The Most Reverend Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
December 25, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:1
When we find something really valuable, we rush to possess it. Whether it is finding some treasure we thought we had lost or finding the answer to a question we have pondered all our lives, we embrace it, we make it our own, and experience an excitement like no other. Jesus spoke of the exhilaration of discovery when He compared the kingdom of heaven to the discovery of “a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Or Jesus said, it is like “a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The experience of discovering the long-desired prize is so fundamentally human, because the human heart is lacking something. God knows it, and Christ comes to provide it.
In one of his early Christmas messages, Pope Benedict XVI said:
Despite humanity’s many advances, man has always been the same:
a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is
there, in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his ‘heart,’
that man always needs to be ‘saved’ (December 25, 2006).
To me this is what Christmas proclaims: the answer to the human heart. This is why, I think, the shepherds “went in haste,” the Gospel tells us, “to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15, 16). This is why the Magi are “overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew 2:10). The star leads them to the object of their search that answers the deepest desire of their hearts.
I recall the Christmas Eve nights of my childhood. There was something mystical about them. The frosty night descended. The house lay decorated awaiting the arrival of the family on Christmas Day. At eleven o’clock we did something we never did on any other night of the year. We dressed in our Sunday best and hurried to Mass at midnight. The music was like no other. We sang of “shepherds” and “angels,” “harps” and “gifts,” and faraway places like “Bethlehem.” There was the smell of incense in the air, mixed in with a whiff of mothballs from woolen coats and furs released from storage. The oneness of everyone present was “electric,” as we turned to people, known and unknown alike, and offered to them our greetings of “Merry Christmas.” There was a perception of having discovered something very special. Christ was born. The Word of God was made flesh. We could hear Him, touch Him, feel Him, and, yes, eat His banquet of love.
Only with the passage of time and the advance of years, do these mystical experiences become dulled. They become dulled not because they lose their significance. The message is the same, after all. “A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Isaiah 9:5). No, the dullness comes from us. Our hearts are burdened. Our minds become cluttered. We have experienced too much pain, too many disappointments, too great a separation through sin. We become cynical, and the world in which we live does not help. It is much too self-absorbed to help us, more conscious of correctness than what truly ails the heart. “Merry Christmas” becomes just another “Happy Holiday,” and the cause of joy for shepherds and angels is replaced with a marketing idea of a “Winter Festival.”
In spite of all this, the angelic message remains. “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). What a glorious message! The heavens open and angels tell us not to fear. The world would have us fear everything. Everything is in crisis: the economy, peace, employment, our safety, our health. But the angel said: “Do not be afraid.” For that matter, so did our Lord. And why should we not be afraid? The angels continue: “For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). We would love to hear “good news.” And what is that news of great joy? “In the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2:11). That is news like no other. To paraphrase once again the words of Pope Benedict XVI, our freedom is poised between good and evil and much more fundamentally between life and death. We have a choice. We can choose light or darkness, feast or famine, good or evil, and life or death. God has given us a free will to love, and we misuse that freedom by making false and deceptive choices. “Man always needs to be ‘saved’.” That is the basic need we have and the message of Christmas satisfies it. This is why the message of the angels is “good news” and why it should bring “great joy.” I have a choice never to be the same again. I am not locked into selfishness. Death is not necessary. Darkness is not inevitable. God has provided me with a choice.
In this moment of “poise,” we join the shepherds. Gathered on a hillside, we are attending to our work and daily concerns. Deep inside us, we know that our hearts yearn for more and that promises have yet to be fulfilled. Suddenly God makes known to us “good news.” We no longer remain poised. We are free, we leap up, and we hasten to the source of our joy. At the end of our journey we find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, asleep in a manger, warmed by the breath of cattle, and nursed by a Virgin Mother. The sight astounds us, for this is the “Messiah and Lord” proclaimed by the angels. Our freedom can never be the same again, because the object of our hearts’ desire has been revealed. Grace fills our freedom. “To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:12-14).
To you and your families and friends, I extend my blessings for a joyful and peaceful Christmas.