By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven” (Entrance Antiphon from Christmas Mass during the Night).
The message of the angel to the shepherds on the first Christmas remains ever new: “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” The message of the birth of Jesus our Savior was spoken over 2,000 years ago, but it is a message that the Church still proclaims and will always proclaim, the message of Christmas, the message that “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” is the Savior, not only for people long ago, but our Savior, the Savior of people today.
Given all the advances in science and technology, especially in recent years, some may feel that we don’t really need a savior. There are those who consider man to be a self-sufficient master of his own destiny. Yet, in the depths of our being, we know otherwise. Despite humanity’s many advances, we still have poverty, injustice, hatred, violence, loneliness, addictions and other ills. In a word, there is still sin and there is death, from which no one can escape. Yes, we do need a Savior. So the message of Christmas has relevance and gives hope: “our Savior has been born in the world.”
The Church’s task, our task, is to receive the Savior into our hearts and lives and to witness to the Savior in our words and deeds. “The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men” (Catechism 780). We are a community saved by Christ. We draw our strength and nourishment from His Word and His Eucharistic Body. And then we bear witness to Christ our Savior in the world. We share in His saving mission to overcome evil with good, to bring light to those in darkness, healing to those who are suffering, in sum: to bear witness to the truth and beauty and joy of the Gospel of our Savior.
Christ does not save us from the world. He came into the world, so that through Him the world might be saved. In order to save us, the Son of God became one of us. He assumed our human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. He came in the flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He became truly man while remaining truly God. This is the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is the distinctive sign of Christian faith, a mystery unheard of in other religions. The Church confesses that “Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother” (CCC 469). Why? Precisely: to save us! As we profess in the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.”
God revealed to Mary and Joseph that they were to name their child, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus,” a name which means “God saves.” This is Jesus’ mission. Pope Benedict XVI once said that Jesus is “the face of the God who saves.” He gives life and this life is grace. God sent His Son into the world to fill the world with His grace. When we gaze upon the infant Jesus in the Christmas manger, we see the face of God. We see the immortal Life which became mortal. In the face of the baby Jesus, we see God’s love and humility. In Jesus, we receive the power of God’s saving grace, the grace that sanctifies us.
God shows us His face, full of grace and mercy, in Jesus. When we open ourselves in faith to receive His grace and mercy, we receive a share in His own divine life. This is why God became man: in order to give us a share in His own divinity. At Christmas, we celebrate the amazing grace which the Lord’s mercy bestows on us. This is the message of Christmas: the good news of salvation. And that is why we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” This peace is the fruit of God’s love which is grace, mercy, and truth. And together with this peace, we have hope, the hope which has its foundation in the gift of salvation, of being set free from the darkness of sin and death. Christmas is truly a feast of hope.
The grace, peace and joy of Christmas is for all people. Jesus was born as the Savior of the world. In the Child Jesus in the manger, we behold the Truth that sets us free and the Love that transforms our lives. We adore Him at our Christmas liturgies. Like the shepherds who adored Jesus in the manger, we are also called to spread the good news of the birth of our Savior. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the shepherds “made known the message that had been told them about this child.” We should not be afraid to share the joy of our faith with others. In fact, we have an obligation to do so: to bear witness to Jesus the Savior so that others may encounter His love, grace, and peace. As Saint Paul wrote: “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation, has been entrusted with this truth and must go out and bring this truth to the world. Let us not be afraid to share with others the truth of the Gospel and the joy of our encounter with Christ our Savior!
It was through the fruitful virginity of Mary that God bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation. May the Mother of the Savior help us to bear witness in our world to the truth and love of her Son! May God bless you and your loved ones with joy and peace during this Christmas season! Merry Christmas to all!
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