Christmas reminds us the Lord is with us now
In this week’s interview, communication manager David Hazen speaks with Archbishop George J. Lucas about the coming of our Lord at Christmas, his presence among us over the past year, and what he invites each of us to do in the coming year.
Q: In one of the Christmas liturgies we hear the refrain, "Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord" (cf. Lk 2:11). How are we to understand the coming of the Savior in the here and now?
The church is filled with joy every year at Christmas because the celebration of this feast is a reminder to us that the Lord is with us now. God has given us the gift of his Son to be with us, right where we are at this moment, so that we can begin to experience already this explicit love that our heavenly Father has for us sinners.
The gift of salvation in Jesus is not only a hope for something in the future. Neither is it simply the remembrance of something that happened in the past. Jesus was born at a certain moment in human history, of course, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, he remains with us in the church and has promised to remain with us until the end of time.
Our Savior did not simply pop into human history for a short visit. He humbled himself to become one of us and poured out his life for us on the altar of the cross. He continues to offer himself at the right hand of the Father. The gift is given now in a glorious setting, but he gathers us up into that offering that he makes to our heavenly Father, so that activity of salvation is continuing for us here and now.
Q: Even though the Savior has already come, the world is still a mess. What can we learn from suffering this time of year? What can we offer to those in challenging circumstances?
It can be easy for us who are comfortable to celebrate a beautiful Christmas. We give and receive gifts, and have lots of good food to eat, and we can look at a beautiful scene of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and marvel at all of it in a somewhat sterile way. The fact of the matter is we need a Savior. In our sinfulness and our brokenness, we can both know and experience salvation.
I remember hearing a story from a missionary priest when I was in the seminary. He had gone to work in Bolivia among very poor native peoples. He spoke to us about how moved he was at his first celebration of Christmas with the people whom he had been sent to serve. They were poor and they knew it, and they lived in a very isolated part of the world. All the same, they had come to really grasp the truth that God wanted to be with them in their humble circumstances.
We naturally like to show off our accomplishments. However, Jesus is not coming to be with us because of anything we have accomplished, or because we ever reached a certain status. He doesn’t come to us because we have our lives all sorted out or have achieved moral perfection. He comes as our Savior. If we don’t recognize the need for salvation, then in a sense, Christmas is not for us.
The feast of Christmas breaks into the darkness and the distance that sin has caused in our relationship with God. God reaches across that distance, across that darkness in a most effective and personal way, in the gift of his Son Jesus, who comes to us in humility as a small and vulnerable child.
Q: You usually don’t visit prisons, but I heard that you’re going to celebrate Christmas Mass with some inmates, is that right?
I’ll have the opportunity on Christmas Eve to celebrate Mass with some of the residents at the Omaha Correctional Center. I have done that over the past several years. I look forward to it and I believe that the Lord has a special love and care for those whom I will meet there. It is an opportunity to announce the coming of the Savior in a place that may seem very sterile, and where people are necessarily isolated from family and friends. Their celebration of this holy day won’t be the same as that of many other people, but it’s very important that they know that Jesus comes to be with them, and he intends to be with them because he cares about them very much.
I will also have the opportunity to celebrate Mass at St. Cecilia Cathedral. The beautiful music and decorations are for me a very important part of the celebration, which draw us into the power and beauty of this ancient mystery that is still new for us today: the coming of Jesus as our Savior. I hope to invite all of us celebrating there to recognize that we, too, need the Savior, because we experience the brokenness of sin in profound ways. We experience that brokenness not with a sense of hopelessness, though. We have great hope now that we are saved because of the coming of Jesus and because of our willingness to welcome and receive him as our Savior.
Q: As you look back at this past year, at 2017, what signs of that salvation, what signs of his presence stand out? Or particular highlights that you’ve seen in the life among us here?
One of the greatest blessings I count in my own vocation is the opportunity to see so many aspects of the life of our faith across the archdiocese and beyond, and to be reminded very profoundly that the Lord is present and active among us and in our time and place.
We can often take for granted the ordinary places where we see his activity. Our Catholic schools and religious education programs, for example, are beautiful contexts where the person of Jesus can be encountered and welcomed and where our young people can come to know him.
In July, I had the opportunity to travel to Orlando with a delegation from our archdiocese for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. In the presence of people from around the country, and in the talks, liturgies and conversations, it was very easy for me to recognize the presence of Jesus alive and active there.
I had the opportunity later in the summer to travel with Catholic Relief Services to Uganda. CRS represents the Catholics of our country in bringing the saving love of Jesus to people who are in need in many places around the world. It was particularly moving to visit a refugee settlement. The people I met there have experienced tremendous suffering and deprivation at the hands of others. Still, they are not without hope. They believe that God cares for them and has a plan for them. Meeting them and listening to them was an opportunity to see the power of the Savior’s promise.
In all of those places, and in many other ways too, I see clear evidence that the Lord is living and active in our present time. His presence among us in the church, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received, enable us then as the living body of Christ to offer an experience of hope in practical ways, in the lives of our neighbors.
Q:As we enter into the Christmas season and the new year, what direction would you offer those of us who want to be witnesses of the hope you describe?
We all love the hymn "Silent Night" at Christmas time. It’s a beautiful reflection on the mysteries that we celebrate. We should not be silent, however, about what we know to be true. We can certainly linger in peace over this beautiful mystery of the Lord’s coming, but he also wants us to announce his coming, just as the angels and the shepherds announced it.
This has been part of the mystery from the very beginning: Jesus not only comes to be with us, but he gives us the responsibility to share the Good News. We share the fact of the coming of the Lord, but he also invites us to reach out to those who are in need so that they might experience the tangible reality of his coming. We should want those around us who struggle and who are in special need to have the same experience of hope and of being lifted up, which we ourselves have had.
I wish a happy and blessed Christmas to everyone in this archdiocese and beyond. Let us pray together that we would have every gift of the Holy Spirit that we need in the new year to remain close to the Lord, and to remain generous in sharing our knowledge and love of Christ with others.