A Christmas message

December 13, 2019

My Dear Ones in Christ,

You have all heard the story about Ebenezer Scrooge, the famously broken and bitter old man from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ who had to learn how to ‘keep’ Christmas in his old age and then only after many trials and ‘ghostly’ adventures. Many of us actually learned how to keep Christmas well and joyfully from a very early age. I certainly did with my Mom and Dad who provided me and my brothers and sisters with the most marvelous Christmas day and season you can imagine, and all on a shoestring budget too! One of my earliest ‘Christmas’ memories revolved around the excitement and joy at the opening of the two, big sliding doors that led into our living room. That is where ‘Santa’ had prepared a veritable ‘Winter Wonderland’ with the presents, the tree and all the trimmings. It didn’t dawn on me until many years later as to why Mom and Dad were always so tired on Christmas morning.

Another very fond ‘Christmas’ memory – connected to the first one – comes from a visit I had to the Philippines well over 25 years ago. It was early in the month of October and I had been graciously picked up at the airport in Manila by some dear friends of mine from a small but fervent religious order of priests and brothers called the Disciples of Mary. It was great to see them and the joyous atmosphere was only enhanced by the most lovely and lively Christmas music you could imagine playing on the car radio. I said to myself, “These people really know how to celebrate!” Do they ever, and if you know anything about the Filipino culture then you know that they not only start Christmas early and joyfully, but they will also celebrate this Feast well into February! They are not the only people or culture to do that.

Over the past fifteen years or so I have developed some of my own ‘habits’ for celebrating the Christmas season. Please do not turn me in to the liturgists among us but I too start Christmas early, often even before the Advent season begins. I have done so again this year and I have no intention of taking even one ornament down until January the 13th, 2020, the day after this year’s Christmas season. Why? I think you know the answer to that question. It is because we need to celebrate joyfully and prolong the joy in our lives whenever we can. I don’t need to tell you how challenging these times are for us as a Church and as the People of God. It is precisely in those difficult moments of our lives that we need to remember that, “For unto us a child is born; a Son is given.” This most precious gift from the heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God, Mary most holy, is the real reason why I won’t be taking down any Christmas decorations any time soon. I hope you join me in prolonging the joy.

Christmas came early for me when I was assigned to the Diocese of Fresno. May it always come early to you and those you love. Merry Christmas!
In Christ,
Bishop Joe