This article first appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday on 22nd December 2019.
In the Christian tradition, the season that prepares us for the celebrations of Christmas is called Advent. The word is derived from the Latin adventus which means ‘the coming’. It is a season of expectation, a season of hope, where we take stock of the darkness within us, among us and around us, in order to yearn for the light.
There are a number of saints that are celebrated during the season of Advent. One of them is St Nicholas, the holy bishop from Mira in Turkey that is venerated in Bari, who is at the source of the Christmas character which we call Father Christmas. In the Scandinavian languages he is called Santa Claus and we all recognize the name without perhaps realising that it is a reference to a holy bishop called Nicholas. His memory is cherished in our diocese and we have a parish, that of Siggiewi, dedicated to St Nicholas.
St Nicholas was a young man who realised that a neighbour of his was in dire straits. He had three girls who were of marriageable age and since he had no means to provide them with a dowry he had decided to give them away for prostitution. Nicholas saves the 3 girls by throwing bags of gold coins from the street into the window of their father’s house and providing a dowry for the marriage of each and every one of these girls. The iconography of St Nicholas represents him with three gold bags that remind us of his generosity.
As a bishop he was known for his defense of the faith but also for the protection of children under his care. Through his generosity and determination to save the dignity of these three young girls, St Nicholas is a light in the darkness of the world which enlightens the journey that leads us to Christmas.
Another saint that we celebrate during the Advent season is St Lucy. St Lucy was a young girl from Syracuse who defends her faith and her virginity, and decides that she wants to embrace the light that comes from Jesus rather than betray her faith. She dies a martyr in the third century and becomes a light of witness. Young people can really give us great hope with their generous witness.
But the real protagonist of Advent is Our Lady. This young woman who says “yes” to a very ‘strange’ project of God that through her, His Son be made man. She conceives through the power of the Holy Spirit and during Advent we dedicate a number of days to her, starting from the 8th December that commemorates her Immaculate Conception. The 10th of December reminds us of Our Lady of Loreto where we Catholics celebrate and commemorate the House of Nazareth. On the 12th of December it is the turn of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her shrine in Mexico where hundreds of thousands of people come together to give homage to the Mother of Our Lord.
At Christmas we realise that the main message is a baby in a manger, a vulnerable human being in which lies the fullness of divinity who comes to us with its feeble cry – The Archbishop
The Advent season is an advent of hope and I think that this year we need to concentrate on the message of hope. When I notice people around me I realise that we are bewildered, some of us are also clueless as to what has happened and how we got to where we are, but as we Bishops said in our message to the nation on December 3rd, we really need a calm sense of purpose if we need to start building a common house together.
Unity would be an empty word without the respect for truth and justice. It would also be an empty word if we had to ask for an uncritical attitude to the power of the State and its institutions. I think that this Christmas season should help us concentrate on the essentials of the purpose of our lives and also the meaning of our being together as a Republic, as a State. Good governance should stop being an empty or bad word, it has to be the taste of the real season.
At Christmas we realise that the main message is a baby in a manger, a vulnerable human being in which lies the fullness of divinity who comes to us with its feeble cry. He asks us to stop and look at each other in the eyes and realise that, whatever happens, there is a humanity that unites us, there is a goodness that we need to rediscover, a truth that we need to face, a justice that will make us truly who we are.
Unity is not uniformity. Unity is not seeking hegemony of partisan party politics. It is this bond that makes us truly who we are: weak human beings that are trying to find hope for the future. Without hope the home that we call Malta will either implode or face disaster. We need to invest in hope in each other, in our institutions, in the ability to rise to the occasion, and the times ask for us to be generous, to be humble, to be truthful and to be loyal. That would be a truly Christmas gift.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta