Christmas – December 25, 2020 

Welcome to our cathedral for this celebration of the birth of Jesus. Welcome to our faithful parishioners and friends who are present with me this evening. And welcome to so many of you who join us via social media and Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton for this very unique yet timeless celebration that lies at the heart of our faith as Christians.

Thank you for your presence and participation. And thank you in a very special way to all of those individuals who, through their care and efforts, have kept us safe and have worked so hard and selflessly for our well-being: health care providers, first responders, teachers, essential workers – and of course, our clergy and parish staff and volunteers. You are all a blessing. Thank you!

There’s a message that’s been streaming on social media a good bit during the past few days. Maybe some of you have seen it. Here’s what it says: “The first Christmas was pretty simple. It’s okay if yours is too!”

If we scratch the surface of the story of the first Christmas that was just proclaimed, we’ll discover just how true that statement is. Take away the manger – the swaddling clothes – and angels proclaiming to shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest.” Do you know what is left? The blessing of a family, selfless love and faith. What is left are the very same things for which each of us can give thanks this day.

It’s quite obvious that this year, we celebrate Christmas in a way far different than we could have ever imagined a year ago. Sadly, by now, every one of us likely knows someone who has been afflicted with the coronavirus. Most have recovered, some are still suffering and far too many have died. We live in fear, consumed with worry and anxiety as we wait our turn to be vaccinated. Even in these difficult days, division and hostility are sadly rampant throughout our world, our country and even our Church. The poor are burdened more than ever. And most of us are separated from those we love during these blessed days, hoping and praying that this time of darkness will yield to a better day.

Yet, friends, for as much as the past year has been a struggle, if we look carefully enough at what we’ve been experiencing, we will see that 2020 has blessed us with a lens through which we can recognize what matters most in life.

Isaiah the prophet speaks to this moment well, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone.”(Isaiah 9:1) Despite the struggle that enveloped Israel, Isaiah proclaimed that God would never abandon his people. Instead, he would lead them through One who would rule with mercy, justice and peace.

The promise of Isaiah comes to fulfillment in Saint Luke’s gospel where we hear words of consolation and hope shared with poor shepherds who represent all of us who are broken, suffering and searching for hope. “Do not be afraid…A savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”(Luke 2:10, 11).

Brothers and sisters, we need to sear these words into our hearts now, more than ever. We are not at all unlike the poor shepherds of Bethlehem – or the people to whom Isaiah was sent. We are all in need of a savior. And the good news of this Christmas Day is that our Savior has already come! 

A few days before Christmas, Pope Francis shared these thoughts with a small gathering of people. “I want to encourage everyone to quicken the path to Christmas – the real Christmas that is the birth of Christ. This year, restrictions and inconveniences await us. So let’s think about the Christmas of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. So many difficulties. So many concerns. It was only faith, hope and love that guided and sustained them. May it also be so with us.” 

The Holy Father then went on to suggest that we not spend our days during this most unusual Christmas thinking about what can’t be done, what we missed, or why and what things should be different. Instead, he encourages us to redirect our energy to discover what can be done to help those around us. “May this difficult time help us purify the way of living Christmas, of celebrating, of moving beyond a sense of consumerism. May it be more faith-filled, more authentic, more real!” 

My friends, the heart of Christmas is Jesus – born to save us! His life of love and service show us the only way forward amid the challenges we face and the harsh realization that we are ultimately not in control of our lives or world. May our prayer, then, be for the wisdom to recognize, to honor and to serve the simple blessings that abound, even in these difficult days: our families and friends, whether they are near or far this day – life, with all of its beauty and flaws – and faith, which reminds us that we have value and worth and are deeply loved by God.

Brothers and sisters, despite the darkness, the simple light of Christmas still shines brightly. So, give thanks! Keep safe! And Merry Christmas!