Christmas readings: Despite challenges, we can ‘return home’ to love of God
By Bishop Louis Tylka
Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas)
At the Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5,16-17,27,29; Acts 13:16-17,22-25; Matthew 1:1-25
Mass During the Night: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-2,2-3,11-12,13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97:1,6,11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20
Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4,5-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
The various readings for the celebration of Christmas given to us by the Church correspond to the time of celebration: the Vigil Mass, Mass During the Night, at Dawn, or During the Day. Each in its own way directs us to see Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of all that the prophets had foretold and the promise of God with us — Emmanuel.
This year, in particular, the notion of family occupies my heart in prayer. The Gospel of Matthew proclaimed at the Vigil Mass recounts the genealogy of Jesus. At the Mass During the Night, we hear from Luke that the Nativity took place in Bethlehem because Joseph, “was of the house and family of David.” In both of these instances the family lineage undergirds the story of Jesus. For me, the importance of family has always been a bedrock of my own upbringing.
Families will celebrate Christmas in what will likely be an unusual manner this year. Yet as people of faith, we understand “family” in a broader way that helps us to overcome many of the difficulties we face.
This year, Christmas will look different for many of our families. Because of pandemic restrictions, our gatherings will be celebrated in a different way — if they are celebrated at all. Many will have an empty seat at the table, whether it be from the loss of a loved one from COVID-19 or, as is the case in my own family, the loss of a loved one to cancer. And because of the tensions and anxieties of the moment, many families will face animosities and familial dysfunction that threaten family unity and can bring about separations of one variety or another. Even the most “normal” families will celebrate Christmas in what will likely be an unusual manner this year. Yet as people of faith, we understand “family” in a broader way that helps us to overcome many of the difficulties we face.
In the genealogy of Jesus, which is far more than a list of names and which includes some rather unsettling characters — those whom today we might call the crazy aunts or uncles — it is revealed to us that no matter who we are, God is with us. Whether a family of origin or a family of choosing, God is at work revealing the depths of his love and understanding, his mercy and freedom, his joy and compassion in those who are our brothers and sisters. In Joseph and Mary’s return to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestors and the place where she will give birth to Jesus — God’s Son — we see the great gift and value of being able to “go home” and to be rooted in a family.
The experience of being “connected” to others, especially during this time when physical connection is discouraged, is a significant part of our being. We are sustained by our connections to family, to friends, to relationships that ground us and nurture us. Our family is the first place of love, and our home is the school of faith. That is why this Christmas, acutely aware of how our lives and our families have been so challenged this past year, I am “returning home” in my heart to feel once again the love of God and to witness the life of Jesus born anew.
We can overcome any obstacle and any isolation by recognizing that God is with us, because God is in us. I know that I learned that truth from family — my family of origin, my chosen family of friends, and most especially, the family of the Church.
Bishop Louis Tylka was consecrated as the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Peoria on July 23, 2020. The youngest of Louis M. and Norma Tylka’s six children, he grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago with sisters Linda Tylka, Brenda Landau, Tésa Dunning, Patty Arvia, and Mary Lou Bryant. Bishop Lou’s sister, Mary Lou, died of pancreatic cancer in June of 2020.