By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In the fullness of time the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and the darkness then, now and for nearly two millennia could not overcome Him. On this Christmas night and day and throughout this Christmas season two weeks in duration, may we, like Mary, deepen our ‘yes’ to God and, like Joseph, awake to God’s faithful presence and action in our lives.
Mary and Joseph expended considerable labor to give birth to the Christ child, the light of the world, at peace in their sojourn to Bethlehem but anxious on the road, trusting in their God through the assurance of the angel, but fearful for the wellbeing of their unborn child. We can only imagine that this exceptional refugee family, after the birth of their first-born son, the child of the promise, collapsed from exhaustion in their earthy home away from home, that stable out back maintained warm and temporarily safe by the attending animals. “All you beasts wild and tame, bless the Lord. Praise and exult him forever!” (Daniel 3,81)
The prophecy fulfilled pierced the clouds and returned to earth so that those dwelling in the heavens and on the earth, could be the heralds of the Good News. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9,6). “From heaven, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2,14)
And who hears the message, but of course those who are compelled to work the night shift, the shepherds keeping watch over their vulnerable charges. Pope Francis cites them as the first cluster of those living on the margins of society, the dregs who smell like the animals they safeguard. Like King David who slew Goliath with an accurately slung stone, these hill people could take down a mountain lion, or wolf, or two-legged night crawler in the same manner if need be. These are not the typical folks that any one of us is likely to invite to visit a new born family member. With no disrespect intended, they might be likened to the fringe bikers of Hell’s Angels in our modern society. Yet, they represent the sinners, prostitutes, lepers, outcasts and tax collectors that received so much attention from Jesus in his public ministry. They were evangelized by the angels on that first Christmas night and after their encounter with Jesus Christ in his mother Mary’s arms with Joseph nearby, they became the first evangelizers. “The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2,16-20)
In all our Christmas celebrations, we with the Church throughout the world, also give glory to God through inspiring liturgies with hearts and minds open to God’s loving and saving mercy for our families, parishes, communities, nation and world. And with the angels and shepherds may no physical structures contain our joy and zeal to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, often shaped by darkness and the shadow of death. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, recently concluded, but ever ancient and ever new, is a constant reminder that after receiving God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, we are empowered and sent into our world, as living signs of hope, justice and peace. We recall that King Herod, whom the Magi recognized for what he was, has many faces in our world and the lust for power, wealth and domination still corrupts God’s creation and the Lord’s dreams for human life. The world needs the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ. (2Cor 4,6)
How do we labor to make our God’s dreams for our world a living reality? There is much to be done beyond our shores and in our country. The world needs to experience our faith in the Lord through our merciful, just and loving service to the most vulnerable. “He has told you, O people, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6,8) Charity does begin at home, but the destitute, the oppressed, the victims of abortion, human trafficking, war and terrorism, refugees, the unjustly incarcerated, the abandoned and neglected, immigrants, the unemployed, underinsured, mentally ill and our fragile planet all cry out for justice and mercy. Christmas reminds us that spiritually as the Lord’s disciples, we will never be unemployed or underemployed. Once the gift of the Christ child has been received we do not live by fear and hopelessness, but rather by faith in the Son of God.
May our God of encouragement and endurance (Romans 15,5) strengthen our faith, hope and love to know that fear is useless. (Mark 5,38) What is needed is trust and prayer and the conviction that God has given us his Spirit of power, love and self-control. (2Timothy 1,7) Merry Christmas to all and to all a good life in service to the Light who shines in the darkness.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz