Preaching Christmas at the end of the pandemic year

As the year of Covid-19 ends, Gerald O’Collins SJ reflects on ways in which Calvary casts its shadow over preaching the nativity.

As the year ends when Covid-19 has ravaged the world personally and economically, the shadow of the cross falls across Christmas 2020. The suffering that millions have endured can make them more sensitive to the way in which Calvary is already present at Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. The nativity anticipates his death and, we should add, his resurrection.

Luke on the nativity
Luke reports how the Christ Child was ‘laid in a manger’, a miserable feeding trough for animals, because Mary and Joseph could find ‘no place’ in the local inn (Lk 2.7). A little over a month later, when they visited the temple, a holy old man took the Baby in his arms, blessed God, and announced a message of salvation for ‘all peoples’, ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory’ to God’s people, Israel. But Simeon also warned Mary that Jesus’ life and work would meet hostility and persecution: ‘this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed’ (Lk 2.25–35). Right from the birth of Jesus, Luke brings together light and darkness, life and the shadows of death.

Luke’s account of the nativity includes shepherds who were illuminated by divine glory and visited by an angel of the Lord, who brought them ‘good news of great joy for all the peoples’ – the birth of ‘a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’. A vast heavenly army joined the angel of the Lord, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours’. The shepherds hastened to see the Christ Child. Then they returned to their sheep, ‘glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen’ (Lk 2.8–20).

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