Messages from our church leaders
As I write this year's Christmas message, the churches of our towns and communities are in the midst of preparations for the Christmas season. Those preparations seem to get earlier and earlier each year among shops and businesses with their display of goods and wares for Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas celebrations officially start on Christmas Eve. Christmas Carol services and Christmas liturgies of worship would not have begun before Christmas Eve. The season of Advent would have been such a great focus. The glorious Advent carols, quite different from those of Christmas, and the accompanying enlightening liturgy would have prepared us so finely for the advancing arrival of our Lord Christ Jesus.
The four Sundays of Advent proclaim profound enlightenment of God to us from the Holy Scriptures. First Sunday, the light perceived by Abraham in his culture and times, that God is one God and not many gods.
This faith was held by his descendants Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.
God set up a covenant with Abraham forming a special relationship with him and his descendants, that He would make them a special people of His very own if they followed Him in a faithful relationship.
Second Sunday, the light perceived by the prophets of God. God's message through the prophets to the people of Israel. God spoke to them by the Holy Spirit, understood and described by them in the female gender as Wisdom. They were most often terrified by the message they were given, but spoke it boldly, often to the threat of their lives and death. Yet, their faithfulness to God compelled them to prophesy.
Third Sunday, the light perceived by John the Baptiser, that light which made him proclaim and hail Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who was to come, the long awaited Saviour, the Divine Son of God. John had come from an affluent family but chose a life of humility and meekness. For this duty, this proclamation, John the Baptiser was beheaded.
Fourth Sunday, the light to the Virgin Mary, by the Archangel Gabriel, that she would become the mother of God's Divine Son, Jesus Christ. God had established a covenant with His people through the Law and the Law was intended to guide people in an easy and free relationship where they would find delight and freedom with God. However, as is the case today, people are tempted to abuse the law and distort its meaning for selfish reasons.
God then sent His Son, on the desire of the Son, into our world to give people an example of exactly what it was to live in a right relationship with God, and therefore fulfil the Law and the prophets. This was achieved by Jesus becoming fully human while still being fully God (not half God and half human).
Not only did Jesus Christ teach us many wonderful and profound things but he, through His Divinity and humanity, and through his resistance with temptation by the devil, became a worthy victim for the failings of our human race whom he loved and desired for redemption. This may be a lot to take in but the governing principle is one of love.
We, as Christians, fall short in many ways today simply because we have not or do not truly understand the principle of love as present in Christ Jesus. I pray for all of you that you have the Light of Faith as understood by Abraham and the Gospel of Love as found in Christ Jesus this Christmas season.
There are also so many preparations that are going on at this time of year in parish life. I am so grateful to Rev Margaret Sykes, assistant priest in Wexford and Kilscoran Union, for reaching on parts of pastoral ministry that I have not been able to do so well of late. Those familiar with St Iberius Church on the main street in Wexford will have seen the scaffolding on the front of the church during the Opera Festival and until recently. The lime plaster has been completed on the section south of the tower. This has cost just less than €40,000, of which a grant was received for €30,000 from the Structures At Risk Fund.
We extend our sincere appreciation to Wexford County Council, Wexford Municipal Borough District, the Heritage Council, the Diocesan Council and all who have given us support with this work. Further to the members of these supportive organisations we must also add a word of appreciation to TD Brendan Howlin (Labour Party Leader), Ciaran Kelly (CKRC Construction), Dermot Nolan (Dermot Nolan & Associates) and Sir David Davies (president, Irish Georgian Society; president, Wexford Festival Opera) who have taken much time and trouble to support us with particular attention to the development of our work at St Iberius.
The 'Large Christmas Tree', 28ft in height, is in place in St Iberius Church again this year. The tree is generously donated by an anonymous donor each year in support of the Four Day Fast. My very good friend Fr Aodhán Marken will be with me again this year for the St Iberius Four Day Fast on the steps of the church. This is a challenging undertaking each year but a worthy one. God gives us strength for the task.
The generosity of the people of Wexford, town and county, is such a very great encouragement. Last year saw €48,500 raised and divided among several Wexford charities.
