Kevin Bates sm


December 13, 2013


Birth and death are two of the seminal experiences that change the way we experience the world. Our ground shifts, new rules of engagement are needed as we come to terms with the fact that our former world is no more.  


The death of Nelson Mandela calls the story of South Africa to a new place. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has mused: “ What will happen to us now that our father has gone?” The spiritual inspiration and the political and social reform that Nelson Mandela accomplished now needs to continue without his physical presence.  


His death, pretty-much like the deaths of those nearest and dearest to us, brings with it a time of uncertainty, an experience of abandonment, a grief that is shared by all who knew and loved him. His death requires a new imagination and resolve, especially for the people of his nation.  


In the same way, the birth of a child is a game-changer, especially for those most immediately involved with the arrival of a new infant.  


Schedules are shaped by the baby in an intuitive kind of conversation between the child, the mother and father. The priorities of the parents must be adjusted in order for the child to become an integral part of the family.  


As is the case when someone we love has died, so when someone we are learning to love is born, the same imagination and resolve are needed as we adjust to our growing family. 


Some births and deaths we read about in the news, our women’s magazine or online, and we note them with varying degrees of interest. Many of these do not impact on our daily living to any extent. 


For millions, the death of Mandela will be just the opposite. It will shake them, grieve them, cause them to engage in serious reflection and new resolutions.  


For millions, the birth of Jesus has shaken the foundation of their lives. His arrival has caused profound social change as “lowly are raised up and the mighty cast down from their thrones.”  


His arrival has taken the whole of human history and given it a redeemed meaning and value. Through the arrival of Jesus, God has signalled to the whole human family that our hope is found not through power, nor through violence or wealth, but rather in humble service, through loving relationships and through a readiness to “straighten out our crooked ways”, to open our eyes to what is true, and noble, to forgive without conditions, in other words to be “born again”.  


Just as the passage through death to eternal life is a total mystery to us, the passage from the womb to birth represents the same kind of mystery for the one being born and requires a radical trust in the goodness of life and in the Giver of Life. 


Jesus’ arrival reminds us of the profound truth that only in love will we and our world find our way to a peace that is just and available to all.  


Clearly, we still have a long way to go before this hope is accomplished, but it won’t hurt us one bit to spend time this Advent and Christmas allowing Jesus’ birth to enter the landscape of our hearts, our relationships and our daily endeavours, and call us to taste life anew, much as a newborn child might do.  

Father Kevin