You have probably noticed that at some football games or at a sporting event there may be a person holding up a banner with the message “John 3:16”. It is usually quite noticeable when the field goal is being placed through the uprights and the cameras are showing the fans in the background. Whether or not you agree with the zealousness of the fan, the sign is actually intended as a message of faith and hope. It refers to the words in the third chapter and 16th verse of the gospel of St. John the Evangelist which says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
In the next verse St. John continues to write, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” These verses highlight what is essential to Christians about the feast that we celebrate today: that in the person of Jesus, God entered into human history and became one of us. We believe that he entered into our humanity and our history not as a conqueror or as an earthly king but as a poor man born in the most humble of circumstances. And we believe that he came among us to save us from the disorder of sin: from the selfishness and greed, violence and hatred that lead to suffering, unhappiness and anger that attempts to embitter others and death itself.
For Christians, the mystery of the Incarnation, of God assuming our human nature in all things but sin, is the revelation of God’s love for us. The depth of such love is shown in the fact that God became one of us.
Last year in his Christmas message, Pope Benedict wrote: “The Word became flesh.” The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today… The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Savior
Christians rejoice each year at this new chapter in human history, which is the realization of the deepest longings of the human heart: an end to everything that divides and separates us from God and from each other and the beginning of forgiveness, reconciliation, fellowship and peace.
This time of year brings forth the melodies and reminders of Christ’s birth. For many, “Silent Night” is a favorite. Each of us needs, I think, a place where we can be silent, where the clamor and the tumult cease and where we can listen to the deepest truth about who we are and why we are here. Moving past the hectic and stress-filled aspects of Christmas, we should see it as a time to rejoice in God’s love for us, celebrate with family, and allow that love and celebration to pour forth upon those who are in need.
Within my faith tradition, Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 6:14) and he comes into our world to change our hearts with his message of love and salvation. From my perspective, Jesus’ coming into the world offers us a revelation and a message that is a sure guide and reference point for what is right, for what is true, and for what is loving. The message is meant to change us, we are not called to change the message.
Like many of you, I have spent a good amount of time wrapping gifts for Christmas, but I truly believe that the greatest gift is the one given to us by God this day in Bethlehem — a gift that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. It is my hope that the message of Christmas will move the hearts of people of good will to act charitably toward others. May this Christmas Day be filled with peace and joy for you and your loved ones — and blessings to you in 2012.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.