The Birth of Christ:
Source of Light and Joy for our Lives

by Bishop EDWARD J. BURNS

The angel said to them, “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 Messiah and Lord”….And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God… and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”(Lk 2:10-11, 13-14).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Merry Christmas!

Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus are depicted in a Nativity painted by Benedictine nuns in Madrid. The Christmas season begins with the Dec. 24 evening vigil commemorating the birth of Christ and ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13. (CNS/Art Resource/Album)
Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus are depicted in a Nativity painted by Benedictine nuns in Madrid. The Christmas season begins with the Dec. 24 evening vigil commemorating the birth of Christ and ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13. (CNS/Art Resource/Album)

Let us pause for a moment to remember this message of the angel in our hearts: the Good News of great joy is upon us! A savior is born who is both Messiah and Lord, who reveals the glory of God and brings peace to those whom He calls. We are called to partake of this peace, together.

My friends, I desire to express with you at this time my joy and gratitude for the moment in which we find ourselves, celebrating the Incarnation of Jesus, as we enter more deeply into a Year of Faith. This is such a special time for the People of God because this Christmas celebration takes place within the context of an invitation from the Church to be re-evangelized by Christ, as part of a New Evangelization. This invitation is at once a gift and an obligation to all of us. I introduced the central theme of this invitation in my pastoral letter entitled “Rediscover the Journey and Joy of Encountering Christ.”

In our Catholic tradition the birth of Jesus is cause for a heightened level of celebration. After four weeks of preparation during the season of Advent, our Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve. You might think that one church service on Christmas would be more than sufficient to express our joy at the birth of the Savior, but that is not the case. The joyful celebration of the birth of our Savior is so important that it is extended over three Holy Masses: at mid-night, dawn, and during the day on Christmas. Each of these has its own distinctive prayers and readings from sacred Scripture, related to the Nativity of our Lord Jesus and our personal encounter with him.

And as if that weren’t enough, we continue to celebrate Christmas for eight more days in an octave that concludes on New Year’s Day. Then on January 6th (or the Sunday closest to that date) we celebrate Epiphany, the feast of the Three Kings who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. Our celebration of the Christmas season concludes a week later with the commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

The various beloved customs and traditions of the Christmas season have their origin in the joy of the Christian community at the great event of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among the human race.
During this special season of joy and celebration, I think we need to be aware of our friends, family and neighbors for whom this season is a sad and difficult time. I am thinking of all of those in our community who have lost friends and loved ones during the year to illness or accident. Or who long for the presence of a husband or wife, mother or father, brother or sister who is absent from home because of separation or divorce, deployment overseas or incarceration. For all those in the grip of sorrow or sadness, this festive season underscores the absence of the person they love from their lives.

In particular, I am mindful of the families of the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Like many of you, I have watched the news reports and looked on in great sorrow at the sight of family friends, colleagues and neighbors who grieved those who were killed in such a senseless crime. It is important to remember and be attentive to all those in our community who are grieving during this holiday season. In the darkness of loss and separation, each one of us can be the light of understanding, consolation, and kindness. Each of us can help in our own way to dispel the heavy weight of sorrow for those who grieve by being a compassionate presence and by our willingness to listen.

Within the context of Christmas and the Holiday season, this time of the year is filled with social gatherings, the celebration of traditions, the sending of Christmas greetings and the offering of gifts to others. I believe that many in our community would thrive if we made the effort to bring the gifts of faith, hope, and love into the hearts of those people most in need. While these gifts may be difficult to wrap, they are the ones that are most lasting and meaningful.