MY FATHER was 95 when he died. He was swimming in the sea until he was 92 and it was only in the last five months or so of his life that his mind began to falter.
Any time I asked him what were the best years of his life, he always gave me the same answer; “When you were all small”.
It is something I never forget. When I am in the company of young people with children I always quote my late father’s comment about the best years of his life.
Next month I am baptising a new-born baby and I’m sure I’ll quote my Dad to them.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.
Luke’s gospel tells us of the events surrounding John’s birth, how his father’s speech is returned to him on giving his child the name of John. “And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judea.” (Luke 1: 63-65) Christians believe that everything surrounding the incarnation involves an extraordinary divine intervention. God touches the world in a unique way.
There is always the temptation to over-concentrate on the spectacular, and when we do that there is the possibility that we might take our attention off the daily routine, the life and world around us, the things we do, experience and see every day.
Scripture tells us that the birth of John the Baptist is surrounded by extraordinary events.
But John the Baptist’s birth, the birth of Jesus, we believe have lifted all human reality to a new and really spectacular level. Those events have made even more extraordinary everything to do with life, birth and living.
It’s easy to take the everyday for granted, almost to pass it by as if there were nothing extraordinary about it. But when out of the ordinary events happen, unexpected personal tragedy happens, we suddenly ask why and certainly we are forced to ask what is life about.
It is also the case when some great event happens: we stand back and wonder at the mystery of it all. The astonishing joy the birth of a child gives is one of those special moments that lift our souls to great joy. But far too often the great dreams at birth do not translate into reality. Far too many children are the first to suffer in war, economic downturn, family disharmony. And every time we help improve the life of a child we are acknowledging the miracle of the birth of John the Baptist. We are helping fulfil his mission of preparing the way for the presence of God in the world.
If only we could allow ourselves to be surprised by the wonder of the world that is around us. Of course it is not always easy. But there is something in the human spirit that challenges us to see the wonder, the mystery, and the sadness and the pain – that too is part of our fate. We get on with it. We have an astonishing ability to cope. We call on God’s name to help us. We listen to God’s word and try to live it.
There are good times and bad times. And I can well see why my father said the best years were when we were small. Birth is sensational. It’s the beginning of an astonishing adventure, an adventure of which we should never get tired.
By living it to the full, in all its strange and mysterious ways, we are acknowledging that the hand of the Lord is with us. – MICHAEL COMMANE