Christmas Message, 2011
Stars give us a sense of direction, and brighten the night. In the Book of Genesis (22.17), they are also a sign of God’s blessing. They herald God’s promise to Abraham that his and Sarah’s descendants will be countless. In the Book of Numbers (24.17a), a star is again a sign and promise of what is to come: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near — a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
Shining over the place where Christ is to be found, the star guides the Magi and leads them to joy. “They set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.… They were overwhelmed with joy…. They knelt down and paid him homage” (Matthew 2.9b-11). This new light from Christ is a sign of God’s mercy, raising us up from darkness and death, and guiding us toward peace. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1.79-79).
There are many forms of darkness and death in our world. We need only watch or listen to the daily news. Unemployment. Hunger. Economic insecurity. Violence between nations and within nations. Neighbourhood assaults. The violations of child abuse and abortion. Pollution and environmental degradation. Slavery. Human trafficking. Personal addictions. Broken marriages and shattered families.
Scripture does not gloss over the depth or extent of human sufferings and uncertainties. Christ was born in a stable, because there was no room elsewhere. His birth was during a time of military occupation. His childhood was marked by the martyrdom of innocent lives. His public ministry began with the beheading of John the Baptist, at the request of a dancing girl who wished to please her adulterous mother and a treacherous king. It ended in betrayal and with death on a cross – the lot of criminals and traitors. But the darkness of his last day led to a new dawn and dazzling light.
God has visited his people and looked favourably upon them (Luke 1.68, 7.16). The night of human suffering has been pierced by Light. Even in the midst of darkness, we are offered a sign. Although we betray and are betrayed, God holds to his promise. Whatever our sufferings and failings, in his mercy we can find pardon and share compassion. Even amid the worst of violence and violation, Christ guides us to peace with God and reconciliation with one another. This is the miracle of Christmas night: the glory of the Lord shines forth in our darkness.
The Magi followed the star of Bethlehem. They were led in their searching and journeying to the affirmation of Life. The shepherds’ toil in the night was transformed. They joined the company of the heavenly host, in wonder, praise and thanksgiving.
May the star of Christ lift up our hopes and hearts this Christmas. May his light shine about us, and lead us to peace.
+ Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops