Christmas: A Season and a Reason for Hope

Rev. Stephen P. Trzecieski, C.M.
Associate Pastor

Last year when we exchanged Christmas greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year, we were still reeling off the devastation of 9/11.

Last year at Christmas time our deepest desires were rooted in the sincere hope that THIS YEAR 2002 would be far better.

We were hoping that the War on Terrorism would have been contained, that the economy would rebound and that the road to peace was ahead of us.

Unfortunately, 2002 proved to be a continuation of 2001 . . . the threat of war is still very real . . . the economy is still sluggish . . . our beloved Catholic Church smeared with scandals; and for many of us personal tragedies, unforeseen a year ago, like illness and death in our families have made this year an even greater burden.

So this year's Merry Christmas and Happy New Year may be politically correct but not too merry or happy!

We seem to be caught in a web of international and national events, which are beyond our control and frustrate our hopes for the future.

Time and again we ask ourselves when will these turbulent times end? When will we really have "that Peace on earth," "Good will toward all?"

So far, neither politicians; theologians; philosophers; scientists; industrialists; economists; generals or admirals, presidents; prime ministers; Queens or Kings; or dictators have offered us any effective solutions . . . in fact, many of them have been the cause of our problems.

The struggle to lead a normal happy life seems to be even far more difficult than before.

Was there anything different two thousand and two years ago in the Middle East?

A tiny nation was once again under the thumb of a brutal empire. Freedom was just a dream in the minds of the oppressed; poverty was their daily bread; even their religious leaders were divided among themselves over theological issues such as the resurrection of the dead . . . siding with the hated Romans was a way of life . . . a way of surviving . . . as proven by many Jewish tax-collectors who danced around the "POWERS THAT BE" while their Jewish kings, like Herod, became the slimy sycophants of the Roman Governors.

Although many hoped for a promised Messiah, many more despaired of salvation . . . after all, it was four thousand years ago that this Messiah was promised . . . that is a long time to wait even for the most patient of human beings. Did God abandon His people? Or what is worse, is there even a God?

These people asked themselves also the same question. . . "when will these turbulent times end?" "When will we really have "that peace on earth," "Good will toward all?"

It is into this atmosphere and cultural condition that the youthful Mary and Joseph, deeply in love with one another, began their married life.

In those days, Ceasar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole world forcing Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary to journey from Nazareth in Galilee to David's town of Bethlehem in Judea, a distance of some 80 miles . . . a considerable journey even for us today.

How saddened Joseph must have been when he could not provide adequate housing for his dear wife with child . . . but only a manger for a crib and a stable for a home.

How Joseph must have felt deeply the sting of rejection because there was no room for them in the Inn.

Why does God treat His very own family in such a shabby way? Why not the best for one's own? Especially when nothing is impossible with God!

In the midst of the darkness of this night something is about to happen. This happening is not just an event but an event with a Presence and therein lies its splendor.

We see this "Presence" foreshadowed in the Old Testament . . . with Moses and the Burning Bush . . . the Column of Fire at night and the Column of Clouds during the day leading the Jewish people out of Egypt in their Exodus to the Promised Land. This Presence is again seen with Elijah and the Whispering Sound in the cave for the prophet found the Lord here . . . because the Lord was not in the stormy wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. There are other clear examples of God manifesting His presence in a variety of ways to His chosen people.

Now something startling is about to happen as announced by the Angel of the Lord. Simple shepherds keeping the night watch over their flocks are astounded as THE ANGEL OF THE LORD appears to them announcing that this day in the city of David a Savior has been born to you . . . the Messiah and Lord . . . and then the multitude of heavenly hosts praising God saying "Glory to God on high . . . peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests."

THE PRESENCE has arrived . . . the Promised One . . . after four thousand years of waiting . . . Emmanuel is His name . . . a Name which means "God is with us" . . . the Divine Presence . . . for nothing is impossible with God!

As this infant life unfolds and grows into childhood and then into manhood, we see the effects of His Presence in the lives of His family and friends; neighbors and strangers; Jews and pagans; believers and unbelievers; saints and sinners; the curious and the indifferent; the rich and the poor; high priests and kings; fisherman and tax collectors; the blind and the lame; the sick and the dead.

This Presence is never static . . . it is always active . . . in all His encounters Jesus makes Himself available . . . Jesus initiates . . . Jesus invites . . . Jesus challenges . . . Jesus heals . . . Jesus reaches out to the other.

Then as now the Presence of Jesus is the reason for hope . . the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus recognized Jesus by what He said and what He did . . they recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread just as we recognizing the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic Bread.

Perhaps the most important words that Jesus ever spoke to His eleven disciples, and therefore to us as well, were on that Mountain in Galilee just before He ascended to His Father when He gave them the mandate to Baptize, teach and carry out everything that He had commanded them . . . and then He said to them these MOST IMPORTANT words which have given so much courage to so many over the centuries . . . "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world."

Because Jesus is "with us always" . . . because He is present to us NOW and each day we have reason to hope . . . enormous hope . . .

  • We have hope for ourselves
  • We have hope for our families
  • We have hope for our communities
  • We have hope for our Church
  • We have hope for our nation
  • We have hope for our world

Despite these difficult times . . .  Christmas is more than just a remembrance of the birth of Jesus.

Christmas is about Jesus' Presence among us . . . Therefore, Christmas is about Hope.

That is why we can honestly say this Christmas what St. Paul said who so strongly believed and experienced the Presence of Jesus in His life. . . "I can do all things in Him who strengthens."

And you know what . . . we will, because . . . Jesus said "I am with you all always, even until the end of the world" . . . for nothing is impossible with God!

My time is up . . . Thank you for yours. And thanks for listening!!

Read other Homilies by Father Stephen P. Trzecieski, C.M.