Now I look at this Christmas, which offers us the challenge of joy. Why do I say it is a challenge? Joy is a child of sacrifices. If someone wants to be happy, secure, protected or saved, we need someone’s sacrifice. At times, that may be an unfamiliar, far-distant soul who would sacrifice their time, energy, happiness, celebrations, and holidays. Think about the Army, Navy, and border control officers, maintenance workers, cleaners, fire brigade workers, police and all public servants, all those who are assigned duties on Christmas day who work on the long holidays and at Christmas time. These men and women too have their own families and children.
The joyful images of Christmas may lead some to forget those the world has forgotten. Millions of refugees are trying to find a place at the inn. This is often how we hear the story of Mary giving birth in a stable rather than in a hospital or hotel. Let us think of our fellow Australians living in temporary accommodation, tents and sleeping on the floor. As in the time of Jesus, they don’t have a place to live, their own territory, towns or villages.
Mary gave birth not in a little wooden building but in a cave. Even today, some people in Palestine live in caves. The story of the innkeeper, then, is not one of exclusion and neglect, but one of Palestinian radical hospitality and generosity. You see, the innkeeper, not having any space, offered Mary and Joseph a place in his own home, safe in the back of the cave. This is the grotto over which the Church of the Nativity is built. Christmas, then, calls our world to re-evaluate: have we forgotten those Christians in Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and now all our fellow Australians in our country?
These people—persecuted refugees or displaced or poor—are not asking favours from us or from the world’s leaders. They are asking for the message of Christmas: peace based on justice, relief based on true love. The following is the true scenario of this present world and in our societies in Australia where we experience horrifying bushfires.
My message is that, for each of you, Christ is Emmanuel, with you wherever you are: in distress, in difficulty, in poverty, in sickness, in calamities, in drought, in hunger, in fire zones, God has not forgotten you; neither will our Australian communities. Let us show them that we are one nation, one diocese, one humanity, one in Jesus and we are the living expressions of Jesus’ love. Let us assure our constant prayers for them and come forward to help them in their immediate needs.
I wish to call all of you who are reading this to come forward to feel with our people and spend moderately. Celebrate in a mild manner and help the poor and needy in our society. When the world tells you there is no place, there is always a place for you in God’s love. Very often Christmas becomes a time of wastage. Let us use our food and water sensitively and sparingly. When we do this with true human sentiments, I feel we are united with our suffering brothers, sisters and children. Then this Christmas 2019 will become a meaningful celebration.
With love, prayers and blessings in Jesus,
Fr Joseph Figurado