Christmas Message 2021
Sydney, 24 December 2021.
Message of His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay to the People of the Maronite Church in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters of our Maronite Eparchy,
Keeping Christ in Christmas
The source of our Christmas joy springs from the manger of Bethlehem, where the promise of God, the dream of the peoples, and the expectation of the nations for the birth of the Messiah, the Saviour, were fulfilled. It is this of which the Prophet Isaiah spoke when he said: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel”, meaning God is with us (Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23). The love of God manifested in the creation of humanity and the universe, and, in the fullness of time, was incarnated and became human in the child Jesus Christ, born to the Virgin Mary.
This is an indisputable fact which has brought salvation, joy and hope to humanity. For this reason, we sometimes hear this expression: “Keeping Christ in Christmas, for He is Lord of the Feast.” Here we must stop and ask ourselves: “Is the Lord Jesus Christ still the focus of our attention? Is He the ultimate goal of our celebration of this feast? Do our preparations for the feast manifest its full meaning, both historical and spiritual? In fact, our joy in meeting the Lord may be complete when we come to praise Him with the angels, singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those of good will.” (Luke 2:14)
Among the beautiful customs which accompany our preparation for this feast, are the assembling of a Christmas crib, and placing a Christmas tree in our homes, churches, monasteries, and convents, exchanging gifts, and decorating our homes and streets. But is this sufficient?
Similarly, very many people participate in the Christmas Mass, and this is both necessary and important for them and their families, but does the experience of Christmas stop here?
For Jesus Christ to remain in the heart of Christmas, then, first of all, we must go back to what happened on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, and pause before the humility of the manger, the silence of Saint Joseph, the astonishment of the shepherds, the singing of angels, the joy of the Magi, and the Virgin’s contemplation of the Divine Child. In this way, we will learn many things for our daily life and for the fitting celebration of the feast. Christmas is not simply an event confined to one day, or a beautiful story from the past that we tell our children, but it is, rather, a great truth that has changed the history of humanity and nations, and has become the very essence of our daily life. It is the secret of the Lord’s eternal presence among us. To the extent that we open ourselves to Him and accept Him in our hearts and our minds, we experience real change in our lives, in our journeys, and in our world.
Now, if the world should try to keep us away from God and faith in Him, and if it should try to obscure the face, the presence, and the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ at this time, then our first responsibility as faithful Christians is to pay attention to what is happening in our society and around us. It is to insist that the Lord Jesus Christ remain the aim and the source of the Christmas celebrations. The Word of God, He who became man, wishes to fulfil the will of God the Father, for as He said: “This is my Father’s will, who has sent me, that of all which He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39).
To keep Christ in Christmas, and in our celebrations, we do not have to search too much about what to do, for He Himself instructed us as to our duty. He is not far from us, but rather is present among us, and in our community, and waiting in every hungry person for us to feed Him, in every thirsty person to give Him water, in every needy person to clothe Him, in every immigrant and stranger to receive Him, in every sick to comfort Him, and in every prisoner to visit Him. Above all, let us not neglect to love and forgive our enemies, as He commanded us.
There is no Christmas without Christ. There is no true joy unless the Lord is present in our homes and in our lives. Every time that we show the love of God to others, through our deeds and our example, we are truly celebrating Christmas.
As the end of the year 2021 approaches, and our world is still suffering with the Coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing conflicts, violence and corruption, it needs today, even more than before, the presence of Emmanuel – “God is with us” – the incarnate Word of God, to revive hope, joy, and salvation in our hearts and in our world.
In conclusion, just as God once seized the initiative, and sent us His only Son for our salvation, so too we must now take the initiative and help those who are marginalised and in need to feel the joy of the feast. I therefore invite every family which is able to, to plant the joy of the Christmas feast in the heart of a forgotten and poor family, especially in our homeland Lebanon.
So Christmas remains an occasion for all humanity, Christians and non-Christians alike, to partake in the love of Jesus Christ, for He was incarnated for the sake of every woman and man, at every time and in every place.
Christ is Born… Alleluia!
+ Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
Maronite Bishop of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania