Bishop Mark’s Christmas Message

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I know someone who is convinced that the greatest invention in the 20th century was the TV remote control. Without leaving his chair, he could mute the sound or change the channel to avoid all of the commercial ads. He would always say, “Who really watches them and who needs all that stuff?”

For weeks leading up to the joyful feast of Christmas, TV and now internet ads, are loud, bright, and pushing all sorts of things that may or may not be what we really want or need. And it is rare to find an image or an explicit statement to remind us that Christmas is the birthday of our Savior, Christ the Lord.

I recently saw a TV ad that captures the “spirit” of Christmas without a loud TV announcer and without any dialogue from the actors. It shows a teenage boy looking at a Christmas tree without decorations in his modest house.

Then it shows his messy room with laundry that needs to be done and there is a brief glimpse of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Those images suggest that these were his chores that were being neglected.

Next he is shown pedaling his bike to sell some of his electronic games for some quick cash. He arrives home with Christmas decorations and puts them on the tree. Then he washed the dishes and does his laundry just in time for his Mom, apparently a single parent, to walk in the door.

The Mom is obviously moved and the teenage boy has an awkward look on his face; a face that shows that he is hoping for his Mom’s approval for his efforts. The scene ends with the Mom giving her son a hug, and with this teenage boy hugging his Mom.

Until that point, there was no commercial message, which is a good thing. And after the hugs, the commercial message is presented, but I could not tell you what it is. That’s a bad thing for the advertisers, because in a TV commercial they want to sell us something.

On a silent and holy night, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to a Son who was conceived through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. In the cold and darkness of a stable made for animals, Mary hugged the Lord Jesus as she wrapped him in swaddling clothes.

From that moment, the Lord Jesus, who is Son of God and Son of Mary, has continued to inspire us, show us, invite us, and teach us how to recognize the tree without decorations, the laundry that needs to be cleaned, and the dishes that need to be washed. Those ordinary circumstances where something is missing or unfinished remind us that we are all in need of even simple expressions of God’s merciful love. They remind us that sharing God’s gracious love with others is something that anyone can do.

The Lord Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas, also teaches us the constant need to recognize that true joy is to be found when we undergo the kind of conversion that is portrayed by the teenage boy in a TV commercial.

Pope Francis explains it this way: When we let God bring us beyond ourselves, life changes and we attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at sharing and living the Gospel, because at that point the need to proclaim it arises spontaneously, it becomes irrepressible, even without words, with our own human witness (cf., Joy of the Gospel, n. 8).

In the TV commercial, the teenager gives witness without words. He gives witness to his God-given human dignity in the simple ways in which he accepts responsibility for doing his share of work around the house. His reward is found in recognizing the joy and love he shares with his Mom. He expresses that joy as he decorates the Christmas tree. It is so simple and so genuine that it brings out the best in his Mom as she graciously accepts the expression of her son’s love.

Pope Francis is constantly reminding us that life is a love story in which God invites us to invite others to participate in that story by discovering that life can only be possessed by sharing it with others.

The Lord Jesus was born into our world where there is sin and suffering, hatred of self and others, and a loss of an awareness that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. The Lord Jesus came into the world to redeem us and to give us the hope and courage to repair and restore what is wounded or missing in our lives, our hearts, our families, and our homes.

As you celebrate Christmas with family and friends, pay attention to the subtle messages and expressions of the love of Jesus in your midst. They reveal the meaning of the Birth of the Savior. Don’t change the channel. It’s what Christ wants us to see and hear and share with others. It’s his free gift for everyone.

With prayerful best wishes at Christmas and in the New Year,

Bishop + Mark