Dear Friends in Christ,
The first scripture reading during the Christmas Mass at midnight, taken from Isaiah the prophet, proclaims, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone. … For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:1,5)
Isaiah’s God-given task was to guide Judah through one of the most critical periods of her history. While the shadow of her neighbor’s conquest lay menacingly over the land, the spiritual crisis of Judah was even more serious than the threat of physical destruction. No one spoke more forthrightly than Isaiah in his denunciation of Judah’s pride, self-indulgence, and callous injustice toward the poor.
Yet, despite the reality of Judah’s immersion in the darkness of sin, Isaiah always proclaimed that God would never abandon his people. Instead, he would raise up a faithful remnant and restore the nation through One who would rule with mercy, justice and peace.
The promise of Isaiah is fulfilled in the Christmas event. Indeed, the very first spoken words recorded in Saint Luke’s Gospel as the evangelist chronicles this defining moment in salvation history are words of consolation and hope shared with poor shepherds who represent a broken, suffering people. “Do not be afraid. … A savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”(Luke 2:10,11)
My brothers and sisters, we need to sear these words into our hearts and to trust in the goodness and power of God today, more than ever. In so many respects, we’re not at all unlike the shepherds of Bethlehem or the people of Judah to whom Isaiah was sent. For all that we have been given in life – for all that we’ve accomplished as individuals and as a people – and for all that we dream and hope to experience for ourselves and those we love, we need the assurance of knowing that we are loved, that our lives matter, and that we have nothing to fear.
For as blessed as we are with God’s magnificent gift of life, our world has become a frightening and disappointing place. Random acts of violence are all too common in schools, entertainment venues and even in houses of worship. Life is still sadly disregarded, especially in the unborn, the poor, disabled and elderly. Immigrants and refugees seeking a better life are forced to the margins of society by discrimination, bigotry and hatred. And our Church has been robbed of so much of its beauty and promise by many of its own very leaders who have sexually abused the most innocent in our midst and have failed to create safe environments for those entrusted to their care.
Sadly, not unlike the initial response of the shepherds in Saint Luke’s Christmas Gospel, it seems that we do have much to fear from a world that seems to have gone awry. But for those of us who seek a way forward and who are wise enough to look at life with eyes of faith, the Word of God spoken by Isaiah the prophet reminds us that God is faithful, even when we are not. And we will be delivered from the brokenness of our world and our lives if only we place our trust in the Lord and walk in his ways.
A light has shone brightly in the midst of darkness. Jesus, our Savior, is among us and continues to walk our world and to fill hearts with hope and peace. In reflecting upon the heart of the Christmas message, Pope Francis offered these powerful words, “Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.”
My friends, thank you for embracing the good news of Jesus’ birth. Thank you for living his Gospel in your generous service of one another – even and especially in challenging times. And thank you for your openness to the merciful love of God, the only sure way to our salvation and peace.
With gratitude for the privilege of serving as your Bishop and with prayers for a holy and blessed Christmas for you, your family and all you hold dear, I am
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton