Advent 4 C - Dec 23 - Homilies (2)


4 Advent Sunday C - Homilies
Background:

The Gospel of Luke, above all books of the New Testament, is about women. It reads as if a woman might have written it. It contains intimate details which hardly would have occurred to a man. It begins with the birth of John the Baptist, focusing on Elizabeth, his mother. The next major section is Mary's story. To her we will shortly return. There follows the prophecy of an old woman named Anna. When the boy Jesus went to the temple to debate the learned doctors, the only person Luke quotes is his mother.


Many of Luke's stories from Jesus' ministry are about women: the woman who was a sinner, the woman who wouldn't give up, the widow of Nain, the bent over woman, the widow who gave her mighty mites. At the resurrection it was only women who had the faith to go to the garden of graves. The text lists Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, and other women. Luke reports that when they told the disciples about the empty tomb these men assumed it was an idle tale and did not believe them. And mind you, all of this from a culture in which women didn't count.
The central character in the birth narrative, a story only told by Luke, is the person closest to the event, Mary. There are two ways over the years I have imagined this virgin queen. I have seen her as a frightened little girl, overwhelmed by events far beyond her control -- just a simple, rural, unlettered child God had chosen to be the vessel of grace. One year, I referred to her as a teenager from Amazonia -- a town much like Nazareth in terms of its place in the world of the powerful.
But there is another way to view Mary, a way more faithful to Luke's text. Here we find a determined, strong, assertive woman; a model for all women -- a woman of power and influence: educated, sharp, and committed. It is the resourceful, competent, clear woman from whom Jesus learned much of what he knew about God's will for him and for his world. It is a woman blessed.
 
Every baby will keep every parent up all night, at least once. It's a rule. Whether because they are teething or colicky, anxious or tummy-troubled, or just plain fussy, it's part of a baby's mission in life to keep its parents awake weeping and wailing.

We parents are "hard-wired" to respond to an infant's cries. What has kept us grieving all week, a grief that can't be spoken? What has kept our hearts hurting all week, a pain that won't go away? When an infant or child is in trouble, or hurt, or killed, both our right and left brains insist we must do something to "fix" the situation. If our hearts melt at the mere sound of a distressed infant, how much more do our hearts overflow in anguish at the sight of children being harmed or in harm's way - even if our own nerve endings are jangling and cross-firing.

Before there were "white noise" recordings, washing machines, or long car rides to soothe the plaintive cries of a child, parents in every culture on the planet came up with the same plan to quiet a crying child - lullabies. Sweet melodies, slowly cadenced, softly sung, lullabies "lull" little ones into a dreamy place. They also have almost lulled me to my doom. One of my favorite CDs is Tom Wasinger's "The World Sings Goodnight," which I have downloaded into the playlist of my truck. These 33 lullabies are from all over the world - Bolivia, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, Egypt, India, Algeria, Iran, to name a few other than the more obvious ones from the US and Canada. My problem is that as I'm barrelling down the highway listening to these lullabies, I'm also being lulled to sleep...
 

Michel de Verteuil

General comments

Each year the gospel passage for this Sunday is a story of Mary’s pregnancy, and for this year it is the visitation. We meditate on this story as the second joyful mystery of the rosary, so that this could be an opportunity to go into it deeper than we usually can in saying the rosary, and this would give depth to the way we say that prayer which plays an important part in the lives of many people.

It is the story of two pregnant women and, therefore, an opportunity to enter into the symbolism of that experience, especially for those who have gone through it, seeing it as a symbol of how waiting can be a creative time, one when we express our love and one also when we can unmask all the self-centredness that is latent within us and blocks our ability to give ourselves wholeheartedly to others. Of course, it could also be a meditation on the sacredness of pregnancy itself.

Mary should be the main focus of our attention, symbol at this moment of her life of the person of faith, and indeed of the church. Particularly significant is the expression “blessed” that is attributed to her by Elizabeth; we must give the word its full biblical meaning, indicating that a person has a great gift from God and also that he or she has brought blessings to others. Mary’s blessedness in this passage is simply that she has faith, no great achievements or visible signs of God’s favour – just faith.

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John Littleton

Gospel Reflection

Almost since the beginning of Christianity, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been venerated as Theotokos (literally ‘God-bearer’), recognising that she gave birth to the Son of God. Mary is frequently described as her Son’s first disciple. Christian discipleship involves a commitment to Christ and she made an irrevocable commitment to him even before he was born. Her commitment was initially expressed at the Annunciation when, replying to the angel Gabriel’s message, she said ‘Yes’ to God’s request that she become the mother of his Son and that she cooperate With him by playing a central role in his plan for the Salvation of humankind.

Like John the Baptist, Mary is one of the significant Advent people in the New Testament. How did she prepare for the arrival of the Messiah and in what way can she be a model of discipleship for us as we await Christ’s coming into our lives?

Mary prepared for Christ’s coming into her life very simply. She brought his presence which, paradoxically, was already in her own life — because he was a growing baby in her womb — into her cousin’s life. She sensed Elizabeth’s needs and she responded accordingly by reaching out and being present to her. Mary was thus a true disciple because she shared Christ’s presence, thereby making a significant difference in Elizabeth’s life. She literally took Christ to Elizabeth.

In one sense, there was nothing dramatic about Mary visiting her cousin who was in need. Her actions were quiet and uneventful. Yet, in another sense, Mary’s unassuming response was precisely what was required from any true disciple. The most important and challenging task of all disciples is to share the presence of Christ, who is already in their lives, with everyone they meet.

This is done primarily by behaving decently and giving good example. As Christians, we are called to be different. We radiate Christ’s light to those with whom we live and work and spend our leisure time. Our lifestyle stands out from those of the crowd. Where others cheat and steal, we are honest. Where they speak unkindly, we are charitable. We are faithful to Christ’s teaching.

Hopefully, we have Christ’s presence in our lives at all times. Just as he was present in Mary’s womb, whenever we receive him in Holy Communion he is really and truly present in our lives. His presence lives in us. We easily forget that there are endless possibilities for sharing Christ’s presence with other people.

If we are being unfaithful to Christ in any aspect of our lives, Advent is an ideal time for our conversion from sin to the life of grace. While there are many ways to prepare for Christmas, the simplest, but usually the most challenging, is to be conscious of Christ’s abiding presence in our own lives and to be willing to share his presence with our families, colleagues and friends. To be aware of his presence in our lives and to bring his presence to others, we need, like Mary, to answer with an unqualified ‘Yes’ to his invitation to discipleship.
 
Thomas O’Loughlin 

Homily Notes

1. It is often hard to preach on this Sunday as it can be so close to the festival that one can sense the distraction in the minds of people: there are other things happening and we are all in a bit of a rush. So one needs a relatively snappy but staccato way to break into people’s imaginations and overcome their distractions.

2. One way to do this is to focus on the first reading and use it to imagine what we believe about Jesus the Christ Put another way, preach the text through our consciousness of the gospel
in the manner these prophetic texts have been used in the liturgy since, at least, the time of Matthew’s preaching.

3. What do we want to recall about Jesus the Christ as we move closer to Christmas?

4. ‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from an­cient days’ (Mic 5:2).

The Son of God, the Word through whom all things were made, visible and invisible, has been bom in a tiny village in Palestine. We are spoken to by one who is a human being with us, who has been bom a human being for our sake: for us and our salvation he came down from heaven. Jesus is the ruler in Israel, the fulfillment of the promises that God would deliver his people from slavery. Jesus is our ruler and leader, and the king who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

5 ‘And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth’ (Mic 5:4).

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus gathers up all who are scattered and wandering lost on the hillsides.
Jesus rejoices when those who are lost are found: there is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than over ninety nine others who have no need of repentance.
Jesus is the one who feeds his people: we are gathered at his table to share in his banquet.
Jesus reveals the majesty of the Father to us and he glorifies the Father’s name.
Jesus’s kingdom has no end, and we are charged to bring his gospel to the very ends of the earth.

We prepare for the nativity of Jesus, but the most important nativity is his birth in our lives when we take him as our priest, our prophet, and our king. Unless he is born within us, in our world, then our celebration of his birth in Bethlehem long ago is an empty sham.

