The Christmas message of Bishop Jari Jolkkonen of the Diocese of Kuopio, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
Kuopio, December 20, 2021
Meditation on Luke’s Christmas gospel often focuses on its beginning and center. But also at the end there is a weighty point: “The shepherds returned, thanking and praising God for the things they had seen and heard.” [translation based on the Finnish 1992 Bible version]
Gratitude is an important, but often overshadowed everyday attitude. Psychologist Robert Emmons, the world’s top researcher of gratitude, believes that gratitude requires at least two things. First, I recognize that someone or other has good will toward me. I basically see the world as a good place. For a person seeing nothing but misery, oppression, and wickedness in the world, it is perhaps impossible to experience gratitude.
Second, gratitude requires recognizing that I receive something good as a gift. Not based on my rights or my qualities, but for free. It’s hard for the proud and arrogant to be grateful.
These backgrounds are also reflected in the words. In Ancient Greek, “thank you” (εὐχαριστέω) is a combination of words meaning “good” and “grace.” The English “gratitude” is based on the Latin words meaning “Grace” (gratia) and “gratuitous” (gratis).
Gratitude has tremendous power. It is accompanied by a large number of other positive emotions, such as joy, love, trust in others and hope for the future. It protects us against such vices as envy and bitterness. That’s why it supports people’s overall wellbeing.
However, gratitude is not a superficial happiness logic, for one can experience gratitude even in difficulty and adversity.
All of this explains why gratitude is so at home in the Christian faith and life. In the morning prayer, we give thanks for the new day and its possibilities. We say grace for food and friendship. In the evening prayer—for the day gone by and for preservation. And on the sacred day, we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, a thanksgiving.
Basically, gratitude is rooted in the existence of a God who is good and merciful toward us. At Christmas, he reveals his love by being born as a human in Christ Child and drawing us back to the saving relationship with himself.
That’s why we celebrate Christmas. That’s why we sing songs. That’s why we share gifts.
Facing God’s goodness breeds gratitude and leads to change. I hope that the Christmas gift makes you happy and helps you see God as good, leads to love and reconciliation, encourages confidence in life and in the future.
So that after Christmas you could be like the shepherds: return to the everyday “thanking and praising” of God for what you have seen and heard.
Wishing you a bright Christmas,