From the beginning of the liturgical year to its end, the Great Star of Bethlehem in our sanctuary reminded me of that Light who came into the world, the Light which focuses our attention on the true meaning of Christmas.
We all have our own memories of Christmas, whether they be of recent times or precious recollections of long ago. One of my favorite memories of this holy season brings me back to childhood when my dad would take on the task of decorating our home.
My dad loved Christmas. For a man who did not readily express his inner thoughts or emotions, Christmas became a great opportunity to express his appreciation of mystery and wonder that lay deep within. Maybe it stemmed from a desire to compensate from growing up in the depression era when families did not have the wherewithal to spend either dime or time on such a luxury, or maybe it was just a pleasant distraction from his long hours at work. In any case while he observed a "depression-minded" frugality in most other instances, the observance of Christmas proved a great exception during which time my sisters and I were the beneficiaries of his largess.
Dad loved to "over-decorate" our home inside and out throughout December. Boxes upon boxes were opened to provide lights for every outside shrub, dozens of miniature winter village pieces for the cloth under the tree, ornaments for the branches, a huge star for the top, holly for the mantle, shiny stars for the mantle mirror, and angels for the fireplace. But among the many visible signs of the season in our modest second story apartment, the one most prominently displayed in the dining room was a simple Nativity set with the figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Infant, the shepherds and kings and the cows and the sheep. Atop the little stable was positioned the Great Star of Bethlehem. Interestingly enough, with dazzle all around indoors and out, my little sisters were most taken by the lighted star in the creche shining on the babe in the manger.
At some point during these same years, the pastor of our local parish undertook a painting project to redecorate the aging apse in the church sanctuary. As I recall, the new apse was painted blue. The pale blue near the base deepened in color as it climbed the wall. Interrupting the smooth blue texture were a number of different-sized stars which culminated at the highest point by into the Great Star of Bethlehem.
Images stirring the heart found a connecting thread from the simple star over our creche, to the little stars on our mirror, to the bright star on top of the Christmas tree. For they all were linked in my mind to the largest star firmly painted on the church wall. From the beginning of the liturgical year to its end, the Great Star of Bethlehem in our sanctuary reminded me of that Light who came into the world, the Light which focuses our attention on the true meaning of Christmas.
The Divine Light came into the world to dispel the darkness and reveal the goodness and beauty of God. The profound goodness and beauty of our generous and loving God whose Son, though he was rich, became poor as a vulnerable babe, so that we might become rich in his grace, peace, and joy not only at Christmas but every day of the year.
The observance of Christmas comes just once each year, but for those of us who can easily recall special memories of this holy season, it is worth bringing to mind more than just occasionally, the significance of that special birth long ago, the birth of the homeless babe, who interrupted night's darkness to bring God's compassionate love into a world long awaiting this powerful demonstration of mercy.
Only the incarnation of mercy could change the world. Mercy Incarnate would change the world. The Light has shone among us and night's darkness has taken flight, for the promise foretold by the prophets of old is still being fulfilled in the lives of believers today.
In this year, The Year of Mercy, our Blessed Mother encourages us to proclaim with her, God's promise fulfilled: ''He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."
May God grant you a faith-filled and joyous Christmas season, overflowing with mercy, hope, and love!
BISHOP PETER J. UGLIETTO IS VICAR GENERAL OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.
Bishop Peter J. Uglietto is Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Boston.