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Scripture prayer

Lord, there was a time when we had a dream:
* one day we would finally succeed in giving up drugs or drink and lead a healthy, creative life;
* we would develop a talent for music we knew we had but had never been recognized;
* we would be friends with someone we were too shy even to speak to;
* we would play our part in making our country a more human and caring place.
The dream was there within us but very small,
so that people looking at us would think that we would never change.
Then someone like Mary came into our lives,
someone who also had a dream within her and so understood us.
There was something in her greeting
– not what she said, just the tone of her greeting as it reached our ears –
and in an instant the dream within us came alive,
like John the Baptist leaping for joy in the womb of Elizabeth.
We felt confident that it would become a reality one day
and we and the world would be different.
It was like being visited by a mother, not just an ordinary mother,
but one who was giving birth to the presence of God.
A deep feeling of humility came over us; we felt blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Lord, we think today of some girl who is pregnant and regrets this pregnancy.
Perhaps she has no one in the home to lean on;
perhaps she is over-burdened with financial problems
or finds that the child will block her career.
We ask you to send some Mary to visit her home,
someone who has problems too
but trusts that you will fulfill the hopes she has within her,
and who will greet her in such a way
that the child in her womb will leap for joy
and she will feel blessed and filled with your Holy Spirit.

Lord, as a church, we have achievements that we are proud of,
great resources too that others admire us for:
* schools that many parents want to send their children to;
* an international network from which we get encouragement and financial support;
* an ancient and highly respected spiritual tradition and a host of great saints
to whom we turn as personal friends.
But all that can make us arrogant.
Help us rather to be like Mary, remembering that others have resources too,
other churches, other faiths, other groups in society,
so that we may visit them as Mary visited Elizabeth in the hill country,
not with an ulterior motive or condescendingly,  but just to greet them
so that the moment the sound of our greeting reaches their ears
they will rejoice in their gifts and in ours too.

Lord, there is a blessedness by which we experience great favours
– when we pass an examination, get a promotion or overcome some bad habit.
Help us to recognise the blessedness of Mary
that makes us the most blessed of all when we trust
that the promises you make us will be fulfilled.
Great and wonderful things are born from that kind of blessedness.

Lord, we thank you for mothers in our country
who had to struggle so hard to bring up their children well,
and in spite of great odds have managed their homes with dignity.
What kept them going was a faith like Mary’s,
the deep belief that you had planted certain convictions within them
and that these would be vindicated.
We have been blessed by having them among us,
and many great people have been born as the fruit of their wombs.
 

ILLUSTRATIONS:

1. Two Kids on an anti-Christmas Campaign

The big celebration begins, a festival of light and love, of joy and laughter, of family and community and world. Light is mentioned almost twenty times in the course of today's liturgy. On one of the darkest days of the year, light explodes all around us. The sun is sneaking back, just as Jesus kind of sneaked into the world in the quiet of Bethlehem.  

For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is a midwinter feast, a time when the days grow a little longer and light and warmth return slowly. For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, however, it is the beginning of summer. School is over. It is a time for vacation (or as they would call it "holidays"), for rest and relaxation. 

It marks not the shortest day of the year but the longest, the day of the most light and on the average the most warmth. Christmas fits in everywhere.

Story:
Once upon a time there were two kids who were fed up with Christmas. They began an anti-Christmas campaign among their friends. Look, they said, everyone is tense and worn out, moms are tired from cooking, dads from putting up trees and decorations, kids from wrapping presents, neighbours from all the noise and bustle. We open the presents and they're not really what we wanted, though we thought we did. The house is littered with torn wrapping paper, expensive ornaments get knocked off the trees, the little kids go out of control, big kids sulk, mass is too long, the sermons are boring, the music is yucky. We eat too much . . .Who needs it all. So what should we do asked their friends. Strike! Said the two trouble-makers who were, if truth be told, Anarchists of a sort. Refuse to participate. Don't buy any Christmas presents, don't ask for any, refuse those that are given to you, don't decorate the tree, don't eat the pumpkin pie, don't drink the eggnog, don't say merry Christmas to anyone. A few of their friends thought they were crazy. The others thought it was a great idea.

But what should we do? The strike leaders went to the priest and asked him what they should do. Well, he said, if you want to welcome the Christ Child without all the fuss and bother, come to church and pray. They thought that was a great idea. How could parents and other grown-ups object to their praying on Christmas Day. Well, they prayed for a solid hour, which maybe doubled all their prayer for the whole year. Then one of them rushed out of church and flagged down the priest who was about to drive off to his family's party. We prayed for an  hour, Father, the kid said. Can we go home now? An hour? That's a long time to pray! Yeah it kind of is. Well, said the priest I don't think that Jesus would mind one bit if you went home and celebrated with your families. The kids poured out of church with a whoop and a holler just like it was the last day of school. (Andrew Greeley)

2. Divinity Clothed with Dust
 
It is said that Henry David Thoreau once spent a whole day in Walden Pond up to his neck in the water. His idea was to see and experience the world as a frog sees it. But Thoreau did not become a frog!

"Sesame Street" is closer to the Christmas story. They had a skit one time of the old fairy tale where the beautiful princess kisses an ugly frog and the frog becomes a handsome prince. In the Sesame Street telling, however, the princess kissed the frog, whereupon she turned into a frog herself. That is closer to what we celebrate at Christmas. God did not swoop down and survey the human situation from a safe distance. God emptied himself. He lay aside his celestial robes to don the simple raiment of a man. Divinity clothed itself with dust.
King Duncan 
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3. There Had to Be a Father

Pastor William Carter said that on his Christmas vacation on his first year in college, he had become an expert on the birds and the bees. Biology was his major, and after a semester in the freshman class, he was certain that he knew more biology than most adults did in his hometown ... including his minister. A few days before Christmas, he stopped in to see him. He received him warmly and asked how he had fared in his first semester. "Okay," he replied, avoiding the subject of his mediocre grades. But then he told his pastor, "I've come home with some questions."
"Really?" the pastor replied. "Like what?"
 "Like the virgin birth. I've taken a lot of biology, as you know," which meant one semester in which he received a B-, "and I think this whole business of a virgin birth doesn't make much sense to me. It doesn't fit with what I have learned in biology class."
 "What's the problem?" he asked.
 "There had to be a father," he announced. "Either it was Joseph or somebody else."
 His pastor looked at him with a coy smile and said, "How can you be so sure?"
 "Oh, come on," he said. "That's not the way it works. There had to be a father."
 His pastor didn't back down. Instead he said something that Carter said he'll never forget: "So - why not God?"

Why not, indeed? The more we learn, the harder it is to swallow a lot of things that once seemed so palatable. Advent is a season of wonder and mystery. We tell our children stories at this time of year that we would never dare tell when it is warmer and there is more sunlight. The really wise child is the kid who knows how to shut his mouth even when he has a few doubts. But sometimes it is hard to do, especially when you have a whole four months of college behind you.

 William G. Carter
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4. Joy to the World 

Consider the story of one young man. Sick and puny as a baby, he remained frail and delicate all his days. Later, as a pastor, his maladies were so severe that he could not serve his growing congregation. Instead he wrote them letters filled with hope and good cheer. Even though his body was frail his spirit soared. He complained once about the harsh and uncouth hymn texts of his day. Someone challenged him to write a better one. He did. He wrote over 600 hymns , mostly hymns of praise. When his health finally broke in 1748 he left one of the most remarkable collections of hymns that the world has ever known. His name? Isaac Watts. His contribution to the Christmas season? Probably the most sung of all the Christmas hymns, "Joy to the World; the Lord is come."
Could Isaac Watts have written so, if his life had been easy? I don't know. It is amazing, though, how often persons who have everything are spiritual zeroes, whereas those who struggle through life have souls with both depth and height.

King Duncan
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5. Walk or Fly
 
A little girl, dressed as an angel, in a Christmas pageant was told to come down the center aisle. The child asked, "Do you want me to walk or fly?" You feel as though she almost could have flown. Don't ever lose the wonder and mystery of Christmas. 

Every year I'm reminded of those words of the late Peter Marshall: "When Christmas doesn't make your heart swell up until it nearly bursts and fill your eyes with tears and make you all soft and warm inside then you will know that something inside of you is dead."

James T. Garrett, God's Gift, CSS Publishing Company.
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6. God Is the Happiest Being in the Universe

 Perhaps we need Santa at Christmas to help us be merry and joyous because we have a flawed understanding of Jesus. From today's gospel text we learn that the first reaction to Jesus' presence on earth, of God-in-our-midst, was joy. Joy so tremendous, joy so utterly overwhelming that it must somehow escape the bounds of earth itself and jump towards the heavens.

In John Ortberg's wonderful book The Life You've Always Wanted (Zondervan, 2002), he writes:
We will not understand God until we understand this about him: "God is the happiest being in the universe" (G. K. Chesterton). God knows sorrow. Jesus is remembered, among other things, as a 'man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.' But the sorrow of God, like the anger of God, is his temporary response to a fallen world. That sorrow will be banished forever from his heart on the day the world is set right. Joy is God's basic character. God is the happiest being in the universe.

