The joy and warmth that we feel at Christmas comes from knowing that we are loved by Jesus and that he wants to share his life with us.

On this beautiful feast, the living God enters into the darkness of his fallen creation, a world that, sadly, seems to be forgetting about him. He comes to shine a new light, he comes as a newborn baby to be born again in every human heart.

It is said that St. Francis of Assisi, who gave us the beautiful tradition of the Christmas crèche, was inspired by the mystical vision of a poor man in Greccio, Italy, who saw the holy Infant in the manger awaken as St. Francis drew near to him.

For Francis, this was a sign: “The Child was indeed asleep in the forgetfulness of hearts,” his first biographer wrote. St. Francis made it his mission to awaken the memory of Jesus in these forgetful hearts. That is still the mission of Christmas.

When we know Jesus, everything else falls into place. We know the meaning of our lives. We understand our responsibilities, and God’s purposes in the world.

I am more convinced every day that the future of the Church — our programs and ministries, our catechesis and evangelization, our prayer, worship, and service — all must begin from a new encounter with Jesus.

This Christmas I would like to make an appeal to you and to every person: Allow Jesus to awaken in your heart, to become more deeply aware of his presence in your life.  

Jesus is real. He is not some mythical god or a hero from ancient history. He is true God and true man, and he is as real in your life as he was in the lives of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the apostles.

His love for you is real. In the Creed, we say that he came into the world “for us and for our salvation.” We say that he suffered and was crucified “for our sake.”

To be a Christian is to be a soul in wonder. Wonder at why we are worth so much to God, why does he love us so much?

What happens in the Christmas story happens for you and for me.

At Christmas, the image of the invisible God, the Creator of the universe, empties himself and comes down from heaven to earth, to become one of us, to share in our humanity.

He does that for you and for me. He makes himself vulnerable, dependent, a Child in the womb, an Infant who needs St. Joseph to hold him in his arms and Our Lady to nurse him and comfort him when he cries.

Jesus knows our human reality, all the sorrows and joys, all the burdens and blessings we experience in our daily lives. He had a family and worked for a living. He took his faith seriously, prayed, went to services, and read the Bible. He knew hunger and thirst, and how it felt to be weary and to be happy; and frustrated and misunderstood. He faced suffering and the prospect of dying as everyone does: “My soul is sorrowful unto death,” he said.

His humanity is written on every page of the Gospels. And through his humanity, he shows us his divinity: “Whoever has seen me, sees the Father.”

Jesus came down from heaven for each one of you, personally. He loves each one of you so much that he lived for you, suffered for you, and died for you.

He is the word of God who was made flesh to dwell among us. And as the word, he is speaking to us, calling to us, inviting us into a relationship.

“Come to me … learn from me … and you will find rest.” Our Lord’s words are beautiful, comforting. But they are more than that. They are the starting point for a new way of life.

Jesus has not left us. He is Emmanuel, our God who comes to be with us always, until the end of time. Even now, we can go to him, we can lean on him and learn from him, we can follow his words and his example, and make him the way for our lives.

Although we are anxious and worried about many things, Jesus told us that he is the only thing that matters, the one thing necessary in our lives. We can trust and build our lives on his promise.

Jesus is real. His love for you is real. And his promises are true.

Pray for me this Christmas, and I will pray for you. I wish for your families all the joy and wonder of this holy season.

And I ask our Blessed Mother Mary to awaken in all of us a new awareness of God’s tender love, that Jesus might be born again in our hearts, as he was born from her on Christmas.