The journey of the Magi to Bethlehem was not easy. As T.S. Eliot wrote:
“A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey: the way’s deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter.”
The shepherds, too, in their journey to the crib had a mountain to climb, the mountain of social exclusion, for they were the lowest of the low, not welcomed anywhere. Yet both shepherds and scholars found their way to the manger and to the person of Jesus whose coming remains the hinge of human history.
Many aspects of our society today are distanced from this saving truth of Jesus of Nazareth. We live in a culture that wants to push religious belief out of sight, into the margins. Now we have a long journey to make, finding our way through these barriers, through this thickening forest, to the true source of our joy and stability, Jesus, the one alone who is the truth of God fully expressed in our flesh.
It is his coming which we celebrate in the holy season. We can do so with a profound and lasting confidence that he who conquered death itself can also penetrate our darkness. His coming tells us that such is his deepest desire: to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, no matter how far we may have wandered. He summoned the shepherds, in their place of work, with music and brightness; he called the wise men through their scholarship and desire to know. He calls each one of us, if we have the sensitivity to recognise that summons!
We read that the wise men returned to their ‘old dispensation’, no longer feeling at home there. In the presence of this Christ-child they discovered something that remained in their hearts, an enduring peace and joy which they could no longer push to one side. We believe that they went home as men more wise, as men more peaceful in themselves, as men more poised in their lives. The shepherds, too, we know, went home full of song and gladness for what their eyes had seen.
This is the invitation offered to us this Christmas. And its fruits can be the same for us too!
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales