Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Christmas 2009"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Dec. 17, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

The events in our world the last year or so have left us wondering about the future. The economic downturn has led us into the worst depression since 1929. Trusted economic institutions, once believed to be stable and secure, have collapsed. The job market has yet to recover; the unemployment rate is the highest in years.

Globally, fanaticism is a harsh reality. How do you stop suicide bombers and others who attack innocents, including women and children? How do you stop someone who decides to kill four police officers sitting around a table? Anyone seems to be a fair target for anger and bitterness. Our youth are caught up in ruthless gangs. Drug abuse leads to addiction and crime. It’s easy to paint a pretty bleak picture of our world. That’s the dark side our lives.

On an ordinary night over 2,000 years ago, a married couple walked into Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay for the night. All that was available was a stable. Certainly stables aren’t anything to write home about. But this night, in this place, a Child was born who dramatically changed human history. In the first verse of the letter to the Hebrews, the author speaks of how “God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers.” The story of creation in the Book of Genesis speaks a dynamic account of how our Creator touched our world in mystery and newness.

Moses heard God in the burning bush, the Voice who called him forth on his special journey. The prophets of old were fearless in proclaiming God’s presence and justice. God calls people to account. But God also is the One who saves and restores. The prophet Isaiah uses powerful imagery: “The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…. The cow and bear shall be neighbors.” It’s an imagery that gives hope to the world, then and now.

As the Letter to the Hebrews continues, “In this the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son.” In a very real sense, the world at the time of Jesus’ birth probably wasn’t much different than our world today. In one of the Christmas Mass readings from Isaiah we hear these words: “Upon those who dwell in the land of gloom, a light has shown.” Jesus comes in the darkness of “night” to a world waiting to be loved and redeemed. God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus, went beyond the wildest dreams of people. Yes, a Messiah was expected, but never in this way. Everyone can identify with a child in the manger. There is no more humble home than a stable. There is no one more helpless than a newborn babe. The scene today in our cribs still leaves us in awe as we look and gaze in wonder. From the youngest to the oldest, we are touched.

The scene is one thing; the message and the mission are another. The Lover of humanity comes, and the message of salvation quickly unfolds as the Kingdom of God is made real and specific for God’s people. God loves each of us profoundly, but the other reality is just as profound. Jesus isn’t only my Savior; he is our Savior. He saves us all, and leads us all to the kingdom.

Yes, there is gloominess today. We can and must recognize reality. It is far too easy to be selective about reality and forget about the fullness of the kingdom of God, the Light of Christ in our lives. Yes, reality can be hard, difficult, painful. History has been ever thus, and so it is today.

But Christmas reminds us that in good times and bad, in times of pain and times of joy, our loving God is always with us. We are called to be his disciples. We make up his body in the Church, and by word and example we strive to be a light to the world, the salt of the earth. Those images are not our invention. They come to us from Jesus himself, from his sermon on the mountain.

The celebration of Christmas helps us appreciate the great love of Jesus for us all. The privilege and honor accorded us call us to go forth in the spirit of Jesus to care for and love the world, just as he cares for and loves the world. The light of Jesus will overcome any darkness. In a complex and troubled world, in the new reality of the global village, that Light is needed more than ever. May we receive that light graciously and thankfully, and may we reflect that Light in faithfulness and profound gratitude.

A blessed and Merry Christmas to all!

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