The angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.”
On this holy Feast of Christmas, I pray for all of you, all the people of our diocese, that the Lord may bless you with the serene and profound joy of His birth. I pray especially for those who are sick, those who are suffering or grieving, that they also may experience the joy of God’s love, that their faith and joy may endure as they embrace the cross of Jesus.
Pope Paul VI once wrote that “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” Pope Francis has repeated these words, calling us and the whole Church to spread the joy of the Gospel, especially to those who are poor and needy. He calls us to experience anew the joy of the Gospel in our own hearts and lives, and then to go out to others as “missionary disciples,” as joyful witnesses to the saving love of God. He calls us to “go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.”
I have been thinking these days before Christmas about the joyful witness of Saint Francis of Assisi as a great example for us. He loved Christmas. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recounts that “Over and above all the other Solemnities, Francis celebrated with ineffable tenderness the Nativity of the Child Jesus.” He called Christmas “the Feast of Feasts.” Saint Francis’ devotion to the Nativity of Our Lord gave rise to the tradition of the Christmas crèche. This beautiful tradition of representing the Christmas crib with figures and the scene of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem helps us to experience the warmth, beauty, and message of the first Christmas. It leads us to love and worship the humanity of Christ.
Saint Francis was deeply moved by the knowledge that God became a tiny, defenseless Infant, that God in His love has become so close to us. The mystery of the Incarnation fills us with the same wonder and awe. God truly became “Emmanuel,” God-with-us. Therefore, nothing can separate us from Him or His love.
We can think about the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas. The Gospel tells us that they went to Bethlehem “in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” They adored the Infant Jesus. Then “they made known the message that had been told them about this child” and “all who heard it were amazed.”
Notice how the shepherds did not keep the good news of Christ’s birth to themselves. They spread the message. People were amazed by what they said. We need this spirit of amazement today! Amazement at the good news of God’s mercy revealed in the Incarnation! Amazement that the all-powerful Lord of the universe became flesh and dwelt among us! He did so out of love “for us and our salvation.”
The good news of great joy announced by the angel to the shepherds is for all people. Pope Francis says to us: “it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and to preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.”
May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas! May the Holy Spirit move and inspire us to go forth from ourselves to extend the joy of Christmas, the joy of our faith, the joy of the Gospel, to all!
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