Bishop Hicks with his grandma.
Keeping Christ in the Center This Season With Creativity and Faith
Joseph and Mary had every right to feel fatigued, overwhelmed and disheartened when, after a long journey, they found no room in the inn. They probably realized that the birth of their child was not going to unfold as they had anticipated but would take place away from home, in a stable as animals looked on. And, yet, in that imperfect setting, Jesus was born, and hope was revealed not only to the people of Bethlehem, but also to the world.
Fast forward to the year 2020 and many of us understandably also feel fatigued, overwhelmed and disheartened as we realize the upcoming Holy Day on Dec. 25 will not be as we anticipated. Someone recently commented that COVID-19 robbed us of our Easter celebrations and would likely take away our Christmas, as well.
Indeed, for most of us, Christmas celebrations will look different this year. Some families may not be able to exchange gifts as in past years because of job loss or economic uncertainties. Many will not be able to gather physically and will look to virtual ways of connecting with loved ones. And some may not be able to be present in church at Christmas Mass because of health concerns.
However, let us never forget that, throughout all the challenges and darkness, we remain a people of hope and light through Jesus Christ. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it may be that this is the year to simplify our Christmas traditions and focus on Christ and on the importance of true gifts, such as family and friends.
Let me give you an example of a “different” Christmas in my own family. In 2002, I was 35 years old, and my Grandma declared that, while she loved all our family’s holiday traditions, she wanted to do something different. Or, in her words, she wanted to “add a little spice” to the normal exchange of Christmas presents. Therefore, she decided not to buy any Christmas gifts for her children and grandchildren.
Instead, in a spirit of generosity and creativity, she went through her house and beautifully wrapped some of her artwork, trinkets, and knick-knacks for each family member.
She told us, “I would rather share my treasures with you now, while I am alive, so that I can see you enjoy them.” With love and care, she explained the history and significance of each gift. Each one of us was entranced by the gifts we received. That exchange triggered many memories and stories, which continue to be shared among our family.
You might be wondering what my Grandma gave to me. She gifted me with a crystal bowl she received as a wedding engagement gift in 1939 and a candy bowl she received for her 75th birthday. I have the crystal bowl displayed with pride in my living room and the candy bowl filled with sweets on my desk. Even though my Grandma passed away in 2009, each time I look at those gifts I fondly remember her love, generosity and faith.
As we approach the end of 2020 and prepare for 2021, you may want to consider doing something a little differently, too, this Christmas season. You do not have to do what my Grandma did 18 years ago. However, you might consider putting aside some of the distractions from previous years and creatively look for ways to highlight the true gifts of faith, hope and love. In other words, ask yourselves how will you keep Christ in the center of this Holy Season.
This is my first Christmas as your bishop in the Diocese of Joliet. I imagine I will receive some gifts this season. As I open them, I will be mindful of one of my most cherished gifts this year: being called to be the shepherd of this local Church, ministering with extraordinary clergy, religious men and women and laity. You are true blessings to me. Let’s continue to pray for each other, especially during this season that the life and light of Christ will continue to shine in our lives and throughout the world.