Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The Word was made flesh
and made his dwelling among us"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Dec. 16, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

A newborn infant in a crowd of people is an instant source of appreciation and wonder. The attraction of a baby in the crib is powerful. Look at any of our crib sets in our churches during Christmas. People gather around. Little children are quick to size up the situation and appreciate what the crèche scene symbolizes.

That first Christmas was indeed a profound and spectacular moment in human history. As St. John reminds us in the beginning of his Gospel, the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. The events surrounding that Christmas night were very humble and very human. The stable, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the star: all speak to this unique moment in human history when, for the first time, God took on human flesh, to be amongst us.

The town itself, located just outside Jerusalem, has become a great place of pilgrimage, although in recent years that place of homage has been caught up in strife and deep tension among peoples. How contradictory to the coming of the Infant Savior and the place of his birth! Yes, that is how it is today, and so it was at the time of Jesus’ birth.

The imagery in the prophets, especially in Isaiah, speaks of hopeful expectation, a vision of the presence of the God of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone ... for a child is born to us ... his dominion is vast and forever peaceful.”

Yes, there was darkness then, and there is darkness today, yet the message still holds, perhaps even more so than ever before. In human history we have come to a unique moment of opportunity and relationship. What happened in Bethlehem also plays out in every human heart. In his later teaching, the Infant Savior would quickly tell the world that whatever any of us do to the least ones of humanity, we also do to him. If possible, we come to Bethlehem on pilgrimage to honor him. We come to our crib scenes to seek him out, again and again, as our humble and most loving God. And should we not come to him in every human being on earth, to make his message of salvation vibrant and alive in our day? Our response makes credible and genuine the Savior’s love for all of humanity. Such is his wish. Such is his command.

Yes, the Word was made flesh. In Eucharist, we celebrate again and again the marvelous transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. We are nourished and fed by this Bread of Life: so very real, yet veiled in the mystery of the sacrament. According to tradition, the Infant at his birth was placed in manger – a feeding box. Indeed, humanity has looked at that imagery and has fed on the sight.

We come to the table of Lord, and we are fed. Anyone who thinks that he or she doesn’t need to partake of this Divine Banquet must remember the words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. We need to revisit that reading again and again to see how wonderfully and powerfully the Savior has made himself available to all of humanity, to see his profound desire to be one with all of us. Jesus’ intimacy with each of us is hard to imagine and fully appreciate. The scene of Bethlehem, of Jesus coming in the flesh, is replicated again and again in our lives for our taking and for our response in love and gratitude.

By who we are, by the way we witness, by the way we live our lives, we make present the Saving Jesus in our world. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be a light to the world and a salt of the earth. Jesus asks us to take his light – coming in and through each of us. Just as Mary said “yes” to the angel’s word of invitation, and the Word became flesh in her, so too our unconditional “yes” to Jesus uniquely helps each of us to give witness to his presence in our person, in our daily lives. We too can help Jesus “come” into the world in 2004. Whatever gloom there might be here and now, a light can shine, and the darkness will not overcome it. God’s promise will always be fulfilled in God’s own time.

On this Christmas, may the light of all of us shine. The saving presence of Jesus is needed now as much as ever, both for us personally and for the human family.

I extend to all of you and your loved ones best wishes and prayers for a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

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