Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5)! The angels sang when the child was born, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). The shepherds went in haste to find the child and shared the angels’ message with Mary and Joseph. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy . . . a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10, 17).
In the birth of this child, God truly becomes “Immanuel, God with us.” Coming as a child the eternal Son of God draws so near to us that we can address Him in the intimate language reserved for a vulnerable, tender and beautiful infant. We have direct access to the heart of this child and we can become His friends.
The familiar faces of those present at Jesus’ birth teach us how to respond to the Christ Child. Mary is the woman of prayer who hears God’s word, treasures it in her heart and accepts it with the “yes” of faith. Joseph is the “righteous man,” the one who truly hears and sees what God demands of him, even when it seems improbable and difficult. The shepherds approach the stable with simplicity, unfettered by worldly status. The magi steadfastly search for the Lord and King until they find Him in the most unlikely of circumstances.
No one should remain indifferent to the birth of the Christ Child. Thus, during these sacred days of joy and gratitude for the gift of salvation we consider our response to the Christ Child. Is our faith renewed, our hope strengthened and our love genuine as it reaches out to Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters?
The joy and peace of the Christmas season is not a reality for everyone. For many the Christmas season is marked by suffering, turmoil, loneliness and neglect. My thoughts turn in a special way to the people of the Middle East, especially Syria. The images of people fleeing their homeland — and especially the faces of frightened and often abandoned children -— cry out for our prayers. Pope Francis tells us, “Every day I am close, especially in prayer, to the people of Aleppo” (Angelus Message, December 11, 2016). May we follow his example.
I encourage you to spend some quiet moments at the manger scene in your home or parish church. Embrace the mystery of Christmas with renewed faith and the steadfast hope that God’s reign has begun and we are “called to be its joyful heralds in a world that yearns for justice, truth and peace” (Pope Francis, General Audience, December 14, 2016). May we all open our hearts to the message of salvation revealed in the Christ Child.
A blessed Christmas to you and all whom you love. Be assured of my prayers for you during the Christmas season.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse