Christmas 2019 seems worlds apart from the Christmas that we are facing into this year, with all the anxiety, uncertainty and suffering which continue to accompany the Covid 19 pandemic. Yet something so remarkable and unexpected happened in Ballinasloe last Christmas, that it continues to give meaning to our current Christmas experience in these difficult times.
On a bitterly cold night late last December, with an icy wind and torrential downpours battering the town, a young Irish comedian called Francis Cronin slept out on the steps of St John’s Church. It was part of his campaign to raise awareness of the plight of homeless people in Ireland; by walking from Galway to Dublin on the week before Christmas, sleeping rough each night and performing stand-up comedy gigs en route.
Watching that brave young man lie down to sleep on the steps of the church, exhausted from his arduous journey and bracing himself against the cold, was a life-changing experience for those of us who were privileged to see it, That night, Christmas was stabled on the steps of St John’s Church. Francis Cronin chose to make himself utterly vulnerable for the sake of the most vulnerable people in our society. In doing so, his compassionate gesture struck to the very heart of the Christmas message. The only way in which God could express the depth of his love for humanity, was to send his only Son to be share in our vulnerability and suffering. That’s why the baby Jesus started his life sleeping rough and fleeing for his life as a refugee. That’s why, as a young man, Jesus allowed himself to suffer agony and death on the cross, in solidarity with all who suffer.
As part of this year’s plans to light up Ballinasloe for Christmas, a giant candle illumination will be placed on the steps of St John’s Church, where Francis Cronin lay this time last year. In Christmas 2020 may it be a sign, for all of us, of God’s enduring love in the middle of our current hardship. May the light of Christ bring renewed hope to us all this Christmas.
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