The Pope - for the first time ever - addressed a radio audience today in Britain, on the BBC - and his message was both warm and classically Christian. His message was canonical: the Christ child entered the historical world, not as a conquering saviour, but a fragile, suffering human being, liberating the human condition in subtle, surprising ways. The complexity of the Christmas message is in its paradoxes - which have made Christianity so endlessly attractive to artists and writers - for its ironies and ambiguities allow for rich and continuous rejuvenation.
But, it also has a simple core, which is love. Rather, love and forgiveness, for the two are not quite the same. This Christmas message is often symbolised, in a secular way, as Santa Claus, that great outrider of Christian humanism. Santa, who cannot be faulted, gives of himself each year for little children, showering them with gifts (if the kids have been well-behaved); the rest of the year, the childless man with his supportive wife, works with a factory of elves to manufacture toys and games for children, in polar conditions. His panache in such austere regions is marvellous, and signals light in the bleakness. The Christ message, too, is a gift - for adults as well as the young.
It is not an easy gift to unwrap, though - for it calls upon nimble fingers and an ever-alert heart. A Catholic, I find that faith and service are tested by the world, my own foibles and worse, and the challenges of being human. Being kind and supportive and humble is counter-intuitive in a dog-eat-dog capitalist metropolis like London. Fortunately, my brother and his wife have brought a Christmas gift into our lives this year, by bringing my young nephew to stay with us.
Without children of our own, the sudden appearance of a sweet-tempered little boy, wee and blonde and smiling and self-delighting, only 18 months old, is captivating, and a miracle of energy and love in a small bundle. Their generosity in bringing their family to be with us is deeply moving. I think the ultimate message of this holiday, this holy day, is family - or loved ones - hopefully both - conjoined in mutual affection and optimism - having a good time with those closest to us. From such a manger of concentrated love then must outpour this kindled goodwill, unto all others. Have a blessed Christmas!