The Bishop's Christmas Message 2014

"And the Word became flesh and he made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory" (Jn 1: 14)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. We are once again in the holy and happy Season of Christmas. During this Season, there is a remarkable increase in many activities: religious, economic, social, political ... and, sometimes, unfortunately, also criminal. It is a Season that rouses in many people throughout the world strong nostalgic feelings - about their infancies, about departed loved ones, about home (for those living far away from home), or simply about the 'good old days'!

Christmas stirs up the feeling of love in many of us. Although liturgically not as important as Easter, it has become the central focus of many spiritual and pastoral projects for Christians. Whether it is because of its collocation towards the end of the calendar year or simply as a result of some consumerist habits created by the business world, even those who are not Christians will admit that there is something special about Christmas.

2. Yes, there is indeed something very special about Christmas! For us Christians, the solemn feast of Christmas is very special because in it we celebrate one of the central mysteries of Christianity, namely, the Incarnation - God's most spectacular intervention in human history: the human birth of Jesus Christ, the uncreated Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. As we read in the introductory first chapter (prologue) of the Gospel according to John, the Word of God, which was with God in the beginning which was God and through which God created the universe became flesh, that is, became a human being, and lived among us (In 1 :1-14). God became man in Jesus and lived among us.

This event was the highpoint of God's loving project of salvation for man; man who, because of his selfish ambition, had bungled God's initial project of love for him. Rather than leave man to his chosen life of disobedience, which would have led ultimately to eternal unhappiness, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn. 3: 16). It is this divine love that we celebrate at Christmas. It is this love that makes Christmas special. It is this love that evokes in all of us the sentiments of love at Christmas

3. Yes, there is indeed something very special about Christmas! Christmas is the celebration of love. Not the ambiguous sentimental human feeling that we call love, but God's love for us made manifest in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation has taught us in the most explicit way that "God is love" (lJn 4: 8). When the Son of God became man, he gave a completely new meaning to the word love. "This is the revelation of God's love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent his Son of expiate our sins" (1Jn 4:9&10).

It is this love, this self-giving, which rouses in us the strong sentiments of love at Christmas. It is this love, this self-giving, that should animate all our activities at Christmas. As Christians we have to strive to always keep this love at the centre of our Christmas celebrations, especially now, when so many other worldly factors and concerns are gradually crowding God's love for us revealed in Christ out of our Christmas programmes.

4. Yes, there is indeed something very special- about Christmas! It is the celebration of Christ! Etymologically, the word Christmas means "Christ's Mass" (Cristes maesse). The Mass, as we know, is the celebration of Christ's ultimate self-offering on the Cross - an ultimate act of love. źNo one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends╗ (In 15':13). If we remove this self-giving love from Christmas, what we have is Christmas without Christ. Then Xmas becomes Xmas (where Xt stands for Christ and X stands for anything at all!). In fidelity to its original meaning, both etymological and theological, we Christians should resist the attempt being made in many quarters to remove both Christ and the Mass from Christmas.

And where this has already happened, we should strive to put both back. We should make Christmas a celebration of God's self-giving love in Jesus Christ. In imitation of and inspired by this act of divine love, we should celebrate Christmas by showing love to those to whom we ordinarily find it more difficult to do so: the poor, difficult neighbours and relatives as well as those whom we regard or who regard us as enemies. Furthermore, we should ritually mark this celebration by attending Mass on Christmas Day! Christmas without love or Christmas without the Mass for a Catholic is only a parody of the true Christmas.

5. Before the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God sent his Word in the form of words through the Prophets, in order to prepare the people for the acceptance of the Word made flesh. God's Word through which he created the world therefore became words in the Scriptures before it became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. When the risen Lord met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus in the evening of the day of the resurrection, "starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about him" (Lk 4:27).

And as he did that, their hearts burnt within them (In 24:32). If those disciples had not known the Scriptures, Jesus' explanation to them would not have struck any familiar chord. Similarly, we need familiarity with the Word of God in the Scriptures if we want that same Word to take flesh in us. If we do not know him through the Scriptures, we may not even: recognize him in our hearts. We are therefore invited to take up the Word of God contained in the Bible and read it devotionally and prayerfully, in order to acquire more familiarity with it during this Christmas.

Season, so as to prepare our hearts for its taking flesh in us.

6. "And the Word became flesh and he made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory". The mystery of the Incarnation is not just an event that took place in the distant past, but an ongoing event in the life of every believer. Christmas offers us the opportunity of bringing about in our lives, both as individuals and as communities of believers, the Incarnation of Christ. As St Augustine reminds us, although biologically only one person, the Blessed Virgin Mary, could give birth to Jesus Christ, spiritually every Christian can and should conceive Jesus and bring him forth to the world.

Spiritually, the Word should become part of us, make his dwelling among us. If we allow this to happen, we shall definitely see his glory as well. And others around us will also see his glory in and through us. During the Mass on Christmas Day all the Churches in the world will be filled with the joyful song of the Psalmist "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God" (Ps 97/98:3), rendered in almost all the languages of the world.

May I invite you personally, dear Brother, dear Sister, to be part of this song. Make the Word of God, Jesus the Christ, take flesh in you so that you may see his glory, his victory, in your life and experience his love and salvation.

Happy Christmas!

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