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home : from the bishop : from the bishop February 21, 2019

A Christmas Message from Bishop O'Connell: The splendor of the Incarnation, robed in simplicity

Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Every year after Thanksgiving, my secretary and I bring the storage boxes containing Christmas trees, lights and decorations in from the garage. No doubt this same ritual is observed in many homes throughout the Diocese. Although still in the Holy Season of Advent, I must confess I have already started to celebrate the joys of Christmas.

As I was wiping off the figures from the Nativity set for their place of honor in the foyer, I began to think about that first Christmas and wondered why God chose this way to come into the world: in a stable surrounded by animals during the middle of the night, with Mary and Joseph huddled together to keep their newborn warm? The story that we read in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and see portrayed in manger scenes is so touching and beautiful that one cannot help but be moved. It truly tugs at the heart ... but it also gives us much to ponder. 

The Lord of Lords, the King of Heaven and Earth, the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of the World is born in abject poverty and the humility that such conditions bring with it. Jesus could have taken on our flesh and appeared in splendor, triumph and the glory due him. He did not. Instead, a helpless infant was born  – gathered up in the arms of a teenage Mother and her carpenter husband  –  in a stable because no one had room for them. 

For Jesus, our human flesh was worthy enough to be his garment; he didn’t need the mantle of earthly power.  For Jesus, the company of holy parents and lowly animals was audience enough as he entered our world; he didn’t need a royal court to surround him with all the trappings of nobility and status.  For Jesus, the wooden manger was support enough at his birth, prefiguring the wooden cross that would one day cause his death; he didn’t need a throne or other furniture fit for a royal family.  Swaddling clothes at the moment symbolized a burial shroud to come.

Jesus Our Savior came into the world in utter simplicity, uncomplicated by worldly claims or material distractions. “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness  (Philippians 2: 6-7).” That is how his life started. That is how his human life continued from Bethlehem forward. That is how his human life came to an end on Calvary.

There is something instructive in the Nativity scene however it is portrayed to us. Confounding earthly wisdom, a newborn baby takes on the world! That’s what we see ... but there is more. In his dependency he teaches us to make room to “need others.” In his poverty he teaches us to let go of things that only get in the way. In his simplicity he teaches us to avoid complicating life by viewing things with eyes of innocence. In his humility he teaches us to put others first. In his love he teaches us to love others, if for no other reason than that they are there, God’s children needing our love. Perhaps that’s why God chose to come into the world the way he did.

It’s interesting, isn’t it ... what ordinary things like dusting off the figures of a Nativity set before Christmas will call to mind? As I arrange the little statues, each in its traditional place, I stop my thoughts for a moment only to realize I’ll probably never look at that stable scene the same way again. 

“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 the Messiah and Lord. ... you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2: 10-12).”

May this Christmas be a time of peace, joy and hope for you and all those you love!  Merry Christmas and all God’s blessings in the New Year!


Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Bishop of Trenton

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