Advent 4 A

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

We are beginning the celebration of God coming to us, God being with us, we being brought into the presence of God. This is the great mystery of Christmas: it is the feast of Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.’ This is our special celebration this Sunday, but each time we gather here we remember the words of Jesus: ‘When two or three are gathered here in my name, I am there among them’. So, let us spend time reminding ourselves that Jesus is among us, we are in his presence in this gathering, and recalling that we are the people who proclaim him as Emmanuel: God is with us.
--------------
Michel de Verteuil
General Comments
The story of the virginal conception of Jesus is historical but is also deeply symbolic, and your meditation will reveal to you that this is how Jesus Christ always comes to be born into the world, in all the various ways in which this happens.

You can read it as a story of Joseph, symbolic of those whose vocation it is to welcome the one who bears God within her. You might like to stay with the long and painful journey which this vocation involves, identifying with Joseph’s fears, his hesitations and eventually his total commitment. You might prefer to concentrate on his vocation to name the child.

It is also the story of Mary; although she does not say a word right through. She is the symbol of those who bear God within them and must wait until their collaborators welcome them and so allow God’s work to be born. Do not, however, invent your own story of how Mary felt or what went through her mind; take the text exactly as you find it and you will find ample material to help you understand the work of God.

The fulfilling of prophecy is an important part of the passage and you might like to meditate on it as expressed in verses 22 and 23. It would help if you read the original passage in Isaiah; as you will see there, the prophecy is a response to the king of Judah who looked for security in alliances with the powerful nations around him. Like all of us, he did not recognise ‘how Jesus Christ come to be born’.

*****************
John Litteton
Reflection

Joseph is someone about whom we know little. There are few references to him in the gospels apart from the stories about the birth, infancy and childhood of Jesus (see Mt 13:55 and the parallels in Mark and Luke). He is very much a secondary or background figure in the gospel story. Yet, he is a real Advent person because, in a truly humble and remarkable manner, he prepares for the arrival of the Messiah into his life and into the world.
Matthew presents Joseph as having had no part in Mary’s pregnancy. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant he wondered how this could be since they had not been living together as husband and wife. Initially he was confused and he did not know what to do. However, he did not act rashly. He listened to God’s word through the angel’s message in a dream and, although it demanded much faith, he did what God asked him. He allowed his life to be influenced and directed by God’s will. Therefore, without complaining, Joseph decided to prepare for the birth of Jesus by caring about Mary during her pregnancy.

Thus two aspects of Joseph’s character are revealed to us. First, Joseph was obviously a man of deep faith. He trusted God and, discerning God’s will, took the great leap of faith into the unknown in a difficult and confusing situation. God moved him in strange ways and he was responsive to this. Secondly, Joseph was selfless. He did not alienate Mary but, instead, accepted her and remained loyal. His selflessness enabled him to act without fear of ridicule and scorn. Doing God’s will was all-important for Joseph.

We can learn from these two aspects of Joseph’s character. For example, how do we respond to God who often communicates with us in strange ways? Are we able to make the leap of faith when we are unsure about the future? Can we acknowledge and embrace those people and life situations which least suit us? Advent is about cultivating our ability to focus beyond our own concerns and respond to the needs of other people so that Christ can come into our lives through them.

Joseph, in the portrait painted of him in Matthew’s Gospel, prepared for the birth of Jesus with gentleness and faithfulness. He cherished and supported Mary and, together, they brought Christ into the world. Joseph’s discernment of God’s will empowered his confidence. We are challenged to imitate Joseph’s example as we live and work with other people.

Joseph was a man of few words but decisive and significant actions. His behaviour made a difference. Unfortunately, some of us speak many words but these words are rendered meaningless by our contradictory behaviour. This can easily occur during the days of Christmas when we gather as families and friends. Therefore, let us learn from the example of Joseph. Let us discern and accept joyfully God’s will in our lives. And let us pray to Joseph, asking him to help us to do God’s will always.

----------------------
Homily notes 

1. The name ‘Immanuel’ or ‘Emmanuel’ (the spelling differences are related to Hebrew and Greek forms respectively) is only found on two occasions in the books the first Christians looked upon as ‘The Scriptures’: in Is 7:14 and 8:8 where it is a name that can be applied to Ahaz’s son and to the whole people and which is interpreted in Is 8:10 as ‘God is with us.’ Matthew, in using it at the beginning of his gospel (and he is the only evangelist who uses the term or quotes Is 7:14), and explicitly explaining its meaning, is forming a frame to his entire gospel whose final words are: ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.’ So we can see his gospel within the boundaries set by 1:23 and 28:20 – it is the story of the presence of God with his people. Now this perspective on the Christ-event is a theme at the very heart of Advent/ Christmas. From this perspective, to accept the gospel is to believe that God is with us.

2. But what does it mean to believe that ‘God is with us’? That we actually believe this – as distinct from giving it verbal recognition – we should not take for granted. Our world tends to push ‘God’ out to the frontiers of our ways of thinking and imagining life and the universe. From the way most people use the word’ god’ it is clear that they are thinking of a distant, impersonal force. For other people – those who dabble in the New Age Movement – the word’ god’ often signifies a projection of our needs for an unknown other that can be trifled with but is not seen as a person who has made himself known through revelation. There are many who call themselves Christians who think of ‘god’ as far from them, but also think that ‘it’s good to have a religious dimension’ to their lives: ‘god’ is just a code word standing for’ all noble human desires’. All these fall very far short of the living person who lives within the Good News, and which is what gives life in every generation to its message.

Then, for Christians, there are the objects, systems, and beliefs that are seen as more present, more pressing, and more ‘real’ than God: money, power, and sex are still the great headings under which we can range the various forms of idolatry where a created object is put in the place of the creator. And, on that note it is worth pointing out that there is a special form of idolatry to which clergy are prone: imagin­ing the reality of the divine as less important than the panoply of religion – an idolatry that manifests itself when people are more sensitive to the forms and regulation of the structures than to the gentle breath of God or the demands of justice, mercy, and doing what is right.

3. To live our lives in the light of ‘God is with us’ is the vocation of each Christian, but it is also the vocation of a lifetime.

4. How can the whole topic of believing’ God is with us’ then be brought before us in a homily? One the one hand, the whole liturgy of Advent and Christmas is an attempt to bring this mystery before us; but on the other hand, one can hear the words but this is not some simple piece of information to be learned; it is something that we have to grasp with our minds, our emotions, and our wills. One way is to lead a meditation on a series of questions.

5. Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in our gathering? Jesus said: ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20).

Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in com­bating hunger and human want? Jesus said: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35).

Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in combating poverty and injustice? Jesus said: ‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’ (Mt 25:36).

 Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in love, in goodness, in creativity? We believe that God is the source of our light and goodness. As Jesus said: ‘Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 5:16).


Do we believe that we can encounter the presence of God in prayer, and become aware that God is personal and hears us? Jesus said: ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith’ (Mt 21:22).

6. In each case I have taken the quotation from a single gospel­ Matthew – to show how this concern with believing in the presence of God, God being with us, runs right through his gospel; but the same point could be illustrated from any number of places. It is a basic conviction of Christians that God is known and close and seeks to encounter us.

7. Over the next few days we will hear ‘Emmanuel’ in the liturgy in its prayers and hymns and carols. We may hear this gospel passage read several times. Each time we hear the name ‘Emmanuel’ we have to remind ourselves that we are chal­lenged to believe that ‘God is with us.’ It is the Christian conviction about this that inspires the whole celebration of Christmas.

***********************************
Scriptural Prayers

Lord, any commitment involves a long journey.
We remember when we first committed ourselves:
- we would fight against racism or sexism or injustice at the workplace;
- we decided to give up drink and work among addicts;
- we accepted public office;
- we began giving spiritual direction.
At first we felt very happy,
then one day we recognised that this was your work,
in which success could not be measured in earthly terms.
It was like when Joseph discovered that Mary, his betrothed,
was with child through the Holy Spirit,
and we too decided to extricate ourselves as discreetly as we could.
But first, as we had made up our minds to do this,
you sent an angel to us, someone who told us not to be afraid
just because we now knew that we were involved in a work of the Holy Spirit.
We thank you that when we thought about it
we found the courage to do what your angel told us to do.
Yes, this is always how Jesus comes to be born.

“There is some spouse within us that we must meet and, failing that, we fail wholeness. There is in the heart of us all some image of the Beloved which we must not merely acknowledge but know, love and embrace. Without this marriage there can be no real human life. “ Matthew Kelty, Cistercian monk
Lord, Mary is that noble part of ourselves,
bearing your Son Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
 – our generosity, the ability to sacrifice ourselves, to give all to a cause.
That part of ourselves frightens us;
we would prefer to deny it is there at all,
to remain with our mediocrity and our compromises.
Send us your angel to reassure us
that we must not be afraid to take that Mary to ourselves,
so that through us your Son Jesus may be born into the world.

