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26 Jan 2022

A Christmas message for Limerick – ‘Lift up your hearts’

A Christmas message for Limerick – ‘Lift up your hearts’

The Nativity narrative speaks to us of the tenderness of a God who comes close, who doesn’t leave us on our own, who whispers from the crib: “do not be afraid; I am with you”.

A JOINT Christmas Day message from the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy and the Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral the Very Rev Niall Sloane

There’s a line said half-way through the Eucharist that is striking, though you’d almost miss it! It’s when the Priest says, “lift up your hearts”.

It might be surprising to discover that one of the characters in Sally Rooney’s latest book, Beautiful World, where are you? refer to it.

Given the year that’s in it, maybe it’s a line we need to repeat to ourselves and to one another this Christmas, the second in a row drenched with Covid fears.

The pandemic is trying to wear us down. We’re tired of the stop-start chugging pace of life with the ever repeating story of new variants and spikes and the fears of sickness and hospital overcrowding.

Hats off, of course, to all engaged in frontline services of all types – medical, educational and social. Your contribution has been remarkable. You must be exhausted. But we have to admit we ourselves are a bit weary of things. And not just because of Covid.

With the public crisis so much to the fore, we’ve almost forgotten to acknowledge that, day by day individuals, families and communities are facing so many other challenges – relationship break-ups, addiction dependencies, tragic deaths, employment issues, conflict situations, financial worries, bereavements…

To lift up our hearts and the hearts of those around us could be the greatest gift we can make to each other this Christmas. But for that to happen, we need to get in touch with what, actually, gives us hope. We don’t mean a superficial happy-go-lucky optimism that really prefers not to look at reality as it is. We mean the hope that sustains us deep down even when things are going against us.

That’s where the Christmas story itself comes in. It is such a great message of hope.

St. John clinched this message when he wrote, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.

The Nativity narrative speaks to us of the tenderness of a God who comes close, who doesn’t leave us on our own, who whispers from the crib: “do not be afraid; I am with you”.

From such a humble if not harsh setting for the birth of a child, so much hope came, light that has sustained the world came through. That surely tells us, not least now, there is always light. Always hope.

Have you ever noticed that when you are buttoning something, let’s say your shirt, it’s important to get the first button right because, if not, the others will go out of kilter.

Christmas is like getting the chance each year to go back and fix the first button on the garment of our lives. Surely that first button is one where we recognise that we’re not alone; God has a plan of love for us, for us and for our world; light can really conquer darkness.

When we know we are not alone, we feel stronger. When we know that behind all the crazy, at times, utterly perplexing events in life, there is a loving hand of God who is making sure that no door closes but that another opens for us, that there is always light if we look, then we get the energy to keep on going, believing, hoping, loving.

But how can we tap into this Christmas message in our life story? Why not think back to those people in your own personal life story that touched you with their example or wise words?

Perhaps there is a moment, an episode, an event that evokes memories of security, love, peace. Why not re-live that moment in your heart and let it enkindle within you a new hope. A ‘get the first button right’ moment. And then you, in turn, can go out and be for others this Christmas a moment, an event, a word that lifts up hearts.

The tenderness, warmth and simplicity of the Nativity story tells us something essential – don’t be miserly, share love by putting love where there is no love and there you will lift up hearts; look around you, there are umpteen opportunities to lift up hearts by listening, chatting, being patient, just being ‘there’, using good humour, praying, giving, caring... And all of this starts in our own families.

In wishing one another well this Christmas, let’s pray we can all lift up our hearts and do our part to lift up the hearts of others.

Covid numbers may be surging and we need to be careful and do our part to follow public health measures, but let’s really believe that the light of hope shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Let’s hear the invitation: “Lift up your hearts!”.

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