By Sean Loone, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and based at Our Lady of the Wayside, Shirley.
I never really set out to write a book. All I wanted to do, originally, was to share my understanding of God with other people in the hope that somehow it might help them deepen their understanding and relationship with God. Then something began to happen, over time, which led me to believe that, perhaps, there was more to this process of writing than I had at first thought. My very first article was called ‘The Mystery of the Manger’, an attempt to explain the symbolism of the ‘Manger’ in Luke’s description of Jesus’s birth. A number of people wrote to me having read the article telling me not only how much they enjoyed it but also how it had helped them deepen their understanding of God’s love for his people. For me the essence of the Christmas story is for us, somehow, to begin to comprehend what it means for God to send His Son into the world as an act of pure love. Yet when we look around us so much of the Christmas story seems to have been either hi-jacked or repackaged and remarketed by the secular and commercial world that the beauty of its real meaning has been lost. Here, then, began to emerge a challenge for me or, as I would prefer to put it, an invitation from God. Was it possible for me to write in such a way as to help people rediscover the real meaning of Christmas? Indeed, was this what God was inviting me to do?
My next step was to think and pray, but I was still left with a number of questions. Where do I start and what do I write about? It was here I had to stop myself, because the danger was that I was making it all about me. The whole process had to be about God or it just would not work. Only by and through God’s grace was it possible for me to write anything, and what began to emerge now was something very clear and obvious. I would write about the God of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love. I would write about a God who sent His Son into the world, not to condemn it but that through Him all people might be saved. I would write about Christmas so that people might begin to understand its real and true meaning, discovering how in and through the birth of Jesus God’s love can be seen, heard and touched. I would write about a God who became one of us, one with us, for all time and for all people. I would write a book for everyone, excluding no one, because I believe that was what God was inviting me to do.
Now, as I reflected and prayed I began to see things that had always been there in the Nativity story but which, perhaps, most of us have taken for granted and as a consequence never thought too much about. Yet, in each detail of the Christmas story there is a message telling us about God’s love and how much he desires not only that we know he loves us but also that we love him in return. So what about that manger, what does it really mean? Think about it, how many times have you sung ‘Away in a manger’ and never given a second thought as to what the manger actually means? Why do Matthew and Luke include in their Gospels what amounts to Jesus’s family tree? Why would they do this and why is this reading rarely read in church when it tells us so much about God’s love for His people? Why is the annunciation to Joseph largely forgotten? Remember that, in the whole of the Gospels, Joseph never utters a single word! Why? Could it be that his actions speak louder? Why is John the Baptist such an important figure and how does he help us place the birth of Jesus within the context of the Old and New Testament? Then what about Mary? The Angel Gabriel makes this tremendous announcement and then just leaves, to allow Mary to get on with it; what does that mean and how might it help us today? What about the role of women in God’s plan for the salvation of the world? It is easy to forget and fail to appreciate that, without the crucial role played by women both in the Old Testament and in the Nativity story itself, things might have turned out very differently. Then there’s that question often asked by all teenagers at some stage in their journey of faith, ‘Is it true?’ Now, there is a question to answer! With these and other questions in mind, guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I began to write and this book, which I offer to you the reader, is the end product.
For me Scripture, the Bible, is at the heart of this book. God’s word has been inspiring me all my life both spiritually and academically. However, I never set out to write an academic piece of work. Rather, I wanted to write something that anybody could just pick up and read. For me Scripture is essentially about a conversation between God and humanity. God speaks and reveals himself through the Bible but he invites us to respond, hence the conversation. God invites us to find our lives in the midst of his revelation, a revelation of pure love. In this way it is possible to realize the amazing truth that His story is our story too. For when God looks at us he does so with the eyes of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love. Love: I keep on using that word because no other word comes close in the English language to describing what and who God is. At Christmas, God’s love comes down to us, to look for and search for us, and the only reason why God does this is because he loves us. And what do we call that love, a love that includes everyone and excludes no one? We call that love Jesus and at Christmas he was and is ‘Born for us’.
If someone were to ask me now why and how I wrote this book, I would have to say that I suffered and I suffered again, and I kept on suffering, until finally I looked deep into my own heart and I found something that had always been there, God. So I wrote this book for all those who suffer, which really means for everyone, including you, the reader. I wanted everyone to know, see and experience the living presence of God here and now. I wanted all people to know that in the darkness of life a hand comes to hold yours and that hand will never leave you, will never let you go. It is a broken and bruised hand because it belongs to God, who loves you more than you could ever know.
This book is my attempt to share something of my understanding of that love with you. The essential essence of the Christmas story is that God takes the initiative and comes in search of us, but to achieve that he makes himself weak, fragile and vulnerable. He, in effect, places himself in our hands and reveals he is the God of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love. ‘Born for Us’ takes us into the heart of this mystery, inviting us to draw close to him so that we, in some small way, may in our lives reflect something of his nature, which is to love, and keep on loving until there is nothing left to give.