“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
How great our joy! Today the Child whom we seek, the Deliverer of mankind, is born. This divine Gift does not come to us in wrappings of the secular world. The glitter on the Gift is a star of the heavens; the paper in which the Gift is adorned is of human flesh; the Gift is offered through the womb of the earth, our Blessed Mother. This Gift to us, Prince of Peace, is not bestowed upon a mansion, but laid in a manger. While the bows and colored paper torn from their boxes will be thrown into the recycling bin, this Christmas wrap, swaddling of the Father’s love, is sacred and we cannot part from Him.
We all gather to see this Child for our faith, like that of the shepherds in the field and the wise men, propels us closer and we proclaim our belief.
In the secular world, the celebration of Christmas is relegated to December 24 and 25. After December 25, the secular world begins it marketing of sales and Christmas decorations are taken down and fade away, making room for more parties and glitter; not for the celebration of the Christ-child, but for the beginning of a new year. For us, as Catholics, the Christmas season begins on the vigil of December 24 and ends on January 13, the Baptism of the Lord – three full weeks of the season of Christmas.
How will we partake in the Christmas season? I hope that we will not resort to the secular machinations of putting Christmas away for another year. Rather, I pray the desire with which we went in haste to see this thing that has taken place – to find Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger – grows within us and fortifies our faith to see the earth through our natural senses as an earth ripened by our love of God and bear its fragrant fruit across the land.
Choose to see how God wants to love you through this Christmas season and how you accept this love and offer it seven-fold. Welcome the stranger-we hear this often and we are confused by it. Throughout our salvation history, many of God’s holy people – prophets, soldiers, servants and kings – were strangers. Jesus was a Stranger on the night of His birth, born in a town not His own. What will your offering be for this Stranger? Might you shake the hand of the stranger sitting next to you during the celebration of Mass on Christmas with a bid of prayer for him or her, or greet the neighbor whom you have never yet greeted, or yes, offer something for the street person whose light shines on a cardboard sign marked ‘homeless’?
We have all been strangers—new to a class at school or a place of employment or as a neighbor who just moved in or to a set of circumstances such as illness or financial difficulty or death of a family member. Pope Francis said while it is normal to be afraid of the unknown, we can’t let this direct how we respond to newcomers in our midst, who should be treated with respect and generosity. “Having doubts and fears is not a sin, the Holy Father explains. “The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection,” he continued. “The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, to encounter the different, to encounter the neighbor, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
During the Christmas season, let us each be the one who extends the favor of the Christ child to another. If we all were to do this, love one another as I have loved you, that stable of Christmas night would burst into a mansion of the heart that no one can deny.
From one stranger to another, blessings this holy Christmas season.
Most Reverend John Noonan
Bishop of Orlando