from Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder, S.T.D.
My dear friends in Christ,
The rapid passage of time has brought us to the celebration of Christmas once again. The message of this Feast and of this Season, is very comforting. It speaks of hope. It speaks of joy. It speaks of expectations met and profound longings fulfilled. It is a message that challenges the gloom of the moment and lifts up our thoughts and our spirits. It’s a message delivered by the prophets and the angels.
The Second Preface of Advent puts it this way:
“All the oracles of the prophets foretold Him.
The Virgin Mary longed for Him with love beyond all telling.
John the Baptist sang of His coming and proclaimed His presence when He came.”
The Prophet Isaiah summed it up well when he said: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)
Those hope-filled words from the ninth chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah greet us as we begin the celebration of Christmas. For us there is no doubt about the light of which the Prophet speaks. It is Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He is that light.
Darkness often overshadows us in so many ways. The shadow of darkness is present in the way murder now seems a staple feature of our community. At the same time, we are thankful that we have been spared the destruction of hurricanes this year. So there is darkness and there is light in our lives. And for that we must be very thankful.
The message of Christmas as found in the Gospel of Luke includes these words: “Do not be afraid, for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today in the City of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you, you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly hosts with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:10-14)
That is the message we have been preparing all Advent to hear. The child who was born, the infant humbly wrapped in swaddling clothes whose birth we celebrate, has made all the difference. As St. Paul explains it in his letter to Titus, in the birth of this child what has happened is nothing less than this: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age.” (Titus 2:11-12)
The very human presence of God has appeared. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, sharing our life, sharing our world, sharing our human condition. So we insist that faith is not just a matter of what we believe in our minds but it is fundamentally an encounter with the Word made flesh whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. But in sharing our life and sharing our world and our condition, he has granted our human nature a dignity beyond measure.
This has very practical implications for our lives. We are reminded of the parable Jesus told his disciples of the Son of Man coming at the end of time to judge all the nations and separating the people, good from the bad, the way a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The good he invites to inherit His Kingdom, the bad are condemned to eternal damnation. The difference between the two, Jesus explained, is that the good are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned. For, he said, whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did it for me. (Matthew 25:31-46)
At Christmas, we have the custom of giving gifts but the greatest gift has already been given to us. It is the gift of life and the gift of dignity because in Jesus Christ, God’s divine presence shared our life and dignified us in a manner that gives us reason to always remain hopeful despite the darkness that visits our life.
So once again I say that when all the Christmas music has stopped and all the lights and decorations are put away for another year, the message of Christmas remains. That message is:
- to find the lost
- to mend the broken
- to feed the hungry
- to visit the sick and imprisoned
- to welcome the stranger
- to make peace where there is discord.
May this message be awakened in us once again this Christmas. May it remain with us always!
A blessed Merry Christmas and a grace-filled New Year!