“We do not have to put God into the world. He is there. But we must preserve his presence and aid our brothers and sisters to find him.”    A worker priest
Lord, as Christians we act as if we are doing the world a favour by our service.
But the world is like Mary bearing divinity in her womb,
and you want us, like Joseph, to welcome her with reverence
because of this presence within her.
We must proclaim to all that within the world we can find Emmanuel,
a name which means God-is-with-us.

Lord, people always think that the way to renew a society
is by enlisting the support of the powerful.
Today we can see clearly that once again
you are creating a new kind of civilisation through small communities,
composed mainly of poor people,
fulfilling the word that you have often spoken through the prophets,
that no great power but a humble maiden will conceive
and give birth to a new beginning for society
and the world will know that you are with us.

Lord, we think today of women who are pregnant and are not being accepted.
Send your angel to those families,
telling them that they must not be afraid to welcome this pregnancy
because it is your gift to them.

Lord, it sometimes happens that we have a project within us,
one that you conceived through your Holy Spirit.
Others, even those who love us deeply,
cannot understand what is happening to us.
They fuss and worry, give us up and then come back to us.
Teach us to wait like Mary, knowing that when the time comes,
they will take us to their hearts and this project will come to birth.

Lord, there was a time when we were afraid to come near to Jesus,
thinking that we were not good enough.
But you sent us Joseph, who named Jesus for us,
as one who saves us from our sins.

************************************** 
HOMILIES

1.     From Connections: 

The last week of Advent shifts our focus from the promise of the Messiah to the fulfillment of that promise in the events surrounding Jesus' birth. THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable, but that of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child. 

Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.

Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David’s house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel – “God is with us.” 

HOMILY POINTS: 

In Christ, the Spirit of God who inspired the prophets to preach, who enabled the nation of Israel to enter into the covenant with Yahweh, intervenes and sanctifies all of human history. 

The “mystery” of the Incarnation is not that God could become one of us -- the inexplicable part is how and why God could love humankind enough to humble himself to take on the human condition and walk with us, talk with us, die for us.

We have reason to rejoice and to hope, for in our midst dawns Emmanuel – “God with us.” 

Joseph, the “just” and “upright” man, is a model of compassion, forgiveness and faith for all of us who are moms and dads, children, brothers and sisters.

God’s coming depends on “Josephs” – men and women of humility, selflessness and openness of heart and spirit – to welcome him and embrace his presence in our midst.

2.     by Fr. Tommy Lane 

We are all busy preparing for Christmas. A lot of preparation had to be made for the first Christmas also by Mary and Joseph. They had to prepare by saying “yes” to God’s plan for the birth of Jesus. Today our Gospel focuses on the preparation made by Joseph for that first Christmas. 

It was a most difficult preparation for him. At that time Jews were betrothed one year before they got married. When a couple were betrothed to each other one year before marriage they were then legally united but did not live together. A year later the wedding ceremony took place and then the couple came to live together. During the year before marriage after they had been betrothed, Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant. What suffering he must have endured. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary asking her to be the mother of Jesus and she said “yes.” Joseph too, like Mary, received a visit from an angel asking him to agree to God’s plan for Mary. The angel reassured him saying that the Holy Spirit was the father of Mary’s child. Our Gospel today says, “When Joseph woke up he did what he angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.” Just as Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me”, Joseph also did likewise when he obeyed the angel. Elizabeth said of Mary, “blessed is she who believed the promise made her by the Lord…” (Luke 1:45) and the same could also be said of Joseph, “blessed is he who believed the promise made him by the Lord…” What consequences the actions of one couple, Adam and Eve, had at the beginning of the Old Testament and what consequences the actions of another couple, Mary and Joseph, had the beginning of the New Testament. Every time you say “no” or “yes” to sin you are affecting many others. What consequences our actions can have on thousands and millions of others.

Marriage and virginity are two signs of the love of God for us and we see both of these united in the first couple of the New Testament, Mary and Joseph. Joseph is a model of chastity. There has always been a tradition that Mary had an ambition to dedicate herself exclusively to God in virginity. Pope John Paul II refers to this in his exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) about St. Joseph. How could Mary combine this wish with marriage? The Pope says they were combined through the virginal conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. In our times, sin is glamorized on TV and in magazines so much that people have come to accept sin as normal. The chastity of Joseph and Mary is a challenge to our times when the sanctity of marriage and fidelity to one’s spouse for life are no longer respected.