Joy is what makes Christmas. Each of us may look to some annual family tradition to trigger that joy. But the trees, the carols, the cookies, the presents, the parties, are only various expressions of a single experience of the spirit JOY born again into our souls.


Leonard Sweet

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7. Slow Down and Welcome Christmas

"The Christmas spirit comes on me more slowly than it used to," writes Joan Mills, a mother of three children, in her book Christmas Coming. "But it comes, it comes. Middle-aged (most of the time) and jaded (some of the time), I complain of plastic sentiment, days too brief, bones too weary. Scrooge stands at my elbow muttering, "Bah!" and "Humbug!" as I total the bills. But when I acknowledge the child I once was (and still am, somewhere within), the spirit of Christmas irresistibly descends."

"For Christmas is truly for children those we have, and those we have been ourselves. It is the keeping-place for memories of our age in lovely ritual and simplicities.
"I'm tired," I say fretfully. "There's just too much to do! Must we make so much of Christmas?" "Yes!" they say flatly.


"But bayberry, pine and cinnamon scent the shadowed room. Snow lies in quiet beauty outside. I hear someone downstairs turning on the tree lights while another admires. I lie very still in the dark. From the church in the village on the far side of the woods, carillon notes fall faint and sweet on winter clear air.

"Silent night," my heart repeats softly. Holy night. All is calm All is bright.

"As I take the stairs lightly going down, no bones weary now, my whole self is thankful; once again, I am flooded with the certainty (call it faith) that there's goodness in the world, and love endures."

Leonard Sweet
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8. Pick Up the Baby

Sam Levenson tells a wonderful story about the birth of his first child. The first night home the baby would not stop crying. His wife frantically flipped through the pages of Dr. Spock to find out why babies cry and what to do about it. Since Spock's book is rather long, the baby cried a long time. Grandma was in the house, but since she had not read the books on childrearing, she was not consulted. The baby continued to cry. Finally, Grandma could be silent no longer. "Put down the book," she told her children, "and pick up the baby."

Good advice. Put down the book and pick up the baby. Spend time with your children. Particularly at Christmastime. We have the mistaken notion that good parents give their children lots of things. Wrong...

9. Visitations

Every Monday morning for 16 weeks they leave their house before dawn for their 8 A.M. appointment at the hospital.  For the four hours that her 12-year-old daughter undergoes chemotherapy, Mom will be right there.  During those mornings together, they will read, play games, watch videos, talk.  Their Monday mornings are anxious times — but precious.  For this mother and daughter, the Spirit of Mary’s Child is with them.

Every Tuesday afternoon, after a full day of her own classes, Kristen, a high school senior, heads to the community center.  For two hours, she tutors kids from city grammar schools in the mysteries of math and the secrets of English grammar and vocabulary.  In Kristen’s patient explanations and words of encouragement, God’s compassion is revealed to kids at risk.

It is the first time the brothers have spoken in years.  They’ve been estranged over a family matter, the details of which are long forgotten but the hurt and mistrust linger.  But for the good of the family, they seek to repair their broken relationship.  In every awkward word exchanged, in every attempt to move on, in every admission of hurt and anger between the two brothers, God is reborn. 

In today’s Gospel, Mary travels “in haste” to be with her cousin Elizabeth.  Luke never says exactly why she goes, but we can guess:  Mary wants to be with her beloved cousin in the last months of what must have been a very difficult pregnancy, but also to seek the elder Elizabeth’s counsel and support during her own struggle to understand what is happening.  In Mary and Elizabeth’s visit and in our own similar “visitations” the Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments.  In the stirring of the infant in Elizabeth’s womb, God calls to humanity in every time and place:  I am with you every step of the way.  I am with you in every storm.  I am with you when the night seems unending.  In Mary’s Child, the inexplicable love of God becomes real to us, the peace and justice of God become possible.
 
10. The King’s Love 

Perhaps, as a final preparation for Christmas, we can spend a few moments reflecting on the great Gift God has given us and focus on the gratitude we owe Him. The great gift of Christmas, of course, is the gift of His Son.  The Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard told a parable to help explain this gift.
Once upon a time there was a king who was rich and powerful.  The King was very unhappy, though.  He wanted a wife to be his queen.  Now a political marriage could easily have been arranged with another country but that is not what the King wanted.  He wanted someone whom he could love and who could love him. Only real love could fill his vast, empty castle and life.
One day the King was riding through the streets of a small village kin a remote corner of the kingdom when he came upon the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.  He immediately fell in love with her.  But there was a problem: she was a peasant girl, and he wanted to win her love, not buy her love.

