Pastoral Message for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord – December 25, 2002

Christ is born! Glorify him!

To the clergy, monastics, and the laity of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh

“Behold the time of salvation is drawing near, O cave, prepare yourself, for the Virgin is coming to give birth. O Bethlehem, O land of Judah, adorn yourself and be happy since the Lord will shine forth from you.” (Vesper Sticherion, Christmas) Today we celebrate the great feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ in the flesh. The prophecy of Isaiah is revealed: “A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud will blossom.” (Is. 1:1-2)

The people of God have celebrated this feast for over 2,000 years. We as an Archeparchy have celebrated this feast for over 100 years. Individually, we have celebrated this feast for 10, 30, 50, 70 or 80-plus years. We celebrate the mystery of God’s love that is beyond our comprehension and our understanding. We celebrate this mystery, ever unfolding throughout the ages, that touches us every day of our lives. “He who holds the world in his hand is contained in the narrow limits of a manger.” (St. Jerome, Letter)

It is in our daily lives that we appreciate more deeply the effects of this great event. It is a mystery that bespeaks humility; let no one be proud or haughty. It is a mystery permeated with reconciliation; let no one feel rejected or excluded. It is a mystery that brings peace; let no one be threatened or disturbed. It is a mystery radiating joy; let no one be sad or depressed. It is a mystery bright with hope; let no one be harsh or unkind. It is a mystery full of pardon; let no one hold back forgiveness.

“Today, heaven and earth unite, for Christ is born. Today, God comes to earth in the flesh and the human race is lifted up tot he heavens.” (Night Service Sticherion) Today God comes to the holy and unholy; the righteous must not judge those who have fallen. Today God comes as a servant, inviting all to participate in the washing of each other’s feet. Today the God of creation becomes poor for our sake, directing those who have more to share with those who have less. Today God comes forth as love, to be freely accepted by everyone. Today God comes in the person of Jesus Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch encourages us to “look for him who is above time – the timeless, the invisible, who for our sake became visible.”

My brothers and sisters, it is to us to whom Jesus comes. It is Jesus who completes our lives. As we walk on the journey of our own particular lives, let us always know that we do not walk alone. Jesus Christ walks with us. Our task is to walk in step with Jesus so that he may enter every area of our lives. Then and only then will we grow in faith and holiness. We must be open to growth, as difficult as it can be. Without the following of Christ there is no real growth. May this feast of the birth of Jesus Christ allow us to not fear the future or resist growth. We are empowered by participating in the holy mysteries of the Church, especially Penance and the Eucharist on this great feast.

We began this millennium two years ago filled with hope and assurance that the future would hold good things. Today, after the horror of September 11th and the lack of peace throughout the world, we come face to face with the fragility of life and the temptation to live in fear. On this holy day, each one of us must take some time to reflect on this great feast. A father of the church meditated on this great mystery and said, “Christ became what we are that he might make us what he is.” (St. Athanasius – Incarnation of the Word of God)

The delicious food, the opening of the gifts, and the beauty of the decorations can diminish or hide the real meaning of the event we are celebrating. Jesus Christ is the center of Christmas and one cannot celebrate the feast without him. A starting point would be, as a family or with a group of friends, to reach chapter two of the Gospel of St. Luke. Then after silent reflection, each could share what Jesus means to him or her.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I send my blessing and personal greetings to all the clergy, monastics, and laity of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. Christ is born! Glorify Him!

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh