“Rejoice! Rejoice! The kingdom of God is upon us.” This is a phrase that we hear quite frequently during the Christmas season.
When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth to share her wonderful news about the message she had received from the angel, she proclaimed great joy in the hymn that has come down to us and is recited each day by those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”
Her joy is reflected in the way we celebrate Christmas: Christmas Mass, the beautiful decorations, the family gatherings, the sharing of gifts. With Mary we can offer our thankful praise to the God who loves us so much and is so generous to us.
We see in the shepherds also a spirit of great joy as announced to them by the angel. They went as directed to Bethlehem to see the source of their joy allowing the angels’ refrain to sustain them on the way: “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to people of good will!”
So too did the Magi follow the star in seeking the king who would bring not only joy to the world, but peace as well.
And that is the second phrase we hear so much of during this holy season: “peace to God’s people on earth.” I cannot help but think of St. Francis of Assisi when I reflect on the theme of peace.
As you know, it was St. Francis who first made popular the crèche scene that so regularly adorns our homes, churches, and many other places as reminders of that peaceful night in Bethlehem when the baby lay wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger.
It was Francis who saw in this Christmas image a perfect picture of God’s peace alive and well in the hearts of the holy family. It was Francis who helped us to pray for the gift of peace and the beautiful prayer attributed to him certainly comes to mind, for the achievement of peace is only possible if each of us is able to become a willing recipient of God’s call to work for peace:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
Thirdly, the word that comes to mind this Christmas is “hospitality.” The Gospel story does not say anything about the innkeeper or any of the other people Joseph may have asked for help; it simply says that there was no room for them in the inn.
There are so many who come to us with needs, not only during this time of Christmas, but at all times during the year. Holidays, however, can be especially trying times for those who struggle, and as we celebrate this great holy day and holy season, we become more attuned to the sufferings of others. We reach out through special gift giving, through food drives for the hungry, and even to some of our family members and friends who will join us for Christmas celebrations in our homes.
Sometimes, those closest to us carry severe burdens and need desperately the hospitality of family and friendship to fi nd the peace and joy that this time of year is all about. We can be the contemporary innkeepers who open ourselves in hospitality to the Christ child who wishes to be born in our hearts and so touch the hearts of many through each of us.
May Christmas bring peace and joy to all in our diocese, and may the Lord’s blessings be yours in abundance this Christmas and throughout the New Year!
+Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop of Charleston