The Message of Christmas

The Message of Christmas

It is one of the most important times of the year for Christians, when the story of a child born in a humble manger in Bethlehem is shared and celebrated in churches and homes throughout the world. The arrival of this year's Christmas season in the wake of Sept. 11 and its aftermath holds a special promise for those yearning for Good News in a sad and fearful time.

Members of the Boston College community offer their reflections on the message of hope, redemption and love conveyed in the Christmas Story - a message particularly resonant this year, in this "vale of tears" mankind inhabits.

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In a season of sudden and murderous death the birth of Christ reveals how God so loves each and every one of us that He sent His only Son to take up all human sorrow and pain on the Cross and transform it into eternal life in the Resurrection. The message of Christmas is the triumph of life, goodness, and love over death, evil, and hate.

-Rev. Matthew L. Lamb, professor of theology

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I have a particularly vivid double image this December, growing stronger the closer we come to Christmas.

The first image is of Marines - I am one of them - searching out caves in Afghanistan in search of bin Laden and the Taliban. There's darkness, the smell of fear (mine), death waiting in the muffled wumpf of an explosion. And over against that, as winter begins to settle in here in New England, now, at the darkest time of the year, another cave.

In this one shepherds, a donkey, an ox, a trough filled with fresh straw, a man watching over his young wife and her baby, who is now his child as well. His child and ours as well. The scene is suffused with a soft, slant, quietly dramatic light and there is even a hint of warmth in here. Somehow the light seems to be coming not from outside, for it is pitch black out there and we seem to have once again lost our way. No, it is coming from the baby, as if Carravaggio had painted the scene.

Everything about the scene has been stripped to its bare essentials: light, dark, a family, some hill folk. In spite of all we have gone through and all we will go through - all of us as humans - there is this recurrent hope, this sense of new life spiraling out of darkness itself, signaling another chance. Eastering life it is, isn't it? Life renewed in ways only the heart - pressed to it - might have half guessed at, but there for all that. Call it God's best gift to us, Himself. Somehow, against the odds, actually there, in the cave of the heart, and waiting simply for us to enter and be whole.

-Paul Mariani, professor of English

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The history of the 20th century, with all its war and suffering, has brought us to a crisis of humanism. It leads us to suspect that social life is so broken that the best we can hope for is survival - for the time being.

Fr. Hollenbach
But Christmas brings a much deeper hope. The stable at Bethlehem helps us see that the ultimate mystery surrounding our lives is a source of reconciliation, indeed of redemption. It unveils that at the heart of the world is One who has utter compassion for all who suffer.

The angels' song of "peace on earth" brings hope in the face of every oppressive status quo. It helps us continue struggling toward a world that is more just, less violent. This is the heart of every genuine humanism; it is the source of Christmas joy.

-David Hollenbach, SJ, Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology

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If this world were not a "vale of tears," if the past century, like all others, were not bloody, if there were no Bad News, then we would not need, or appreciate, the Good News - which remains exactly the same today as it was 2,000 years ago: a Person, not an ideology: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."

-Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy

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Suffering can have the effect of making God seem far away, removed from our concerns or indifferent to our cries. Christmas reminds us that God has come close to us, that he desires, as John Paul II often puts it, to walk the path of life with each one of us. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. When even worldly peace seems so difficult to achieve,

We can draw strength from that promise of peace in the message of the angels: peace on earth to men of good will. It is a peace the world cannot give, but also one that the world cannot take away.

-Jorge Garcia, professor of philosophy

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With a sense of urgency this year we reflect on what it means to believe that Divinity entered time, on our planet, and became a human person. To be a person means to shiver as a baby with little shelter on a rocky hillside; it means to feel horror as we watch symbols of progress, and lives of real people so many of us know, destroyed before our eyes. We are, I believe, in a time of transition and as creatures of meaning need to make sense of ourselves and our world. We seek the transformations needed in the current cycle of birth-death-and rebirth. In the year of the Lord 2001, our dual heritage of faith and science provide deep insights into the meaning of being human and spark a message of hope for the future of all humankind.

What speaks to me at this time is God intimately revealed in all of creation. The principles we learn from of our earth tell us who God is and who we are. Our earth is derived and transformed by principles referred to as unity, diversity, and self-identity. We can learn from nature that to be is to be related; that relationship is the essence of existence. Nothing is itself without everything else. We are one with our universe and one with each other. A computer graphics-generated axial view of a DNA molecule looks like a rose window of the Creation Story...

In the uncertainty of transition we believe that there can be great moments of transformation. A unique opportunity arises for humankind because the challenges are so absolute and the possibilities equally comprehensive. God became a human person and shared our common human and earth patterns. Our best hope is to become wholly human in the image of the Divine. We can use our human creative abilities of awareness, enlightenment, and faith to derive, sustain, and transform our cultures in the light of the unity, diversity, and self-identity that we learn from our earth.

-Sister Callista Roy, professor, Connell School of Nursing


When I think of the holidays in what most people term as the "aftermath of 9/11," I am compelled to offer these reflections. I believe the meaning of "aftermath" is confusing. For many people this is "the world that is." There is no aftermath, and the holidays bring challenges that they have encountered all along, and are still encountering. The impulse to go to peace is very compelling but I realize how things are more complex than that.

Often I have wondered how we simplify the complex and complexify the simple in these times. The notion of interdependence is also very compelling at this time.

This means for me seeking to build more and more international collaboration. What comes to mind to say and do is simple, that we attend to our collective injury, at our hands and the hands of the institution and ideas we are serving.

The invitation then is to sit together. That we listen. That we hold each other and the pain we have and are causing each other. That we share the delightful and potent powers of healing we each have and we lift the pain, heal the injury, address the source of the injury and neutralize its ability to cause further rupture, and that we live, work and love inside a healing community in action and deed as well as word and sentiment.

-Hugo Kamya, associate professor, Graduate School of Social Work

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Fear is debilitating; fear saps energy; fear it is that pulls the sheets over our heads and keeps us cowering in the corner. In the best of times fear is the enemy of life. But since September 11 fear has spread like the plague. An antidote? What could be less fearful than a newborn baby?

"Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

Let us go over to Bethlehem.

-William B. Neenan, SJ, vice president and special assistant to the president


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