Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the blessings and joys of the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ renew in your hearts and homes a living and holy faith, hope, and love! Merry Christmas!
The mystery of Christmas, that is, the mystery of the Incarnation, is one of the pillars of our Catholic faith. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, being totally and eternally God and uncreated, “remaining what he was became what he was not,” adding to his divine nature every aspect of our finite and created human nature except sin, taking flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and now appearing to the whole world as the infant adored in the manger by both shepherds and kings. He did this for no other reason than his love for us, so that he might open the gates of heaven to our eternal salvation by his life, death, passion and resurrection.
Christ hid the infinite power of his divinity in the weakness of a helpless baby. It would be easy, perhaps, for us to submit to the rule of a king who was obviously more than human, and to obey his laws and commandments out of fear. But God’s plan for our salvation is more generous than that. He accepts the greater burden on himself, in order to teach us to love, and to obey and follow him more out of love than out of fear.
Christ was born in a hidden way, too, in Bethlehem, a tiny village in a backwater province of the sprawling, mighty Roman empire. In our pride and sinfulness, we too often imagine that God’s ways ought to accord with our human ways. We expect great things to happen in great places – and we calculate “greatness” only in human and worldly terms.
Christ’s birth reminds us that Rome (or Washington D.C. or Des Moines) is not closer to God because of its power. Nor is Bethlehem (or Larchwood, or Madrid) far from God for being overlooked by human kings. God works most powerfully where and when we least expect it, to call us back to his way.
Over and over again in the Bible and in the lives of the saints, we see God working with the poor and the little ones, to rebuke the worldly and powerful. When the angels proclaimed the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds, in their simplicity and poverty they heard with joy, and believed with living faith, and ran to worship the infant king. Yet the magi were not poor or weak, but wealthy and well-educated, and they too recognized the signs and came to adore the Messiah.
Jesus, who, without necessity or compulsion, did become a little child, taught us, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Here, too, he wants us to have faith like the shepherds, hearts open and receptive to his word; and faith like the magi, holding the things of this world lightly, clinging only to him.
The mystery of Christ’s birth invites us again to renew our faith, and our hope and charity. In his holy birth in the stable in Bethlehem, he took on all our weakness and littleness, so that we might come to share his priestly and royal majesty in heaven. Let Christ once more reign in your heart. Merry Christmas!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City