As Bishop Bill is unwell, this year we are pleased to have Vicar General, Fr Brian Mascord share his Christmas message to the people of the diocese, Newcastle, Hunter and Manning regions.
Read the full text of Fr Brian's message below:
I'd like to share a story with you that I read a number of years ago that helps to remind me of what we celebrate at Christmas and who we are throughout the year. Yes we do remember that Jesus has been born but we also remember that in the birth of Jesus, God came to dwell with us, to pitch his tent among us. As Isaiah says he is Emmanuel, God with us. The story goes like this:
The Rabbi's Gift
On the edge of the monastery woods, there was a little hut that a Rabbi from a nearby town had built. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke to him but whenever he appeared the word would spread from monk to monk, "the Rabbi walks in the woods". And for as long as he was there the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.
One day the Abbot decided to visit the Rabbi and open his heart to him. So after the morning Eucharist he set off into the woods. As he approached the hut it occurred to him to ask the Rabbi if he could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The Rabbi was standing in the door way and greeted the Abbot with open arms and they embraced like long lost brothers. Then they stepped backed and stood there smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.
After a while the Rabbi motioned to the Abbot to come in. In the middle of the room was a small table with a book of the scriptures on it. The two men sat quietly in the presence of the book. After a short while the Abbot explained the reason for his visit. The two men shared their stories of how almost no one came to the monastery or the synagogue anymore. They could only commiserate with one another. "I know how it is," they exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. The Abbot and the Rabbi sat together discussing the Bible and their faiths and sharing the tears.
When the tears had ceased and it was time to leave the Rabbi lifted his head and said to the abbot "You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts, you have come to ask me for a teaching. I will give you a teaching but you can only repeat it once, after that it should never be said aloud again. The Rabbi looked at the abbot and said "The Messiah is among you".
For a while all was silent then the Rabbi said "Now you must go." The abbot left in silence and never looked back.
When he returned to the monastery, the monks gathered around him and asked, "What did the Rabbi say?" the Abbot answered. "The only thing he said as I was leaving was that the Messiah is among us. Though I do not know what these words mean."
The monks began to ask themselves, "What could this mean?" Could Brother Michael be the Messiah? Or could Fr David or Brother Thomas? "What could it mean?" They were all so puzzled by the words, but no one ever spoke about it again.
As time went by the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence and people began to notice the way in which the monks treated one another. They lived together as people who had finally found something, but they prayed together as people who were always looking for something.
Occasionally visitors came to the monastery and were deeply moved by these monks. Before long people were coming from near and far to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks and young men were again asking to join the community so that they too could share in what the monks had found.
In those days the rabbi no longer walked in the woods, the hut had fallen into ruins, but somehow or another the old monks who had taken his teaching to heart, felt sustained by his prayerful presence.
– Author unknown
This story echoes the message of the angels at the birth of Jesus when they said "Peace on earth and peace to people of Good Will". The Rabbi made known the presence of Jesus among the monks who were the presence of Emmanuel, God with us. Those who hear the message of the angels and understand the words of the rabbi will always be Emmanuel, God with us.
May Emmanuel dwell within you so that you may be Emmanuel to all you meet. Wishing the blessing and peace of this holy season of Christmas.