Bishop Justin's 2014 Christmas Message
The Joy of Christmas
The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact I have heard it put more beautifully and powerfully as the Good News which is Jesus Christ.
Now Pope Francis has highlighted through his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (and even more by his life) that there is Joy in the Gospel - and that the Gospel brings joy.
This joy began with Christmas. It was there right at the beginning of the Incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus Christ.
The Annunciation, the communication of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, was indeed a joyful message. “Rejoice so highly favoured” (Lk 1:28) was the beginning of this world changing message and event.
The visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth was the occasion of immense joy. It brought joy to John the Baptist “For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk 1:44). This describes simply yet dramatically the joy and excitement experienced when someone truly encounters Jesus. No doubt this was true for Elizabeth as it was for John the Baptist.
Mary then bursts into a joyful prayer and praise of God which begins with, “My soul proclaims to the greatness of the Lord and my Spirit exults in God my Saviour…” (Lk 1:47). The Son of God brought indescribable joy to her as she welcomed the great privilege of becoming his mother.
At Jesus’ Bethlehem birth, the angels joyfully sang “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people who enjoy his favour” (Lk 2:14). Why? It was because one of the angels had just announced “….I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”. (Lk 2:10-11)
The Shepherds, the outcasts of society were the first to visit this Saviour. We can imagine their amazement and joy when going into the cave or stable they found “…Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger….it was exactly as they had been told” (Lk 2:16-17)
The wise men undertook a lengthy journey into the unknown because they wanted to meet and happily bring special gifts to “..the infant King of the Jews” (Mt2:2).
All this joy and excitement and wonder comes from searching for, and closely encountering Jesus. It is true today for us and for all the innumerable people down through 2000 years as it was for these first people.
The joy of the Incarnation and encountering Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, influenced Gabriel and the angels as messengers of God. It impacted Mary as she embraced her vocation of being Jesus’ mother. It inspired John the Baptist to carry out his mission to lead people to Christ, the promised Messiah. I am sure it would have changed the lives of the Shepherds and likewise the Magi.
For all of these people this joyful encounter lead to wonder and awe and praise of God. In various ways it also lead them to share the Good News of Jesus with others.
Pope Francis writes so much about this in Evangelii Gaudium. All I can do here is offer a few quotes and invite you to perhaps get the document, and if you haven’t done already, read it.
‘The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus’. [EG 1]
‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter him; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her, since as Pope Paul VI has said “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk… ‘ [EG 3]
‘For if we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?’ [EG 8]
May this day, this season of Christmas, and this time of preparation, lead us to encounter Jesus more deeply. May it increase our Joy and Praise of God. May it lead us, through the witness of our daily lives, to share this Good and Joyful News.