Christmas: a time to not be afraid

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In Rome on Sunday, November 24, Pope Francis’ first solo document, the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium was presented symbolically to a bishop, a priest and a deacon at the Mass that ended the Year of Faith, in a ritual which showed for the first time,  the public exhibit of the relics of Saint Peter.

Even though the Year of Faith now comes to an end, the desire to keep alive the lessons that we have received in recent months continues.

Throughout the whole world, the people of God experienced this time with great hope. The fact that more than eight and a half million pilgrims came to the tomb of Peter to profess the faith is one of the smaller, albeit significant events.

Many initiatives  around the world during the past year, have shown how much alive and dynamic the faith remains among the faithful, a sign of the piety and profound religiosity that is present in our people.

The moments to remember the teachings of Vatican II, the catechesis on the faith, various celebrations, examples of charity, cultural activities of various kind . . . all this remains as a sign that confirms Christians’ commitment in the world.

As we move into Advent and Christmas, we are more mindful of the gratitude we have to the Lord Jesus for being born into the world as our Saviour.

Advent is fundamentally dynamic. There is movement. Christ, out of love, is coming toward us and we, out of love, await His coming.

Sometimes we might be tempted to look at a new liturgical year with little or no excitement. However, there’s meant to be a whole new drama for us in this new liturgical season in which we, with Christ’s help, rise to meet the challenges He puts before us.

Every liturgical year is supposed to be a liturgical spiral; we are not meant to repeat last year’s steps, but rather to retrace their direction at a higher and more intense level. The experience of last year is meant to help us to have a better season this year.

However, as we collect our thoughts, we reflect that Advent also is that season in which we are mindful not only of Christ’s coming at Bethlehem, but also that He will come again to judge us in the future and He continues to come to us in so many ways in the present, especially in the Eucharist.  Now, the lead up to Christmas is upon us!
Santa is to be seen everywhere; Christmas carols and ‘the spirit of giving’ are in the air. Christmas is when we do enjoy our gifts.

With our adult faith, it is hoped that we reflect on the deeper meaning of Christmas, God’s revelation. This is a time for Christians to engage with the world. Christmas, whilst it is a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection. God did not send a representative or a ‘go-between’.  
God’s gift to us is that He sent His Son and, in that sense, he came himself. Christmas is when we welcome Jesus into our lives.

Can we make Christmas different by pausing to reflect on the marvellous happening of God becoming a newborn baby? Can we make our own, the reality that Jesus is always present for us, waiting to be recognised in order that he might be our hope, and the light when darkness is upon us, when we have lost our way?

These days, life is lived at such a fast pace that we do more and more, we yet are often left with the feeling that we achieve less and less. Our lives are full, but we can feel empty.

The humility, poverty and simplicity of the crib scene and the birth of Christ, present a challenge to reassess our priorities, our values and way of life.

We are more than familiar with the Christmas story when the angels appear to the shepherds to tell them of the birth of Christ. The angel’s first words are “do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10).

They are the same words with which the Angel Gabriel greets Mary when he tells her of God’s plan that she should be the mother of the Messiah. As Mary’s son grows up and begins his life work, he too will say these words many times.

There are other times through the Gospels when Jesus says those words; especially we recall the women at the empty tomb after his rising from the dead and he says “do not be afraid”.

This is a refrain through the Bible and it reminds us that God is with us. That IS the Christmas message: Emmanuel: God is with us. He loved us so much that he became one of us in the helpless child of Bethlehem, so that we might see and know God, as he really is and welcome him into our lives.

As we join in the festivities that are part of Christmas, may we have the freedom to go on our knees before the small child, who is God of everything that is important in our day-to-day living.

May the coming of the Christ-child this Christmas bathe you and your family in the light of hope that never fades; and may the peace of Christmas rest upon you today and always.

- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, November 2013


Bishop Leslie Tomlinson's Christmas message 2013 Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst