The full text of Pope Francis’s Christmas message, Urbi et Orbi, is here. He departed from his prepared text:

And I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire. But all of us, for peace.

It has been noted that “Francis’s reaching out to atheists and people of other religions is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict, who sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.”

Whilst this may be a first in the annual “to the city and the world” to mention unbelievers (and positively!), historian and “Catholic Almanac” editor Matthew Bunson sees the ad lib as part of a pattern for this pope.

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The Queen’s Christmas message has a similarly inclusive approach.

The full text of the Queen’s message can be found here.

We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock. Be it through contemplation, prayer, or even keeping a diary, many have found the practice of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding, even discovering greater spiritual depth to their lives.

Reflection can take many forms….

As with all who are christened, George was baptised into a joyful faith of Christian duty and service….

For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.

On the first Christmas, in the fields above Bethlehem, as they sat in the cold of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection. Suddenly all this was to change. These humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ – the first noel – the joy of which we celebrate today.

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The message from our three archbishops comes from Philip Richardson. You can find the full text here.

the paradox is that vulnerable, fragile love can be awesomely powerful and transformative. The only power on earth that can transform an enemy into friend, said Martin Luther King, is love. Nelson Mandela understood that truth too – and by that truth he transformed South Africa. The Christmas story, of course, tells us the extraordinary truth about the redemptive power of fragile love.

An interesting aside (see at the bottom of the page) was the immediate challenge by well-known-in-NZ Rev. Michael Hewat that the archbishops affirm “the virgin birth and Jesus conception as a result of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.”

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I appreciated a facebook update of a priest friend of mine:

I write on this Christmas Eve having prepared and re-prepared for the liturgical events that will begin to unfold this evening. A number of you, like me, have responsibilities this night. I hope the magic of God will filter through our busyness, our leading, and our preaching to not only touch others but also our own hearts. My roles in the services ahead will be many: clown, sage, scholar, celebrant… My hope is that the child in me will be captured, enraptured, and smitten by something for which there never can be an adequate explanation.

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And, at Sunday’s Eucharist, I appreciated the sermon by my friend, Fr. Lawrence Kimberley. Māori have a wonderful concept of whānau, a much more open understanding of family, and much closer to the reality so many now experience. You can read Lawrence’s full text here.

For many of us the idea of family gatherings is fraught with problems. Family gatherings for some come with more pain than joy. For a start, family gatherings may be times when old rivalries surface, or after a few glasses of wine the shackles of self control loosen and hurtful words are said. That’s when arguments flare and old wounds reopened. For some people, mention of the word “family” brings up other kinds of pain. It means the absence of loved ones; those who have died or those from whom we are estranged. It can mean the pain of loneliness caused by a family breakup; isolation brought about by mental or physical sickness, or the physical distance separating us from family members. And for others it brings up the pain of not being able to start a family and have children. For these reasons and perhaps other reasons as well, many people find that Christmas is a time to be endured.

That is why it is important that we have a realistic notion in our heads of the Christmas story. …

One of the messages of Christmas is that life did not run smoothly for the Holy Family. Right from the beginning their life is in crisis, foreshadowing the cross that Jesus will face as an adult. Mary and Joseph have to dig deep to find the inner resources they need to be resilient and courageous in the face of pretty tough circumstances. Does this resonate with your life story at any point? We might not face the same set of issues that Mary and Joseph faced, but we face our own troubles and trials, that do come, at times that we know not when.

So if we are looking to the Holy Family for inspiration about how to build good families ourselves, it is best to avoid the idealised and sentimentalised and unreal Christmas card images of the manger scene, because all that does is set us up to fail.

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During this Southern-Hemisphere, Aotearoa-New Zealand, go-slow season sometimes your comments may take longer than usual to get through moderation…

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