Christmas Message 2016
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Sydney, 24 December 2016.

Message of His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay to the People of then Maronite Church in Australia

Dearly Beloved,

1. At the Birth of our Lord Jesus, we celebrate a feast of hope, for in him were fulfilled what the prophets and messengers foretold, and the long wait of our fathers and the nations reached its desired goal. The promised saviour was born, Emmanuel, “God with us”; the dream came true and Good Hope was revealed to all humanity.

2. The Birth of our Lord Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, manifested the love of God the Father in the Son made man, and Christ the Lord was glorified in the child born from the Virgin Mary, the daughter of David. The Word of God has become flesh to give the whole of humanity a new life for a new covenant in which the Word incarnate would be revealed. This Word is light itself. It is the sun of righteousness that shines on all the darkness of history, to illuminate it with the light of hope of the new era, because “separated from Christ …. we are without hope “(Eph 2/12).

3. We celebrate Christmas this year, when the glimmer of hope is about to expire in the hearts of many. The hope in our souls is threatened by the spread of religious fundamentalism that chooses the language of murder, darkness and intimidation towards others. The recent terrorist attack at St. Peter’s Church, attached to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, was the worst in a series of attacks and persecution against the Christian minority in Egypt. This violence has the sinister goal of igniting a religious war. The attack which killed over 25 people, mostly women and children, and injured many more, leads us first to condemn terrorism and to reject it. We question the state of the world’s conscience about the fate of minorities, especially Christians in the Middle East. We also question the Egyptian people about Egypt, for it was a refuge for the holy family of Nazareth who fled there to escape from the threats of Herod. Is this tradition still alive?

4. The luminous, indisputable truth is that Christmas preaches hope in the midst of suffering, pain and adversity. The Christmas star is the Star of Hope, which made the people walking in darkness see a great light (Is 9:2). Our hope does not come from other people, but from God, from whom and through whom comes healing to the world. Hope, which is at the foundation of a renewed world, helps us to alleviate the pain and resist evil, but we cannot eradicate them, until God becomes all in all.

5. It is therefore imperative that we ask today: What can we hope for? And what must we have the courage and wisdom to simply accept?
Above all, we hope in Christ’s promise to us of salvation and eternal life, not only as a reality to come, but as a present fact. The frustration and despair felt by man today as a result of the failure of scientific progress and development to bring him happiness renders the mission of the Church and its people an urgent and difficult one at the same time. Our world desperately needs a Hope that can bring a real joy to the heart. The revolution of science and technology that we are witnessing may contribute to the building of human society, but it could also potentially destroy humanity, if it is not related to forces beyond it and stronger than it. What ultimately saves man and grants him true happiness is neither science, nor the speed of social communication, nor the digital media and electronic games which have entered our homes, and taken a prime place in our daily lives, and the lives of our children, as a daily bread that we cannot dispense with. Technology does not intend to leave us any time soon, but rather the opposite for it has ascended an imaginary throne in our lives. The least we can say is that this is robbing us of our children and the human dimension of lovingly interacting with others.

6. It is only the true love that gives of itself, and not modern science or technology, that can save man and bring hope to his heart. When man experiences a great love, he truly enters into an oasis of redemption and salvation, giving new meaning to his life. Those touched by true love can sail in the mystery of life and as they delve deeper, they find hope emanating from the mystery of the divine incarnation, for it is truly the hope of our fathers and the expectation of the nations.

7. Dearly Beloved,
Reflecting on the great event of Christmas, we become aware of the importance of renewing our faith in a society that is suffering a crisis of faith in God, failing to realise that a world without God is a world without hope. Hope is a holy virtue that results from our Christian faith and invigorates it. There is no hope without faith, and no faith without hope. They go together and they both flow from the love of God and lead the journey of God’s people towards the joy of Heaven.

8. We experience this journey of hope in a particular way in our Eparchy especially as we launch the work for the Diocesan Synod with the first general assembly to be held in the last week of November 2017. The assembly will address the seven pastoral priorities announced in 2013, and consider ways to activate the role of the laity in our Church, in addition to various pastoral, apostolic and spiritual matters in our Eparchy.

9. The mission of our Maronite Church in our multicultural Australian society is to spread the message of hope, not only for our sake as Maronite Christians, but for others so that we may be, for them, messengers of the good news of the Gospel. May we help others to walk under the guidance of the Christmas star, the Star of Hope, to the manger of Bethlehem, to worship the Divine Child. From thereon commences the journey of formation in faith, hope and love.

10. Prayer is essential to grow in hope. When no one else hears or listens to me, God still listens to my pleas. And when I can no longer speak with anyone, I can speak with God. It is beautiful when families come together to pray and praise the Divine Child at Christmas, this Child who has entered the history of each and every one of us and become closer to us than ourselves.

11. The good news for us today is that “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 31). Let us therefore rejoice and chant:

“Christ is born … Alleluia”

Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
– Maronite Bishop of Australia