We have been in Advent, the period of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We entered Advent this year on Sunday, 29th November 2020. The Advent will continue to the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God-made-man. That day which is 25th December, is Christmas, the day of special celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. As we read in the New Testament, God sent his Son into the world by the Holy Spirit through the woman called Mary. As we read in the Gospel of Luke, the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and greeted her and told her that she would conceive a Son whom she would call Jesus: Mary, do not be afraid; you have won Gods favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end. Mary the virgin was surprised and said: But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man? And the Angel Gabriel told her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And Mary replied: You see before you the Lords servant, let it happen to me as you have said (see Luke 1:30-33, 34, 35,38). Indeed, Mary, then betrothed to Joseph, had conceived through the Holy Spirit and his new husband, Joseph finding her pregnant wanted to send her away but he was told in a dream by an Angel of the Lord: Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins (see Matthew 1:18-21). Joseph, therefore, took Mary as his wife, a wife with conception and of course, not from Joseph but by the Holy Spirit.
Mary eventually gave birth to this child. As we read in the Gospel of Luke, Mary gave birth of Jesus at Bethlehem: Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-place (Luke 2:6-7). The birth of Jesus was a great thing. An Angel informed shepherds about the birth: Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And the Angel and a great throng of hosts of heaven were praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours (Luke 2:9-14). The shepherds who were told by the Angel decided to go to Bethlehem to see the event which the Lord had made known to them. They went and found Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus. They were the first people who joined in the birth of Jesus and they were glorifying and praising God for all they have heard and seen (see Luke 2:15-20).
The day of the birth of Jesus is Christmas. This is the day when we Christians join in celebrating the birth of Christ, the Word of God who became flesh as we read in the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh (John 1:1,14). The Word became flesh by being born into the world. The day of Christmas is therefore a special day of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in the world by Mary, the Virgin Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us Catholics, the day of Christmas is also called the Day of Nativity of the Lord. It is also the Holy Day of Obligation. It is a special feast day to be observed as holy day of obligation. According to Canon Law, On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lords Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body (Canon 1247). Christmas is, therefore, a very special day for worship of God.
It is evident that people really enjoy Christmas day and season. Let us rejoice at the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Church has great liturgical celebrations for Christmas. In the teaching of the Church, we see that Christmas is a special liturgical feast: In the liturgical year the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold. This is also the case with the cycle of feasts surrounding the mystery of the incarnation (Annunciation, Christmas, Epiphany). They commemorate the beginning of our salvation and communicate to us the first fruits of the Paschal mystery (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1171). The liturgical celebrations of Christmas are plenty. There is the Vigil Mass in the evening of 24th December and there is also a Mass during the night and there is another Mass at dawn and again another Mass during the day. At the Mass during the night we begin with: Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Saviour has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven. And at the Mass at dawn, the Mass is begun with: Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us; and he will be called Wondrous God, Prince of peace, Father of future ages; and his reign will be without end. We have at the Mass during the day: A child is born for us, and a son is given to us; his scepter of power rests upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Messenger of great counsel. The Masses are very important. We as Catholics should do our best to join in the Mass of the night and at least a Mass in the day. In joining in these Mass, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
It is evident that the celebration of Christmas is not only the Holy Masses. There are many things which people do at Christmas. People give Christmas greetings and wishes. Many people send Merry Christmas to others wishing them happy Christmas. Indeed, people show that Christmas is a special day. Christmas Day is really a day for feasting and entertainment. People should plan very well for the activities and enjoyment of the day of Christmas. Knowing that Christmas is the day of the Lord, all Catholics and indeed, all Christians should enjoy themselves in the way that is good. People should not be engaged in drunkenness because being a drunkard is being a sinner as St. Paul warns that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:10). Everything done always by Christians should be clean and right before God. During Christmas parties and refreshment, Christians should make sure that they are doing things in the correct way before God. We should be holy in all we do for, as St. Peter urges us: Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activities, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since scripture says, Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:14-15; see also Leviticus 19:2). Christmas should make us holy in celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This year, we are going through many problems from Coronavirus Pandemic. I join our Pope, His Holiness, Pope Francis to request all Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour very well. Pope Francis said: No Pandemic can turn off the light of Christmas. The message of Pope Francis was published in the Christian Outlook: There is no pandemic or crisis that can turn off the light of Christmas, Pope Francis affirmed, as he greeted the faithful present in St. Peters Square and following through the media during the Sunday Angelus (The Christian Outlook, Vol. 19 No. 45 of Sunday December 12, 2020). We should do our best to celebrate properly all the aspects of Christmas in order to honour our Lord Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As we prepare for the great day of Christmas, I wish you all happy and merry Christmas. Rejoice and be glad! May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, one God bless all of us as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas Day!
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi Diocese