Put Out into the Deep

Hope Is the Purpose of Christmas

“Adoration of the Magi” (detail), Gentile da Fabriano, 1423. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

As we celebrate Christmas this year, it is a Christmas like no other that I have ever celebrated in my 76 years. Fortunately, I never celebrated Christmas in a time of war when the whole world was in turmoil, but this year the Coronavirus has joined the world together in a crisis never before seen in the last hundred years.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in a wonderful book just published, “LET US DREAM, the Path to a Better Future,” puts it so succinctly, “The question is whether you are going to come through this crisis and if so, how? The basic rule of crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same. If you get through it, you come out better or worse but never the same.” That is the question before us as we celebrate this Christmas. How can we make it something that helps us to be better? How can this celebration dispel some of the problems we have faced and still are to face as the pandemic hopefully winds down? But we have a long way to go.

Yes, we need a Savior. That is why we celebrate Christmas, to recognize that the Savior is born. For centuries, the Jewish people longed for the birth of the Savior, the Messiah. In the readings of Christmas, we hear the dream of Israel in the longing of the prophet Isaiah who sets his sights on something in the future. He reminds us that there is something more to come, that this Savior will radically change things for the better. So too, we must change our lives for the better. Whatever we have learned or experienced in this pandemic can be our Christmas meditation and resolution. We are people of hope.

As I was writing this homily at three o’clock in the afternoon, the bells of Queen of All Saints Church rang. You know, at the beginning of the pandemic, I asked our churches to ring their bells at three o’clock in the afternoon each day as a sign of hope and call to prayer to end the pandemic. I am not sure how many churches have continued this custom, but I know Father Joseph Ceriello at Queen of All Saints has done so. Each day when I am home, I hear those bells, and they remind me to pray for those who have died and also to set my sights again that hope never leaves us.

He comes to save us from sin and eternal death. How do we experience sin and death and the prospect of eternal death today? Our Holy Father puts it distinctly in his book. He says, “There are three realities that seem to haunt us today, narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism.” Narcissism is when we always look into ourselves and recognize that if something is not good for me, it is not worth anything. It is complete self-absorption. Discouragement leads us to complain about everything. We no longer see the possibility of offering hope to others and to ourselves. Eventually, we cannot see beyond ourselves. Pessimism is when we shut the door on the future, or when we refuse to open the door in case someday there will be something new on our doorstep. I believe the Holy Father has summarized what bothers us today, what temptations we see, what sins we need to be free from.

Hope is the purpose of Christmas itself. The Savior comes to bring new hope and joy to the world. He restores hope to a world in darkness. He is the Light of the World. As Benedict XVI put it in his encyclical, “We are saved in hope.” The Savior gives us hope. Hope can be like a dream. In a dream, we are not quite sure what we saw. But scripture tells us we hope for what we do not see. Yes, hope is for an unknown future that we face today in our world. We do hope this pandemic will end soon, but we do not know. There are still, unfortunately, people who will suffer from this virus, and those who may die from it. What do we do? Do we give up? How do we hope?

Let us look at the Christmas scene that is before us. What happened there? Mary and Joseph are there, and yes, a Child was born there. But why all the commotion? Why do the shepherds come? Why do they hear angels? Why, at some point, will Wise Men come? Something special, obviously, has happened. Somebody was born Who will make a difference in the world. How can Mary and Joseph describe it? They, too, live in the hope that someday they will comprehend the miraculous circumstances of the birth of this Child.

We cannot forget that Christ was born on Christmas and is born spiritually not only on each Christmas but each time we celebrate the Eucharist. He becomes present to us as He was present to Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the Wise Men. It is that same Jesus, Who, under the form of bread and wine, becomes our hope for the future. To restore hope is what we need. It is the ultimate redemption that we deeply desire.

Sometimes the Christmas Spirit escapes us. We may be depressed. We may be mourning the death of a loved one. Many circumstances make it difficult to have the so-called Christmas Spirit. But what is the Christmas Spirit? In essence, it is the spirit of generosity, the spirit of giving, that we attach so uniquely to Christmas. It is a time when we give gifts. It is a time when we give something of ourselves to others. It is that fraternity that the Holy Father speaks to us about in “Fratelli Tuti,” where we are asked to go beyond ourselves, where we recognize that in our generosity to others, we find the true meaning of life.

So, what can we do to put out into the deep searching for hope? Well, there are practical things: we should get the vaccination against this virus when it becomes available to us. The Church reminds us that there is nothing immoral about it. We may have our own personal fears, but in essence, there is nothing wrong with it. We need to protect others as well as ourselves. We should wear a mask when appropriate, we should keep social distance. We need to reach out to others in their need in this time of crisis. Will we come out of this crisis better or worse? That is the question before us this Christmas. We have that wonderful possibility this Christmas to make some resolutions for the future.

At this Christmas, we truly do put out into the depth of our understanding of the virtue of hope. It seems that this crisis is slow to leave us. How do we survive the rest of it? How do we make this Christmas truly a joyful celebration of the birth of the Savior? It demands, as we have proposed, that we go out of ourselves; that we take those steps that will bring us closer to others while at the same time protecting others. Join me as we usher in a new year of hope because the Savior was born to us.

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