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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Reflection – December 2023


Dear friends,

Every year huge sums of money are spent by retailers and businesses on their television advertising campaigns for the month of December. They have a limited window to make the maximum impact and hopefully boost sales. Creativity is required when people can simply fast forward their television recordings and have little patience in sitting through the advertising segments in live shows. In an attempt to capture the imagination of the consumer, the marketing gurus can be a little edgy, provocative or controversial and at times their productions can have unintended consequences. A UK high street retailer had to edit out one small part of their Christmas advertisement this year due to world events which had been unexpected when the advert was made.

In my childhood, things were different. Family viewing meant that families sat down in the same room and watched the television together and waited patiently for programmes to resume after the advertisements.

This magazine is being distributed on Advent Sunday. Advent is a time in the church calendar when there is a rich selection of wonderful music to be sung and enjoyed, and when we also encounter moving readings from scripture and liturgy. What a pity we often shortchange ourselves by moving into the carols of Christmas by mid-December or even earlier and don’t give Advent its proper place.  It has an important place in our church calendar as it lays the foundation for what is to follow, Christmas.

While I would like to talk about Advent in more depth, this year I won’t. On the presumption that copies of this issue of the Diocesan Magazine might still be left on coffee tables and kitchen counters during December for returning family members to pick up and flick through, I thought I would include a short quiz as part of my letter this month. Here are some slogans from famous advertising campaigns in recent decades. Some but not all are song lyrics. How many products can you name?

  1. ‘… got a whole lot of things for Christmas, got a lot for the family.’
  2. ‘Even at the home of black stuff, they dream of a white one.’
  3. ‘We’re walking in the air…’
  4.  ‘I think I am going back to the things I learned so well in my youth…’
  5. ‘Holidays are comin’
  6.  ‘Dad, guess what Santa brought me?’ ‘Well, a train set no less, isn’t Santa the smart fella’. (Answers can be found on page 42 of the December issue of the Diocesan Magazine)

For some of you trying this quiz, you will be transported back to vivid memories of particular products or services. It might even give you warm feelings of past Christmas celebrations wrapped in nostalgia. This is no bad thing. We can enjoy such feelings and memories. Christmas is an experience and an event which is to be shared with others time and time again.

For Christians the world over, Christmas is also a liturgical experience and event. Many of you reading this will remember school nativity plays in church. You will undoubtedly know the words of the most familiar Christmas carols and could start the carol after hearing the opening bars of the tune.  The usual Bible readings selected for carol services may also be familiar to you – maybe you can repeat some of the verses.  I cannot but stop and think that while this might be true for you, will it also be true for the generation of children and young people growing up today? It can be part of their story and future memories too if they are given the same experiences now, it can be as simple as going as a family to the parish carol service.  It is important that people of all ages are encouraged to engage with the Christmas story in a real way. If it means anything to be people of faith in the twenty-first century, we cannot just rely on nostalgia and the inherited beliefs of past generations. We must embrace belief in the Christ child for ourselves today.

The core of the Christian Faith is the Incarnation; that God became flesh in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. God in Christ knows what it is to experience life at first hand. God does not exist in some distant reality far removed from the complexities of human existence. We don’t have to struggle to rise up to meet God at some distant ethereal level through our own efforts, but God comes to meet us where we are. God in Jesus Christ breaks into our world in a most unexpected way and all we are asked to do is to be receptive to this.

In many ways, the environment into which Jesus was born was little different from that which exists today. Jesus was a refugee in a world of political instability. The quest for peace and our prayers for reconciliation are perennial, and this year in particular, as we witness human tragedy and suffering on a massive scale in the land of our Saviour’s birth, we pray for peace ever more earnestly. We also remember those most vulnerable who are suffering because of war in Ukraine, in parts of Africa and elsewhere. We pray for all peacemakers and those trying to find a way forward in areas of despair and conflict.

Finally, as I end my letter I come back to Advent. This year I am planning four short reflections, one for each Sunday in Advent, which will be available through the links on diocesan social media. I hope they will be helpful to you as we journey together in this most special and spiritual time of the year. I hope it will be a time of deepening faith and new understanding, which you will treasure into the future.

Jacqui joins me in wishing you all a meaningful Advent and a blessed, joyful and peaceful Christmas.