This Christmas Message from Archbishop Costelloe was first published in the Record.
In the Christmas story, when the angels appear to the shepherds to tell them of the birth of Christ the angel’s first words are “do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). They are the same words with which the angel Gabriel greets Mary when he tells her of God’s plan that she should be the mother of the messiah (Luke 1:30).
As Mary’s child grows up and begins his life’s work, he too will say these words many times. When his disciples are caught in a dangerous storm out on the lake he comes to them through the raging wind and waves, walking across the waters, and encouraging them not to be afraid (Matthew 14:27). When he realizes how insecure and unimportant people feel, he reminds them that because God knows and loves them they have no need to be afraid (Matthew 10:31). And when he encounters the women at the empty tomb after his rising from the dead he says also to them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).
This invitation not to give in to fear is a constant refrain in the Bible. It is based on the conviction that God is with us, that we matter to him and that he holds us in the palm of his hand. In its essence, the Christmas celebration is all about this fundamental belief that God is indeed with us; in fact, God loved us so much that he became one of us in the helpless child of Bethlehem so that we might see and know God as he really is and welcome him into our lives.
Fear is a constant factor in many people’s lives. We worry about our families, we are concerned about our futures, we are fearful of the damage being caused to our natural environment. At a deeper level perhaps we are fearful of loneliness, of emptiness, of meaninglessness. The coming of God among us in the person of Jesus is no guarantee that we will not have these struggles, difficulties and sufferings. After all, they were at the heart of Jesus’ own life. But the promise of Christmas is that, whatever we must face in the journey of our lives, we do not face it alone. And because God is with us we do not need to be afraid. God will help us to bear the burden of these difficulties and sufferings. God will help us to transform them into experiences of hope and of growth. All we have to do is let him work within us.
In this Year of grace, in which we are all invited to “contemplate the face of Christ”, may this Christmas season be a time when we all are given the grace of a deeper understanding of God’s love and God’s presence in our lives. As we celebrate the coming of Christ among us once again, may his coming be a transforming experience for us. And may we all, in the joy of our Christmas celebrations, be renewed in our determination to allow the face of Christ to shine though us as we reach out to others, especially those most in need, with generosity, with compassion and with love.
I wish you all a very happy and holy Christmas.
+Archbishop Timothy Costelloe
Archbishop of Perth