My dear brothers and
sisters in Christ:
We have now begun the holy season of Advent, a time of joyful preparation to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. We had hoped that Christmas would be celebrated more joyfully than were Holy Week and Easter due to the restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet these restrictions, modified in some situations, still remain for our safety as the pandemic continues to pose a serious health challenge affecting us in so many ways.
Somehow we seem to be brought into that cave at Bethlehem, experiencing the stark reality of our Savior’s home at birth. We may be spending Christmas away from family and friends, maybe even alone. In other places, the number of loved ones around the table likely is fewer. So many changes, great and small, have occurred.
But just as that cave at Bethlehem was aglow with the light of Christ and surrounded by the joy of angelic choirs singing “Glory to God in the highest,” these voices and the light of Christ continue to shine brilliantly. No situation can darken the presence of Jesus in our life: He was present to the shepherds and magi; He was present to the lepers; He was present to those publicly condemned for sins; He was present to the blind, the crippled, the outcast and the foreigner. In their time of darkness, He brought light. This is the first gift of Christmas, the fidelity of Christ to His promise: “Know I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
I hope every home has a Nativity set reminding us of the Savior’s poor, humble, lonely and isolated birthplace. The Nativity scene is a powerful meditation calling to mind that while our lives encounter numerous challenges, changes, difficulties and crosses, Christ gives us the stability we long for and the peace that comforts us.
This year we understand more than ever that Christmas gifts are far more than material things, gadgets, computer games; they are alive: parents caring for children and children for their parents; healthcare workers, doctors and nurses, spending Christmas in healthcare facilities; scientists seeking cures for the virus; first responders and persons in service occupations; teachers and school staffs doing everything possible to continue the education of our children; neighbors watching out for neighbors; and priests going to the sick and dying to bring Christ in Holy Communion and to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick. These are the real gifts of Christmas.
At the moment the Savior was born in Bethlehem, there were no gift-wrapped presents, but there were three very real gifts: Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and a constant support to his wife, Mary; our Blessed Mother, who uttered those words, “Thy will be done,” and never turned back; and, of course, Jesus! Each represents the true virtues that allow us to be a gift, a living gift to another person: fidelity, love, humility, self-sacrifice and perseverance. When the Magi arrived some time after the birth of Christ, they realized that their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh so paled in comparison to the gift they were given: beholding the face of Christ, being in the presence of perfect love.
With our lives more simplified, our celebrations more restrained, whether intended or not intended, we have become like those simple shepherds in our own surroundings as we too are en route to Bethlehem and, like those shepherds, find the perfect Christmas gift.
“The shepherds went
their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable-shed
Where the virgin-mother lay:
And now they checked
their eager tread,
For to the babe,
that at her bosom clung,
A mother’s song the
They told her how
a glorious light,
a heavenly throng,
Around them shone,
While sweeter than
a mother’s song,
Blessed angels heralded
the Saviour’s birth,
Glory to God on High!
And peace on earth.”
(from “A Christmas Carol” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as presented in “Divine Inspiration,” p. 33)
Be assured of my prayers throughout this Advent season and the Christmas season. May you know the joy of Christmas and may the Savior dispel the darkness.
Invoking the intercession of our Mother Mary kneeling at the Savior’s crib, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester