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The joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth
May the coming days of Christmas crown Advent preparations with the fullness of peach and joy

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The tragic events of Friday morning, December 14th at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut have deeply touched all of us this Christmas Season. Our joyful anticipation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior, has turned into a time of sadness and prayer for the 20 children and 8 adults who will not celebrate Christmas this year. We pray for all the families affected by this senseless violence. As we gather with our loved ones this Christmas, we will hug them tighter and appreciate them more than ever before. Only Christ, the child whose birth we celebrate, can give us hope. Hope gives us strength to face so many sorrows in our lives. We know that evil will never have the last word. The child Jesus grew to be our Savior. He saves us from death and mourning, from sadness and grief. He did so by His own suffering and death. He is Emmanuel—God with us—even in our pain.

May the imminent birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, bring you peace, joy, and every grace! He is coming, with His great power, to give mercy to sinners and salvation to those who long for Him.
Throughout this Advent season, we have been waiting and preparing. We have contemplated our Lord’s promised return in glory. We have been reminded of the need constantly to be ready for this event, because we do not know when it will happen. We have contemplated the proclamation of His coming by the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist. We have heard again his always timely call to repentance and conversion, to ready our hearts for the coming of the great King. And we contemplate in these days not only His birth in Bethlehem, but also His birth in us, who bear His name from the sacred waters of Baptism. Therefore, obedient to His love, we have scoured our hearts and sought His healing in the sacrament of Confession.

Similarly, as we have decorated our homes and prepared gifts for those we love, we have tried not to be too caught up in the world’s materialism. We have remembered to make some acts of charity for the poor, among our own families and neighbors, and those so affected last month by Hurricane Sandy. We have been more generous with our prayers for all those in need, especially the families in Newtown, Connecticut, for the unborn, for the defense of marriage, and for the liberty of the Church. Perhaps we have offered kind words to a stranger, or one from whom we have been estranged. We have tried to show by the witness of our lives that it is Jesus Christ for whom we prepare, and that Christmas only starts, rather than ends, on the feast of His birth.
In all this we have had to struggle against the world’s selfish momentum and violence of all kinds. Worldly pride and secular thinking more and more turn Christmas into nothing more than a continuation of Thanksgiving, pretending that food, presents, and decorations exhaust the meaning of the last six weeks of autumn. No time is permitted for preparation, or for contemplation of Christ’s past, present, and future coming.

As our Holy Father reminded us recently, “Amidst the consumer society, in which we seek joy in things, John the Baptist teaches us to live in an essential way, so Christmas is experienced not only as an outward party outside, but as the feast of the Son of God who came to bring peace, life and true joy to people.”
Such struggle may be difficult, but it is good for our faith. The little sacrifices we make during this Advent season, in order to keep it as Advent and not as a very early Christmas, can be united with all the other sacrifices we make and have made for Christ, for our vocations, and for our penances. They become each day a little “way of the Cross,” a little “flight into Egypt,” by which we are once again allowed to participate in the saving life of Christ. In this Year of Faith, it is very good to recognize anew the great importance of such seemingly innocuous daily choices, and to be inspired anew, out of love for Jesus Christ, to be willing to make them.

Now, then, in these last few days of Advent, we still know we need something more than feasting and consumer goods to find true joy. Christ, our guiding and sustaining light, is nearly here. Amid our hectic lives and many last-minute obligations, He asks us to find time for stillness, for quiet in which He can touch our hearts. He wants us to feast on Him inwardly – on His word and His sacraments, and on His charity poured out through the faithful witness of our lives. This is the deepest anticipation of our Christmas joy: if we take the time to be with Him now, we will be all the more prepared to be united with Him when He comes.

May these coming days of Christmas, from the Nativity of our Savior on December 25 until the feast of His Baptism on January 13, crown your prayerful Advent preparations with the fullness of joy and peace, and bring you every grace and blessing in the coming year! Please pray for me, and for all our priests, just as I pray for all of you. And remember in a special way this year all those who have died, both young and old, stranger and friend. May the Year of Faith continue to be most fruitful in our lives.

Most merry and blessed Christmas,
Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
Bishop of Sioux City

 

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