Christmas Message of Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V., President of the CCCB

Tuesday, December 10 2002

Soon we will hear the proclamation: To you is born this day a Saviour! I am always struck at how the liturgy makes such a bold declaration during Christmas night. We get the first inkling in the entrance hymn, then a stronger indication in the Alleluia verse, but it is the Gospel that so clearly announces: To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord! The words this day remind us that Jesus of Nazareth is now part of human history, the One who is the eternally begotten Son of the Father. You are my Son; today I have begotten you (Hebrews 1:5). God visits his people in Jesus of Nazareth. God visits his people this day. The Christmas liturgy makes the Father’s saving act in Jesus present for us today. The liturgical mystery of Christmas in a way concentrates God’s visit to his people. God comes to meet us. The Spirit sent by the Father and the Son makes the encounter possible this day. God comes. God is with us. This is Emmanuel.

It is the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord, who is offered to us and who encounters us. In the present moment of God, the One who comes to us, who was then born in Bethlehem, is now the Risen One. He is our Saviour this day. Perhaps today more than ever, we need a Saviour, a powerful Saviour. Without a Saviour, children and youth, families, those in conflict – all humanity – are at risk and could so easily disappear into the menacing darkness.

To get a good idea of what it means to encounter the Lord, we only need to recall the hundreds of thousands of young people who participated in World Youth Day 2002, and how the Lord touched them. When God visits his people, there is astonishing energy and immense hope for humanity. That is what we saw in the young who gathered in faith and became such compelling witnesses in their search to renew human dignity. We cannot celebrate Christmas without thinking that this day the Saviour touches the hearts of youth, who in turn strive toward that new world which God creates when visiting his people.

God visits his people this day when the family is in danger. Today, when the vision of marriage is threatened, and it is less and less seen as the institution for accomplishing God’s plan for humanity in the Church and in society. Marriage and the family need saving! Is anything sadder at Christmas than divided homes, broken marriages, families split apart, family members isolated? Salvation means being in communion with all whom God unites. The full meaning of marriage, and of the family which naturally flows from marriage, is this: God comes among us in our humanity; God has made a covenant with humankind and sealed it in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the mystery of Easter. Christians should not be fooled into accepting a so-called evolution of marriage that would try to extend its meaning to any and all kinds of unions. To do so can only minimalize the essential values of marriage and the family, and hamper God’s plan. This day, God is offered to us in Jesus as the One who can save marriage and the family.

God, who is the Lord of peace, reconciliation and communion, this day visits all who are in conflict and at war. Human dignity and the right to peace are threatened by collective selfishness, economic and political ambitions, Machiavellian ideologies and unrestrained drives for power. God is offered to us in Jesus of Nazareth as the One who offers salvation from marginalization, hatred, misunderstanding, complacency and degradation. How are people to break out of their closed vicious circles of violence and poverty? God visits us as a defenceless child, in a humble crib, welcomed by simple shepherds, thus revealing the way to joy and peace.

God visits his people. We are invited to respond and follow. The One who comes gathers us on all the roads travelled by humanity, wherever peace, justice and love are found. Christmas is a grace. But it is also a mission from God. It is an invitation for us to create humanity in the image of God. May we have the courage to follow Jesus the Christ, the Saviour, in our great quest for hope.

+ Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops