By Bishop Rick Stika, Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee
[Editor’s Note: The Christmas message that we are sharing is from His Excellency, Bishop Rick Stika of Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. We encourage you to follow him on Twitter. We also ask that you keep him in your prayers today and throughout the coming year]
My friends, Merry Christmas!
So often when I pray with the Scriptures, I try to place myself in the moment as I reflect on the words on the page and yet know these words speak to me and to all who take the time to read and reflect on them. For me, these words open the door to witness those special moments, especially in the Gospels, when Jesus interacted with the people who were open to His message.
I often like to sit and pray over His inspiring and challenging words to see how also they touch my heart as they touched the hearts of so many so long ago. I also carry those words and ideas with me beyond those minutes when I have the Scriptures before me for my prayers is that this time of reflection will carry me throughout the day. He not only spoke to those in His time and place but He speaks to you and me as we live our life in our own day and age.
I often sit on the hill as I reflect, to listen to His words when He teaches, to hear him say to Zacchaeus to climb down from the tree for today I most stay at your house. To witness the man who was blind, gain sight or the Centurion who had such faith to reach out to Jesus to seek a cure for his servant and made a tremendous statement of faith to Jesus, Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof but only say the word so that my servant will be healed.
Statements of faith and trust in Jesus.
I hope that over the next days, you may take some time and visit a creche, a manger scene and gaze on it and perhaps take the Scriptures with you and reflect on the Gospel of St. Luke, the second chapter which proclaims what occurred in the City of David, Bethlehem when the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest” on that first Christmas day.
Pope Francis recently wrote an Apostolic Letter in which he invited all to contemplate as well on the moment when God became man. The Holy Father wrote “As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realise that so real is his love for us that he became one of us so that we, in turn, might become one with him.”
Perhaps as you gaze on the Nativity Creche, you may also witness what I have seen these last days as I have reflected on the Gospel of St. Luke. I see in a real way so many characters that were profoundly affected by the moment when God became man. One strong attribute I see is Trust.
The Trust of Mary when she said yes to the angel Gabriel when he carried with him the invitation to her to be the Mother of Jesus, of God.
The trust of Joseph when he decided not to divorce Mary when he found out she was with child and they were not yet married and later when again in a dream when he was told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt so that they would be safe from the jealous rage of Herod.
Even the trust of Joseph as he travelled with his pregnant wife due to the command of Caesar Augustus that all might be counted throughout the empire of Rome. A long and challenging journey to the City of David and again his trust knowing that even when there was no room in the inn, it would all work out.
The trust of the Shepherd who left their sheep to witness what was occurring in Bethlehem.
And the trust of Mary in Joseph, her husband.
How about also the trust of the Magi as they followed the star. These three men (once a child told me that they were the three wise guys) who trusted to follow the star so that they, Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar could present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the new King.
Are you able to trust in the Messiah? What is your relationship with God? Do you pray only in need or do you pray daily, not only when convenient but in the context of Mass and the Sacraments? And if not Catholic, to pray at your Church as you honour God.
So much to behold and also so real. A moment that has been proclaimed for centuries and will be until the end of time. O Come O Come Emmanuel has been sung many times during the Advent season, and on Christmas, that same statement is made, God is with us!
In our day and age, the message of Christmas is often forgotten because of the busyness of this time of year. Christmas presents, parties, travel, family squabbles about politics and the list can go on and on this time of year. Some even wish Christmas would be over soon so as to get back to the excitement of January and the Super Bowl.
Perhaps if you fall into the category of getting it over with, then you may have lost the true message of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, the son of God who died for your sins.
So, my prayer for you this Christmas is to trust in Jesus. If you feel empty or lost, discouraged or angry, perhaps in a strange way, make these moments a gift to Christ. His gift to us is to take our troubles and worries upon himself so that we might be free of that which keeps up from loving God and neighbour. St Matthew’s Gospel reminds us in the 11th chapter, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest in your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So, with our joy and happiness, challenges and crosses, spend time contemplating that moment when God became man. Join with Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, the curious and Magi in that marvellous moment contemplating the birth of a child, in the city of David, in the simplicity of a barn the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.
Give to Jesus all your works of mercy and kindness.
Give to Jesus your prayers and hopes. Moments of love, charity, forgiveness and kindness.
Give to Jesus those moments when you look down upon another when your judge unfairly another and when you separate yourself from those of a different culture and language, skin colour or religion. Give him that sin and allow yourself to be transformed and renewed.
And in these days, don’t be afraid to say Merry Christmas as in reality, it is a blessing that you give to another. It is wishing the best to another, from your faith to the person who stands before you. And if they wish you Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other greeting that reflects their faith and culture, thank them and wish them not a happy holiday but Merry Christmas.
And remember, as we hear in the Gospel of St. Luke:
For today, in the city of David, there has been born for you, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Remember to keep Christmas these next weeks and in reality, throughout the rest of your lives, A Savior has been born for YOU, Christ the Lord.
A blessed and Merry Christmas to you and a prayer that 2020 might be blessed and special. God is indeed with us!