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Fr. Ben Christmas

Comfort, Comfort, My People


For some years I lived as a member of a monastery in Ireland, and we made our living by keeping a farm. The monastery had a dairy herd, for milk, but also had a cattle herd and a large flock of sheep. The hardest work was the dairy herd as they needed to be rounded up twice a day, every day, no matter what the weather, to be milked. The cattle were the easiest to maintain as they basically simply moved from field to field eating fresh grass year-round. The sheep were the most delicate to keep as they were susceptible to all kinds of dangers including other animals, birds of prey, diseases they could pick up from the wetlands and injury due to rough or rocky terrain.

Typically, our sheep gave birth in late December or early January. The days were short, and the nights were long, wet, and very, very, cold. It was not unusual for the water to freeze in the pipes in the barn. Members of the community would spend the nights moving along the pipes with blowtorches trying to unfreeze the water so that it would flow as water was essential for cleaning during lambing. It seemed to me that our sheep only preferred to give birth after midnight. Almost all the lambs in our flock were hand delivered, born with monks as midwives. We delivered lambs by night and sang God’s praises by day with a few hours’ sleep between dawn and breakfast.

I can’t help remembering how delicate these little lambs were and how cold and inhospitable the world was into which they were being born. Yet, as soon as they were born, they had a mother to clean them, nurse them and who covered them over with her body to keep them warm and safe. They also had fifteen monks for uncles. There are lots of similarities between the delivery of lambs and the birth of Our Lord.

God sent His Son into the world for the sake of salvation. What is true for Jesus is also true for us. God, the author of all life, has sent us into the world. Like Jesus we have a mission to carry out and that mission is to build the Kingdom of God on earth. No doubt, we have our work cut out for us but these days the task falls to us.

However, as true as that is, let’s not make the story about us! It is important that we remember that God sent His Son into the world to save us. Today we recall that God sent His Lamb into the world and, fortunately for that Lamb, He had a mother to clean Him, nurse Him, cover Him over with Her body to keep Him warm and reassure Him that He was loved. Mary loved Him first and Mary loved Him always. It is good for us to remember that this Child, this Lamb of God, is a sign of God’s love for us. Christmas is about the birth of this Child, but it also marks the beginning of our new life. Jesus came to save us, and Christmas is the beginning of that salvation.

Wishing you all a very joyful Christmas and every blessing in the New Year.

Fr. Ben

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