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December 09, 2022, The Most Rev. John J. Leibrecht
The joys of past Christmases will again inspire my Christmas this year. For instance, I recall aunts and uncles joining my family for Midnight Mass at our parish church. Afterward, we enjoyed a freshly-prepared hot breakfast at home. Then, we went to the living room for an exchange of gifts.
Next to the Christmas tree, with its multicolored lights, was the crib scene. Mary and Joseph on either side of the new-born child lying in a manger. Looking on were two shepherds, one standing and the other kneeling. Off to the side was a donkey and cow at rest.
Christmas celebrates the birth of a child unique in all human history. The Church tells us about this child in three different Gospels proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses.
At Midnight Mass, the Gospel relates the familiar story of the pregnant Mary journeying with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in a census ordered by the Roman emperor. Then, Mary’s child is born. An angel of God appears to shepherds in the area: “A savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds hurry, the Gospel of the early Mass tells us to see for themselves, “… this thing that has taken place.” Amazed at all they saw and heard, they proceeded to share with others what had been told to them about the child, wondering if he could be the long-awaited messiah.
John’s Gospel at the late-morning Mass reveals more about who this child is: “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh.” This son of Mary, named Jesus, is indeed the Son of God. The heavenly Father has sent his Son to make his dwelling among us. During the years of his life on earth, Jesus would serve in his Father’s name as the “true light which enlightens everyone.”
For Catholics and all Christians around the world, Christmas makes us grateful for the faith we have in Jesus Christ. Faith allows us to see in him the invisible God made visible. It makes possible our acceptance of Jesus as humanity’s Savior announced by the angel of God.
Jesus came to save us, the Scriptures say, from two things: sin and death. Our human weakness does not keep us from sinning, but through Jesus, our sins can be forgiven and, by means of our personal efforts, we are able to live a life based on love of God and love of others. While we are not kept from dying, death does not have the final word. Himself raised from the dead, Jesus promises his faithful followers a whole new life after life on this earth.
CHRIST: OUR CENTER & LIGHT
Therefore, for Christians, Christmas is more than a Happy Holiday. Christmas focuses our attention on the remarkable presence Jesus wants to have in our lives. One way we can maintain our focus on him—in our lives and certainly in this season—is by participating in Mass each weekend. At Mass the Christ born at Bethlehem becomes present on the altar when the priest prays the Lord’s own words over the bread and wine: This is my Body, This is my Blood. As the priest elevates the host and chalice, the Lord offers himself to the Father, inviting us to offer ourselves with him and to the Father.
Offering ourselves with Christ to the Father involves a willingness to die to one’s Self, to make an effort to be less Self-centered, more Other-centered so we can live in conformity with God’s ways and do good for others. In coming to us in Holy Communion, the Lord becomes the spiritual strength we need to act in accord with our offering of Self to the Father.
Mass is all-important to us Catholics. It deepens and transforms the relationship we have with God, who loves us beyond measure.
May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas, enhanced by good memories of past Christmases. And may Jesus Christ, who is our way and truth and life, be a lamp to your feet in order to light your path in the weeks and months ahead in 2023.