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“Unwrap the true meaning of Christmas,” Bishop Sullivan’s Christmas message

Recently, a full page colorful ad in The Wall Street Journal with a catchy caption sponsored by a group called Rethink Church caught my attention. In bold print it read: “Unwrap The True Meaning Of Christmas.” This is a worthwhile invitation at this time of year when we are surrounded by rampant commercialism, which robs Christmas of religious meaning.

Christmas commemorates that God entered this world in human form. It is the celebration of the Birth of the Savior. God has taken on human flesh. Nothing like that had ever taken place previously. Oh, yes, God was very active in the creation of the world and in forming man and woman; further, in the making of a covenant with Israel, God promised to be with and to save them. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. He is God’s Word who saves all humanity from the tragic consequences of sin.

The adoration of the shepherds is depicted in this 17th-century painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. (CNS/Bridgeman Images)

At His birth in Bethlehem the Infant Jesus was placed in a wooden manger by His loving Virgin Mother, Mary, and her husband, Saint Joseph. That wood would be replaced at the end of His life by the wood of the Cross on which He accomplished salvation. From the Cross, He rose to life. His Birth was a prelude to His Resurrection.

The true meaning of Christmas is that God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son; that God shared our human condition even to death; that salvation was accomplished by God within the grittiness of life.

This is why the angel announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” To climax this announcement a whole army of angels appeared and sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Their angelic song awakens in us a deep longing to experience the closeness of God; a desire to live in a peaceful world; a hope to end suffering and a wish to eliminate grudges and hatred in our relationships with our families, coworkers, and communities.

This Christmas we need to unwrap the Savior, Jesus Christ, whose presence as the Infant of Bethlehem is God’s Word to us. God’s promise has been kept. “Fear not,” the shepherds are reminded. ”Fear not,” God is with you.

Let us hear this Good, this Very Good News. Let it encourage our faith in God. Let it resonate in our homes and families, among our friends and coworkers. May it be preached from our pulpits. The Savior is born and He and ONLY HE can take away fears and free us from sin. No one else can; nothing else can do that for you.

For some, Christmas evokes memories, especially of loved ones who have died. Consider Mary in the years after Jesus’ death. She understands your pain. Each year after His death on the Cross she surely remembered the day of His birth, that first Christmas. Talk to Mary about whomever you miss this Christmas. She understands what is going on in your heart.

May you unwrap the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS who is Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord. With wishes and prayers for a blessed Christmas and New Year.

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden