This morning we are celebrating the birthday of God. This birthday is unlike our own. On our birthdays we celebrate -- or lament -- all the years that have passed since we were born.
But at Christmas we do not celebrate that Jesus is 2002 years old, or however many years have passed. We rejoice in the birth of God as a baby. Every Christmas is a celebration that God came among us as a newborn child.
This is because God is always among us as one who is young. St Augustine wrote that
God is younger than all else.
We have become older than our God. This means that God always retains that fresh vigour of youth, the vitality and playfulness of one who is always ready to begin anew.
We believe that God is eternal, and so God is often represented as immensely old. But if no time passes for God, then he is always also at the beginning, eternally youthful.
Youthfulness is said to be the characteristic of hope, because to hope is to be ready for a future which is always open and long, however old one may be. The French poet Charles Péguy wrote a poem on hope, which he saw symbolized by his nine-year old daughter. He writes
that absolutely nothing at all holds except because of the young child Hope, because of she who continuously begins again, and who always promises, who guarantees everything, who assures tomorrow to today, and this afternoon to this morning, and life to life and even eternity to time.
So we celebrate Christmas by letting God
renew your youth like the eagle. (Ps.103:5)
And it is the evangelist whose symbol is the eagle who writes that to all who accept the Word of God,
he gave power to become the children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not out of human stock or the urge of the flesh or the will of man but of God himself.
Being a child of God means more than having God as one's Father. It means sharing in the eternal youthfulness of the child whose birth we celebrate today.
That does not mean pretending to look young, hiding the wrinkles, dying one's hair, or fleeing from the signs of age. We do age and must not fear it. We must not be mutton dressed up as the Lamb of God!
It does mean that we can shed the temptations of those who grow older, of thinking that nothing new can be dared, that safety is better than taking a risk, of fatalism and cynicism. We can let God renew hope in our hearts.
Let us also celebrate Christmas by giving a chance to those abiding images of God, the children and the young. I went back to Rwanda after the genocide. A Canadian Dominican who had worked there for twenty-five years took me to see the ruins of where he had lived. So many friends had died and all his life's work seemed to be destroyed.
But he gave me a photograph of himself holding two Rwandan babies. And on the back he wrote,
Africa has a future.
Because of the child whose birth we celebrate today, then we can also say
Humanity has a future.
This last year has been painful for the Church in relation to the young. The headlines have so often been of stories of sexual or physical abuse. So let us work for a future in which the young may thrive. Let them truly be children. Let them not be seen as consumers in the market place, to be enthralled by designer labels, or as sexual objects to be used. Let them have the hopeful qualities of youth, the capacity for play, for experiment, and for daring.
Above all let them live. This day I think of the babies who are surely being born today in the Dominican hospital in Baghdad. Let them not be engulfed in war. May they live to celebrate another Christmas, the feast of the child who is always newborn. May we be moved by that fresh young hope for humanity's future.