“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.’”
— Luke 2:10-11
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On the night of Christ’s birth, an angel appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields to announce the amazing news: God loved us so much that he became one of us. He came to bring hope and salvation to our world and to each one of us.
I try to imagine what it was like to be there on that night more than 2,000 years ago. What was it like for the shepherds, the Holy Family gathered around the manger and, later, the Magi when they finally arrived at their destination and saw the Blessed Mother and her baby?
Earlier this month, Pope Francis released a short letter about the importance of the Nativity scene, describing it as “a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture.” When I was young, my family always set up a crèche as part of our Christmas preparations. It’s a tradition I continue, and I hope your family places a crèche under the Christmas tree or in another prominent place in your house.
The Holy Father identifies several key figures from the Gospel account of Jesus’ birth that deserve deeper reflection:
• The shepherds: As they were watching over their flocks that night, the appearance of the angel would have been both startling and frightening. But the angel tells them not to be afraid, and then the shepherds set off for Bethlehem to see for themselves what took place.
Pope Francis writes that “A beautiful lesson emerges from these simple words. Unlike so many other people, busy about many things, the shepherds become the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation. The shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet him with love, gratitude and awe.”
How can we set aside the busyness and distractions of this time of the year to recognize the gift of Jesus in the manger?
• Mary and Joseph: “The figure of Mary makes us reflect on the great mystery that surrounded this young woman when God knocked on the door of her immaculate heart,” the pope writes. “Mary responded in complete obedience to the message of the angel who asked her to become the Mother of God.” Joseph also was obedient to God, taking his family to Egypt after God warned him of Herod’s threats to harm Jesus.
In what ways can we be more attentive and respond to God’s will for our lives?
• Infant Jesus: In many crèche scenes, the baby Jesus has his arms open, seemingly inviting us into his embrace. “God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms,” Pope Francis says. “Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things. It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all.”
How do we open our arms to others, especially to those most in need: the poor, the unborn, the ill, the hurting, the lonely, immigrants and refugees, victims of violence and all those in our communities who live on the peripheries?
• The Magi: These “three kings” traveled from the East and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. They “prostrated themselves and did him homage” before returning to their homeland. Surely, they told others about their experience. The story of the Magi calls us “to reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel,” the pope says. “Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love.”
How can we bring small gifts of kindness, mercy and joy to others this Christmas season?
The crèche helps us to enter more deeply into the Christmas season. I encourage you to spend time during these holy days reflecting on the night of Jesus’ birth and what it reveals for us today about the power of God’s love for us.
May the love of Christ fill our hearts this Christmas season, heal our divisions, and inspire us to be his face of mercy to all those in need.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud