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Give the gift of Jesus this Christmas

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

What makes Christianity unique amongst all world religions is our belief in the miracle of the Incarnation.

This is the central claim of Christian belief. God entered into our humanity so that we could share in his divinity. The good news of Christianity is that God, the Creator of the Cosmos and Lord of Lords, desires communion with us.

Amazingly with the birth of Jesus, God offers us in our poverty the opportunity for friendship with him.

Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II have all taught that the essence of our Catholic faith is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. The foundation of our Catholic faith is not in ideas, concepts and theories, but in an authentic relationship with Jesus.

While everything about our Catholic faith points us to this opportunity to commune with the living God, to nurture a friendship with Jesus, sadly, there are many Catholics for a variety of reasons who have not experienced this encounter with the one born in Bethlehem.

All of the sacraments offer us opportunities to encounter Jesus. The sacrament of reconciliation, when received with awareness and devotion, is a moment to experience personally the merciful and unconditional love that Jesus desires to give us.

Each reception of holy Communion is a new opportunity to encounter the love of Jesus, who desires to dwell with us despite our weakness and our frailty.

Personal prayer becomes something quite different for us when we understand it is not just a recitation of words but actually a conversation in which we not only talk to God but he also speaks to our hearts. Prayer makes us more aware of the presence of Jesus, who is constantly revealing himself to us through the events of our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, the Christmas holidays are actually for some an occasion of sadness and even despair. For those experiencing broken family relationships, fractured friendships or general loneliness, the memories of Christmas past can actually exacerbate and intensify the pain of the present.

This year, with the social distancing and isolation from family and friends in our efforts to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, many grieving the death of loved ones and the financial stress many are experiencing, Christians need to be more aware and sensitive to family, friends and neighbors who may be struggling. Seemingly small, thoughtful gestures of concern and love could make a huge difference in those who may not be feeling very merry this Christmas.

The greatest gift that we can bring to others is helping them to know the love for them of the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day.

Certainly, praying for others or — when possible — praying with others is important. However, in our prayer we should also ask the Lord: How do you want me to be your instrument in bringing comfort and joy to others?

I love the beautiful Christmas hymns that help us ponder the simplicity of the circumstances for the birth of Jesus and the implication of their meaning for the priorities we choose for our lives.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is a hymn not normally associated with Christmas. However, I find its lyrics descriptive of the relationship with him that Jesus came into this world to make possible for us.

Joseph Scriven, a Protestant preacher, wrote a poem to his mother who was seriously ill. His poem eventually became the lyrics for this classic hymn. The words of the hymn remind us, if family and friends have failed us, Our Lord will not.

The following are the words to the hymn as found in “Lead Me, Guide Me — The African American Catholic Hymnal” published in 1987.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge —
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.

The great truth of Christmas is a God who loves us — not because we are perfect or good, but because he is perfect and good.

The Lord loves us —  not in our perfection, but in our weakness. Jesus came into this world to provide us the opportunity to accept God’s mercy, grace and his offer of friendship.

No matter the external circumstances of our lives, even if they are as stark and bleak as the Nativity scene, we always have reason to be merry, because God is with us.

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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