The 'Memorial Lights Tree' is also in place outside St Iberius Church. This is a very special way of remembering loved ones, now in the care of our Lord, at Christmas. All proceeds, most people make a donation of €5 per light/card placed on the tree, go towards the Four Day Fast Charities and the proceeds usually make up about €1,500 each year. The names on all cards together with their loved ones will be remembered at a service in the church over the Christmas season.
I would also encourage people in following the excellent Wexford tradition of visiting the cribs at Christmas. All people together with grandparents and parents taking children on a walking tour of the Christmas cribs in the town. What a lovely way to spend a day taking time out to think about the real reason for the season. Blessings to all for a very happy Christmas and a joy filled 2018.
Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan
As we approach Christmas Day this year - with the priests, religious and lay active members of the parishes and agencies of the Diocese of Ferns - I say a word of well wish and blessing to all within the Christian community and beyond as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child in our churches, schools, halls and parishes.
The birth of the Christ child was the clear visible moment of something fundamentally new, the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as a family focused outwards and towards us, the unveiling of who our God is and how totally loved each of us is.
This Christmas, as we prepare for World Meeting of Families in August 2018, I invite you to not only thank God for the family that is yours, I invite you to spend quality time in its company and to discern how more beautiful you can make it, today and in the days ahead.
No earthly family is perfect, but none is outside the watchful and mindful gaze of our God.
Make contact with members living away from home and discern how best to reach out to those who have become adrift or cut off.
The simplicity of the current Holy Father is always striking when he engages pastorally with us. Speaking to young couples preparing for marriage in 2014, he offered the following wisdom:
'Living together is an art, a patient, beautiful, fascinating journey. It does not end once you have won each other's love... Rather, it is precisely there where it begins!
'This journey of every day has a few rules that can be summed up in three phrases which you already said, phrases which I have already repeated many times to families, and which you have already learned to use among yourselves: "May I?", "Thank you" and "I'm sorry".'
In conclusion, may the generosity and peace of the family of Bethlehem be yours this Christmas and may it act as your role and inspiration in the year ahead.
l Bishop Brennan has written a pastoral letter to the families of the diocese. It will be distributed at Masses in the diocese on Christmas Day. It focuses on family life and the upcoming World Meeting of Families, which takes place in Dublin from August 21 to August 26, 2018.
Rev Cheryl Patterson, Minister of Gorey Methodist Church
Each year as Advent begins, I look again at our Christmas story. It's challenging to think about how to communicate the same texts year after year. Yet when I come to read the Scripture passages, I am always reminded that within this 'familiar' story is so much hope, expectation, extravagance and vulnerability. This year I found myself captivated by the title given to Christ, 'Prince of Peace'.
It led me to wonder if we fully understand God's peace. I asked the children in church what they thought of when they heard the word 'peace', their answers included: 'No war', 'That time when you go to bed and everything is quiet', and one bright little button answered 'harmony'.
Peace in terms of our scripture means all of that, and so much more. The Hebrew word shalom is translated into peace in our English language, but shalom means so much more than what our English word does. Hebrew words express more emotion and intention, and so the word shalom means more than just a feeling of tranquillity, but means a complete peace, wholeness, contentment, harmony. And so, to hear Christ called 'Prince of Peace' means that he is our Prince of wholeness.
I am struck as I write this, that our world today is filled with much restlessness. We see an absence of physical peace across our world, as wars ravage and destroy lives and land.
We also see an absence of internal peace as many struggle with anxieties and worries; or live feeling like they are 'not enough'. This time of year can be especially difficult, with the dark nights and a growing sense of isolation and loneliness.
However, I believe that our story of Christ speaks into our restlessness and struggle, and offers us a peace that the world cannot. It's a peace that comes from knowing and trusting that God came and that God is still with us.
In Jesus, we find a complete peace, one that brings wholeness and contentment, because it tells us that we are loved, cherished and most certainly more than enough.
The God of all creation loves us so much that He sent his Son to be born among us, to live and die and to be risen from the dead. All of this, for each of us!
I pray that in this season, whether it be challenges or joys, tears or laughter, that you will seek to discover the Prince of Peace. I pray that busyness and restlessness will not overwhelm, but rather the knowledge that God is with you, and that He most certainly loves you, would mean that even among the noise of the world, you would find a stillness and a joy in your heart.
New Ross Standard