Let the Light of Christmas Shine in the New Year
"On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle:'God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race' (Titus 2:11). The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light." (Pope Francis - Christmas 2013)
About midway through November, driving along and going through the dials on the car radio looking for some music, I came across a station broadcasting Christmas carols. It seemed to me a bit early. I probably wouldn't mind the Christmas carols at a point soon after Halloween if it were the case that they would continue into what we consider the Christmas season, those 12 days that begin on Christmas Day, and continue until Epiphany, or January 6. As it is, most of the public celebration of Christmas ends soon after the stores close on Christmas Eve and certainly by Christmas Day. The truth of the matter is, however, that the message of Christmas is so wonderful that it takes us time to fully let it rest in our hearts. That is why the Church gives us a Christmas season. And so I ask you to continue the celebration of Christmas even after the wrapping paper is recycled and the leftovers from the festive dinner are in the refrigerator.
As Pope Francis tells us in the quote that opened this column, Christmas is our celebration of the fact that Jesus, Son of God, entered into our world and our human history. Our celebration reminds us that He came to bring us a message of God's love for each of us and to show us how we might better live in that love as we walk with Jesus each day. The message of Jesus is not something we celebrate in one period of the Church year or even something we leave in Church but something we carry with us each day of our lives as we walk with one another in our world. In order to be mindful of this wonderful mystery of God's love for us, I keep a small carved olive wood statue of the Baby Jesus in His straw crib on my window sill over the kitchen sink. It is a reminder, at the beginning of the day as I rinse the breakfast dishes, of the fact that Jesus is with me through that day helping me to bring His message into the world I will be in that particular day. Having that little statue right in front of me is a good reminder as I head out for whatever the day brings.
In the midst of this Christmas season, this 12 day celebration, we also mark the New Year. It is time for a new start, time for a new way of living. Beginnings are always opportunities to do things differently. That is the tradition that underlies our New Year's resolutions. What is it we want to change? What do we want to do better? Those are the questions that underlie our decisions regarding what we will resolve to do as a new year begins. Such resolutions are a good thing. In their own way, they are similar to the conversions which are at the heart of Christian life. We need to constantly ask ourselves how we can better live the message of Jesus we receive at Christmas and live throughout each day and year of our lives.
Often resolutions include goals to improve ourselves. We resolve to lose weight, or exercise more, or some such combination. It is always helpful as well, however, to think about resolutions, conversions of life, which improve our relations with one another. How can we be better at listening to one another? How can we be more patient with one another? How can we grow in appreciation at the diversity of people with whom we share this city, this state, and this world?
After the political year we have just finished, we need to find ways to appreciate each other more. There are so many needs in our society. There is a need for everyone to contribute in the best way they can. Together, we need to seek solutions which feed the needy and provide employment for those who go without. As a new year begins, I pray we can seek solutions together to the problems that we find. In Jesus, God became man to show us how to live. That is the message of this Christmas season. I pray we seek the answer to the challenges of our society in the message that Jesus teaches us of the love God has for each and every one of His children. Such cooperation would keep the beautiful music of Christmas carols sounding through the new year.
+ Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
12th Bishop of Portland