One of his counsellors told him to just command her to be his wife.  Any girl, especially a peasant girl, would jump at the opportunity.  But the King would not do that.  He could not command love.  Besides, for the rest of his life he would wonder if she was a loving wife or a loyal subject.

Another counsellor told the king to that he should call on the girl as her King, shower her with presents of diamonds and gold and silk gowns, and give her the opportunity to realize that he truly loved her. But the King would not do that.  For the rest of his life he would wonder if she loved him or his wealth.

A third counsellor told the king to dress as a peasant so she would not be overwhelmed, and gradually reveal his power and position until she was ready to join him in the castle.  The king did not like the thought of deceiving her.  If their relationship was based on deception, how could she ever love him?

Finally, the King knew what he would do.  He renounced his royal robes, his power and authority.  He became a peasant in that remote village, living and working and suffering beside the other peasants.  After a number of years, he won the heart of the beautiful young girl.  He took his new wife to another village in another country, where no one could have guessed who he was.  After many years, he became sick, and his loving wife cared for him.  He died a peasant, but at his funeral the people looked at his wonderful, caring and in many ways extremely beautiful wife and said, “That man married a queen.”

God is the King.  He is the Divine Lover.  We are the object of His love.  Only God would love so much that He would become one of us to win our love.  St. Athanasius, an early doctor of the Church, wrote, “Because of his great love for us, Jesus, the Word of God, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.” (The Incarnation of the Word by St. Athanasius)

11. “At least I made a difference to that one!”

A little girl was walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish left dying by the receding tide.  Seeking to help, she started picking up the dying starfish and tossing them back into the ocean.  A man who watched her with amusement, said, “Little girl, there are hundreds of starfish on the beach. You cannot make a difference by putting a few of them back into the sea.”  Discouraged, she began to walk away.  Suddenly, she turned around, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the sea.  Turning to the man, she smiled and said, “At least I made a difference to that one!”  Today’s gospel tells us how Mary, a village girl carrying Jesus in her womb, made a difference in the lives of her cousin Elizabeth and of the child in her womb.  The child John, as he grew up, helped Mary’s Son to transform the history of mankind by preparing the way for the Messiah.  The starfish story suggests that each person, no matter how unimportant, may truly benefit from our work, and that any service, however small, is valuable.   The story also shows how seemingly hopeless problems can be solved by taking the first step.

 

12. “Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake.”

 

Composer and performer Bradley James has set Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s teachings and prayers to music in the internationally acclaimed recording, Gift of Love: Music to the Words and Prayers of Mother Teresa.  Bradley remembers her teaching: “Mother said we don’t have to go to Calcutta to help the poor; rather, we must help them right in front of us.” He applied this lesson when he encountered a homeless beggar on the streets of San Francisco.  Bradley placed some money in his metal cup, then reached out and shook the man’s hand.  The recipient gave him a big smile, and the two exchanged names and small talk. Bradley recalls: “Then he pulled me a little closer and said, ‘Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake’” (Cf. Susan Conroy, Our Sunday Visitor, Oct. 19, 2003, p. 17).  Indeed, what was remarkable in this incident was not the coin, but the gift of human dignity and the love of Christ that Bradley James brought to the beggar through the handshake and his fraternal presence.  In effect, Bradley replicated in his life and experience the joyful mystery of the Lord’s visitation (cf. Lk 1:39-45) described in today’s gospel. 

13. Christmas telegram:

The preacher and his pregnant wife had left for a conference in France, forgetting to give instructions for the banner which was to decorate the hall at the Christmas Carol Concert, the following weekend.  The parish secretary was astonished to receive a telegram from France which read simply: UNTO US A SON IS BORN.  NINE FEET LONG AND TWO FEET WIDE.  REV. AND MRS. JOHNSON.
 
14. Christmas Stamps:
 
A woman went to the Post Office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards.  "What denomination?" asked the clerk?  "Oh, good Heavens! Have we come to this?" said the woman.  "Well, give me 20 Catholic stamps for me and 20 Baptist stamps for my husband."