Christmas points to a sacred mystery that transcends all boundaries of time and place.
It is light that interrupts the darkness, even in times of sadness or difficulty.
“Our celebration of Christmas is not merely about something that happened 2,000 years ago, but what continues to happen in our day and in our world — in our very brokenness — because of God,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated on Christmas Eve.
“On this night, we celebrate the gift of God’s Son to us as a little baby — God from God, Light from Light!” he said.
Bishop McKnight offered Mass on Dec. 24 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph and in St. Peter Church in Jefferson City.
He said the uplifting messages of the most beloved Christmas stories, even the completely secular ones, echo the reality of the Incarnation — of God seeking to repair human history by becoming an active participant in it.
“The story of Christmas is the story of something beautiful coming from something broken,” said Bishop McKnight.
He spoke of the angels’ bright light piercing the dark and fearful sky of a world that was being held captive through the oppression and violence of a secular empire.
The angels also pierced the chilling silence with their message from God to the lowly: “Be not afraid. For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you Who is Christ and Lord.”
And that great multitude of angels sang out the praise of God: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests!”
From fear to sainthood
Bishop McKnight described Christmas faith as “the belief that out of humanity’s many forms of brokenness, which often do not seem possible to fix, something beautiful can come — not by chance, or our work alone, but day by day because of God.”
He said the Mystery of Christmas has the power to lift people up and change their lives, especially at times like these in which a pandemic that has brought heartbreak and loneliness to many.
“Because of the severe isolation, some of us are tempted to depression, despair and discouragement,” the bishop said. “In these dark times, Christmas restores our sense of hope and our sense of gratitude.”
He cited as an example how the marriage of Joseph and Mary was nearly broken before Jesus’s birth, for Joseph at first could not understand what was happening.
God provided the necessary inspiration.
“Their plans and their dreams were for the birth of the child,” the bishop stated.
Even the frustrating circumstances the couple endured in Bethlehem resulted in “the most beautiful birth ever.”
“Who is not moved by the simple and humble manger scene, which depicts so eloquently God reaching as far down as possible in order to raise us up?” Bishop McKnight asked.
He said St. Joseph’s trepidation was real and well placed.
“He had almost given up because of Mary’s pregnancy,” the bishop noted. “He had a reverential fear for the great mystery of her child, not anger for Mary being pregnant, as is sometimes thought.”
But the angel visited Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
The angel was actually urging him not to be afraid of his own calling from God — “his appointed task as son of David, spouse of the Virgin, and father to Jesus,” the bishop said.
As a devout Jew, Joseph knew the messianic sign that had been prophesied by Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
“Now, seeing Mary as both virgin and mother, he stands before the fulfillment of that prophecy,” said Bishop McKnight. “He feels his own unworthiness, and holy fear overcomes him.”
The angel keeps Joseph from allowing that laudable reverence to detour him from his appointed task.
“And so, the mystery of Christmas changed Joseph into SAINT Joseph, Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus!” the bishop stated.
In like fashion, as God’s people continue to face unprecedented challenges together in the Church, in this country, within families and in this time of this pandemic, “we have the message of the angels, reminding us to be not afraid, for God is always with us,” said Bishop McKnight.
“In this special year devoted to St. Joseph, may we follow his saintly example of humble trust and confidence in the merciful providence of God,” he exhorted.
Through Mary’s consent and Joseph’s trust, God has changed the course of history and the course of everyone’s life forever.
“Because of Christmas, we, too, can shine like the stars in a darkened world,” the bishop said.
People’s words and actions needn’t be eloquent or spectacular for them to cast light into the darkness.
They need only be true, genuine and authentic.
“Something simple coming from something broken, in the hands of God, can become amazingly beautiful,” the bishop stated.