Sunday 23 October 2016

Let's not forget the real message this Christmas

Published 25/12/2015 | 00:30

At least 820,000 refugees and economic migrants have reached Greece's eastern islands this year
At least 820,000 refugees and economic migrants have reached Greece's eastern islands this year

When you take all the wrapping paper away, what is left of the substance of Christmas?

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Is there a gift there at all? Where is the meaning behind the commercialism, preparation, fuss and fleeting celebration? Most of us in this part of the world would have it that there is.

Whether you are a believer or not, the simplest story ever told - one which has it that a king would be born at the height of the Roman empire to bring peace to an oppressed people - has an allure. For then, as now, people cherished a hope that a mighty, invincible, all-conquering hero could save them.

But the magic comes from the fact that, instead of coming into the presence of an exalted emperor, the Three Wise Men were met with a baby who would be a Prince of Peace. The message was that a little hero lies within us all. And who has not been won over by the simple miracle of the arrival of a newborn?

The anticipation, optimism, warmth and generosity that the Nativity story encapsulates still triumphs and shines in a time darkened by cynicism and distrust.

Only a few months ago in Bodrum on the shores of Turkey, the tiny form of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi captured the hearts of the world - having been washed up on a beach. Tonight, it is estimated that 60 million people are now migrants on our planet. That is 60 million of our brothers and sisters in the human family for whom there is no room at the inn. Europe promised to do better in the aftermath of Aylan's death. Nonetheless, the razor wire and metal fences went up. Greece, Turkey and Lebanon have been overburdened by the numbers of refugees. Where are the little heroes?

Germany's Angela Merkel has been the only leader in Europe whose actions lived up to the fine words. We are seeing the same kind of biblical mobilisations that we did during World War II. But a humane strategy commensurate to the challenge and level of suffering has yet to be found.

The icy-cold fingers of terror also gripped our hearts with the slaughter of innocents in Paris. Once again, it was Ms Merkel's voice that brought reason and reassurance through the fear and suspicion. Ms Merkel said the security threat level in Germany was high, but people must carry on with normal life, adding: "The strongest response to terrorists is to carry on living our lives and our values as we have until now - self-confident and free, considerate and engaged."

This is a time when we can appreciate and value the people we love, but also reach out to those who are less fortunate. With some 5,100 people in our own country living in emergency accommodation we can see that the much-vaunted recovery has left far too many in the margins.

As a society we can do better. Our thoughts also go out to the thousands who have left home during the prolonged recession. The country you left is recovering, it is in better shape, and it is much the poorer for your absence. Our hope is that the recovery will gather pace and the opportunity for your very welcome return will be created - sooner, rather than later.

It is a season of homecomings, and we are reminded of one particular return in December 1903, as Katherine Wright - the less-famous sister of aviators Orville and Wilbur - was concerned for the well-being of her adventurous siblings. She was aware of their numerous hazardous attempts to get their 'flying machine' off the ground. There then came a thrilling telegram telling her: 'We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas'. Excited, she rushed to her local newspaper and told its editor of their message. He read it and said: "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas."

Of course, he had missed the import of its contents - the brothers had defied gravity, flown and changed the history of the world. It is easy to miss important messages in the hustle and bustle. A happy, safe and peaceful Christmas to you all.

Irish Independent

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