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Behold the saving power of the helpless infant

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ bring you every joy and grace! Merry Christmas!

Throughout these weeks of Advent we have waited and prepared, anticipating this night of great joy. We have prepared for the arrival of the King, not only by cleaning and decorating our homes, but especially by trying to cleanse our hearts. We want to be able to receive our Lord more intimately this Christmas than in the past, so that we will have more to offer of His light to all those around us in the coming year.

Now, the birth of this Infant is announced by the choirs of angels and by the light of the royal star. Now, we can join our songs of praise to theirs, in the Church’s great celebration. Now, we can see the divine Child clearly, to offer Him our worship and love. In the dawn of this new day, by the light of heaven, the whole earth is made radiant and adorned with divine gifts of peace and hope: God is with us. Because He is born among us, earthly powers and fears are limited and overruled. Because He brings us His graces, sin no longer binds or compels. “In Him and through His blood we have been redeemed.” So then, praise God together, because He is here and makes us His own holy children!

On the night of our Savior’s birth, it was the shepherds who first received the preaching of the Church, in the angelic songs they were privileged to hear, and in the invitation to come to Bethlehem and adore the Infant Christ. There was nothing special about these shepherds. God did not choose them because they were the best shepherds in Israel, or because they were secretly wealthy, “undercover bosses” playing at being pastors, or even because they were particularly holy or devout. They were simply shepherds, ordinary people, working hard at a low paying job, perhaps even slaves, perhaps trying and failing not to resent the success of others. As so often in salvation history, God chose them precisely because they were no one special – to show concretely, once again, that the Word of salvation comes not just to the world’s winners, but especially to the “lost sheep.”

We are like those shepherds. Yes, we have been baptized, we bear the name and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; we are privileged to be members of His saving Church, to receive the healing sacraments He has given us, to know Him dearly, not only as the Infant but also in His holy and sorrowful Passion and glorious Resurrection. We know that He is the Lord.

But we too need to be reminded of it, of Him, again and again. We are too easily “mired in the world,” as the ancient fathers would say. Our daily work and worries sometimes threaten to overwhelm us. Our concern for our families – perhaps an ailing parent’s health, or a child’s difficulties in school, or the grief of a death or lack of work – sometimes seems untouched by God’s grace. Our pursuit of the material goods that seem necessary for modern living takes all our energies and time, and we have none left over to give back to God. In these ways and so many more, we share the dark vigil of the shepherds, fearing the dark, suffering the cold, longing for a distant dawn.

To all who hunger for that dawn, the Word of Life comes! Like the shepherds, we hear, unlooked-for, that special invitation to come and adore Him, to behold His glory and saving power – the power of the helpless Infant, warmed by the hot breath of an ox; the glory of the King worshiped by angels, homeless and sleeping in a manger. God breaks the worldly categories that mire our hearts. He is King, yes, but not in a worldly sense; to be King, He will first be exile and immigrant, and to be Priest, He will first be victim and altar.

This is the Good News! God is with us, and everything changes! God is with us, and so it is possible for us to be close to Him. In the world, we have His light to share. In our happiness, His joy is deeper and more constant. In our lives, if we are open, He leads each of us into our vocation. Even in the midst of suffering, we can share His strength, as He gives us hope by His presence within us. God is with us – and if today, then every day, for God will never change, nor turn away from His children.

But if, indeed, we are like the shepherds in needing to hear again the angels’ Gloria, and if we are like them in coming again to the stable, to adore Christ, then let us also be like them in what followed: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). We rejoice to celebrate Christmas because it marks the birth of our Savior. Let us also rejoice to make our whole lives show what it means that we are thus saved. Let us praise and glorify God every day, in Himself, in His Church, and in our neighbor, by everything we do. As St. James said, “Be not hearers of the Word only, but also doers” (Js 1:22). The shepherds and the wise men were led to Bethlehem by the light of a physical star, but those who find Christ today are led by His light shining in the members of His Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, merry Christmas! I cherish all of you in my prayers, asking daily that now and in the coming year, God will bless you and your families with every grace and every good and needed thing in this life, and for the life to come. May His love and mercy and generosity fill your hearts at the celebration of His wonderful birth! Please pray for me, and for all our priests and religious, and especially for those who are most suffering from this cold December.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City


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