Christmas Message 2015
Sydney, 24 December 2015.
Message of His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay to the People of the Maronite Church in Australia for Christmas 2015
Christ is Born! Alleluia!
At Christmas, God’s Mercy is Incarnated
1. This year, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ occurs in the course of the “Jubilee Year of Mercy” declared by Pope Francis. This commences on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the eighth of December, and ends in 2016 on the Feast of Christ the King, the twentieth of November.
2. The mercy of God was first revealed in His creation of man: “in the image of himself … male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). This mercy has accompanied man despite his sinning and going astray. It was evident in various stages of the history of the people of God in the Old Testament, but manifested itself in a unique way in the New Testament, when God revealed himself to us through his incarnate Son. This mercy, which appeared in history as an oasis of repentance and reconciliation, in fact transcends all time and space. It endures forever. As the Psalmist says: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).
3. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of mercy itself into our world as a perfect expression of God’s love for humanity. The most beautiful thing we can contemplate at Christmas is the incarnation of God’s mercy. This not only reveals to us the greatness of his boundless love and pity for those who sin and have gone astray, but also that the mercy which flows from the heart of God has now, through the Divine Incarnation, entered the human heart, making us more merciful to our brothers and sisters.
4. Today’s world is suffering tremendously from violence and hatred. This is often joined to a hardness of heart and hostility that leads to torture and murder justified on religious or ideological grounds. More than ever, there is an urgent need now to experience that mercy of God which leads man to practice compassion and sympathy when dealing with others. From merciful God to merciful humanity, we journey in contemplation in the words of our Lord Jesus: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
5. Our celebration of the incarnation of mercy at Christmas must not be limited to words and theories that hold us prisoners of the letter and the law. We are called, in this Year of Mercy, to courageously and confidently leave our comfort zones, and to practice compassion and forgiveness in response to Our Lord’s call to us to repent. Jesus met with sinners and evil-doers, and changed their lives and their hearts, not through the force of law or the threat of justice, but by mercy and love, proclaiming: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
6. One of the main characteristics of God’s mercy, revealing his omnipotence, is that it knows no bounds. The Lord Jesus explained this in the parable of the Good Samaritan where a man fell victim to thieves, who left him beaten and half dead along the side of the road. The Good Samaritan, overcoming the ancient animosity between Jews and Samaritans, and transcending religious and ethnic barriers, treated the man with mercy. This reveals to us how God’s mercy knows no bounds. As such, the mercy of each of us towards our brothers and sisters must overcome every barrier and border, and necessarily be put into practice, not remaining a fleeting emotion.
7. On this occasion, I invite you, dear sons and daughters of our Eparchy, to work together and extend a helping hand to the deprived and vulnerable, especially to the refugees in Lebanon and the Middle East. Let us also bear in mind the poor and the marginalised in many parts of the world, where they have been pushed to the outskirts of big cities, where they live in extreme poverty and suffer deprivation and injustice.
8. Every work of mercy which we perform for one of our brethren, we do also for the person of Jesus himself, who is concealed behind the hungry and the thirsty, the sick and the stranger, the marginalised and the prisoner, whether we know this or not.
9. Dearly beloved,
This Year of Mercy is a voice calling our political leaders in the wilderness of today’s world, to truthfully and honestly work for peace and bring to an end the wars throughout the world, especially in Syria and Iraq. It is also a call to all those who, to achieve their hidden agendas, employ the name of religion to justify killing and hatred, to listen to the voice of their humanity and their consciences, and to realise that every person is precious, and that life is a gift from God. This should lead them to respect it, and cease their deadly schemes and operations which each and every day claim the lives of innocent souls.
10. The Door of Mercy is Jesus Christ himself. He has opened this door for us through the Church and the Sacraments, especially through the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In this Holy Jubilee Year, we have dedicated Doors of Mercy in three churches of our Eparchy. These are: St Maroun’s Cathedral in Redfern, Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral in Harris Park, and Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Melbourne. The passage of believers through the Door of Mercy has the symbolic and mystical meaning that we pass with the Lord Jesus from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom, and from sin to grace. May our celebration of Christmas this year truly be an occasion to renew the birth of mercy in our hearts, in our communities, and in our world.
– Maronite Bishop of Australia