Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Dec. 18, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
The power of the birth of the Infant Savior remains strong after 2,000 years. The place of the birth in Bethlehem is a site of great devotion and powerful memory. The name of the town is well known world over, and the crib scene is a rich symbol of the humble place of birth. Truly, this was a spectacular event in history. For the first time, the Word made flesh was visible as a fellow human being. Isaiah describes this moment in terms of pure poetry: “For a child is born to us, a son given us, upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:5ff).
The first Christmas night has traveled down through human history to our day. Midnight Mass is broadcast from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and for so many, the relationship with the Christ Child as an Infant is intimate and affectionate. How can we not be deeply touched? The Infant appeals to all – the vulnerable, precious, and disarming. His great moment was yet to come. He grows to manhood, engages in three years of public ministry, suffers, dies, and rises again.
We relate so readily to the Infant Savior. Why does that relationship weaken when we consider Jesus as a youth, or as a grown man engaged in public ministry? Jesus calls us always to be in relationship with him – not only as he was 2,000 years ago, but in real-time – now. The loving, forgiving, suffering, dying, healing Jesus is very much in our midst, right here, right now. The Risen Jesus always accompanies us. Intimacy with the Babe should also be the intimacy with the Man.
The excitement and joy we feel in his birth can lead us to the excitement and joy of the present moment, every moment of our lives. The crib scene speaks to us without words, but Jesus’ later public ministry consists of a teaching and lifestyle that also leads to fullness of life and peace. We faithful disciples must take his words seriously and live them prophetically. The effectiveness of such witness can be seen by all of us in people who are very present to the Risen Lord in sacrament and in one another.
Isaiah reminds us that in the land of gloom, a light has shown. Times were tough when the Savior was born. It was a time when human beings were especially harsh to one another. Today is not exactly a time of wonderful days containing fullness of light. Terrorism, starvation, malnutrition, disrespect of human life, genocide, prevalence of abortion, the drug trade and the accompanying vicious violence all tell a sad tale of something terribly wrong with the human family. It is far too easy to surrender to discouragement, pessimism, and cynicism.
Yet, with that reality of gloominess, we are called to be people of the Light. As St. Paul reminds us, we are people of light, people of day. We belong to neither night nor darkness (Phil 5:5). We should be vigilant and sober, says St. Paul – very much aware of the moment. Christmas is a great feast of light and hope. The presence of the Savior now gives as much light as ever, and we need to be sensitive to the myriad number of opportunities we have to share that light. The decorative lights of Christmas spell out for us a joyful and hopeful spirit, a spirit that connects, appreciates and calls forth a greater sensitivity to one another’s well being. In the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, our annual Catholic Charities collection is taken up to give light and hope to other people’s lives when they need it most.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the press conference to kick off this year’s Catholic Charities Christmas Collection (Editor’s note: See “Catholic Charities Christmas Collection launched; this year’s goal: $750,000,” IR 12/4/08.) Two people who arose from what might have appeared hopeless conditions told powerful stories of their personal journey toward wholeness as they worked to reorient their lives and start over, fresh and new. The presence and assistance of Catholic Charities cast light in their period of darkness.
Jesus commands us to love our neighbor – and everyone is our neighbor. To assist others in discovering their dignity and self-worth is part of the message of the Gospel. The Infant Jesus in his crib is a light to the world, then and now – a light in real-time to our brothers and sisters who experience that light, that love, through us. Such a witness makes the Christmas spirit live as we celebrate the birth, and all year long.
Christmas 2008. Let’s make it happen!
Prayers and best wishes to all for a blessed and joyful Christmas.
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