Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ’s humble and hidden birth fill you with joy! As we anticipate Christ’s coming in these final days of Advent, we contemplate that all that we know of that night. We stir up our own faith, as we consider the depth and power of Mary and Joseph’s trust in God’s plan. We join our Christmas joy to that of the shepherds, hearing and responding to the angels announcing the Messiah. We imagine ourselves there, looking on, adoring the infant king, and fervently hoping that all God’s promises can now be fulfilled.
This is the faith and hope, the joy and love, that should mark us as followers of Christ all year long. In the midst of the worldliness of what Christmas has become in our culture, our deeper celebration of the true meaning of Christmas can shine brightly for people around us.
For example, next week, when we return to work, we will encounter people who act as though, since the 25th has come and gone, Christmas is over. We can still wish them “Merry Christmas” along with returning their “Happy New Year” greetings. Or, what if we resolved to show everyone the same welcome and consideration all year, that we show in these joyful days? In whatever way, our faith in Christ makes this sort of visible difference, marking us as disciples, and inviting others to come to know and love the Savior too.
We also look forward to celebrating the liturgical feasts of the Christmas season, in order to receive again and again the gift of faith in prayer. On Sunday, Dec. 31, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, remembering of course our own families, both graced and in need of grace. On Monday, Jan. 1, we rejoice to know Mary as the Mother of God. This year, because it falls on Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is removed, but, of course, you are invited as always. And the following Sunday, Jan. 7, will be the feast of Epiphany, when the Magi brought their gifts and worshipped Jesus as Messiah and King.
All these special aspects of Christ’s birth and mission as Savior help us to recall who He truly is, who we are as his creatures and children, and why we need him to come to us each year, not just during Christmastide, but all year. In these ways, our faith is deepened, our hope and joy is constantly renewed, our love is increased for those around us, and especially those in need of the grace and mercy we ourselves have received.
May these last days of Advent, and the joyful feasts of Christmas about to begin, bring you his every blessing and gift. Please pray for me, that I may be a faithful shepherd to the whole flock entrusted to my care. Please pray for our priests, and especially for all those who are or feel abandoned at Christmastime. By your prayers, may they come to know the love of Christ and the merciful healing only He can give. Know that I pray for all of you constantly.
Merry and most blessed Christmas!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. I’m sure your pastors have already explained that, even though Christmas Day falls on Monday, the obligation to attend Mass has not been lifted. It is necessary to attend Mass twice this weekend – once for Sunday (like every Sunday), either Saturday evening or Sunday morning and again for Christmas (like every Christmas), either Christmas Eve on Sunday evening, or Christmas Day on Monday. This will certainly do us no harm!