Although Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he was a true father to Jesus. When Jesus was found in the temple, Mary said to Jesus, “Your father and I have been looking for you.” (Luke 2:48). We can imagine the love and affection between Joseph and Jesus, and between Joseph and Mary. We can imagine Joseph’s pain at the poor circumstances of Jesus’ birth. We can imagine the pain that he must have suffered when Simeon told Mary that Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul (Luke 2:34-35). We can imagine the pain Joseph suffered when he had to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety to preserve their lives.

 What gave Joseph the strength to endure all the trials his vocation brought him? It was obviously his life of prayer that gave him the strength to be obedient to God’s call to him. He was a just man, a man of honor as our Gospel today tells us. (Matt 1;19) He had to have been a man of deep faith to fulfill his high calling. There is no record of him being present on Calvary so we presume he had died before Jesus. We can presume that this man of faith had Jesus and Mary present with him as he died. That is the way that all people of faith would like to die, in the company of Jesus and Mary.

In 1870 Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. He said,

“in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.”

Pope Leo XIII prayed to Joseph in this way,  

“Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin...graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness...and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.” (Oratio ad Sanctum Iosephum, contained immediately after the text of the Encyclical Epistle Quamquam pluries).

In Joseph’s role as Patron of the Church he is indeed defending her from the snares of her enemies. This true story illustrates this. In the early 1980’s a woman visited the Convent of the Religious of St. Joseph at Bessillon in France where Joseph had appeared. She was expecting her fourth child and was very ill. The doctors told her the only way she could survive was to have an abortion. They even told her it was her duty since she already had three children to mind. She went to a priest who told her to go to Mass for nine consecutive days at St. Joseph’s Convent in Bessillon. The child was born at full term with no defects and she has given birth to another two boys since then. (I found the story in The Glories of Saint Joseph published by Traditions Monastiques, France, pages 79-80.) 

St. Joseph is Patron of the Church. He had to make preparations for the first Christmas, to submit to God’s plan in faith. As we prepare for Christmas we can turn to Joseph asking his help so that we can prepare our hearts in faith to be worthy mangers to receive Jesus. 

3.     Ray E Atwood 

Five reasons to end cohabitation

Purpose: Jesus is Immanuel, the King of glory, risen triumphant over sin and death. This Sunday’s Gospel account of the call of Joseph is an excellent opportunity to reflect on customs, ancient and contemporary, and to address a particular pastoral problem today. Members of the Body of Christ have an obligation to assist and support one another, and to ensure that the natural institution of marriage is stable and strong. Therefore, cohabitation is a problem that must be addressed by priests, parents, and couples themselves.   

A new survey contains good news for those concerned about marriage. The decades-long climb in the share of couples living together outside of marriage in the U.S. has come to a halt. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of U.S.-born Americans living with someone in an intimate relationship resembling marriage was largely unchanged. The recent recession, high unemployment, stagnant incomes, and battered housing markets contributed to the trends undermining the traditional family structure that gathered steam starting in the 1970s. But pre-marital cohabitation before marriage has also undermined family life. The number of cohabiting couples grew from 400,000 in 1960 to 3.8 million in 2000. Nearly 60 percent of couples who were married in the early 1990s cohabited first. The other piece of good news is a recent trend of couples living separately. Today, almost one in four couples in a serious relationship say they are living apart by choice. Experts tell us that many couples are meeting when they are older. They have already settled into a comfortable routine in their own home with their own things, and don’t want to share a home again. Many studies show that one of the keys to a healthy and happy relationship is spending time apart. One of the things that improves attractiveness is not always being together in the presence of your partner.

These recent trends affirm something the Church has taught from the beginning: that cohabitation belongs within marriage, and that people preparing for marriage need to prepare in a serious and morally acceptable way. Today’s Gospel contains the account of the call of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the foster-father of Jesus. Matthew tells us: “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 1:18). It might help to understand betrothal and marriage in Our Lord’s time. In ancient times, marriages were arranged by parents to join extended families, rather than individuals. The bride did not expect love, companionship, or comfort. Her union was an arrangement for the benefit of her family. Betrothal was the first phase of the marriage process in which prospective spouses, often cousins, were set apart for each other. The entire marriage was a ritualized removal of the woman from her family. The groom’s father offered gifts or services  to the bride’s father to win the wife he wanted for his son. Contracts were made and ratified publicly. Though a betrothed couple did not live together, a formal divorce was required to break the public establishment of the betrothal. Mary and Joseph had been betrothed, but were not living together when she became pregnant. And we know the rest of the story.

Today families do not negotiate a wedding. Men and women enter marriage for the good of individuals, and families accept each other (hopefully). But we are still struggling with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, with its notions of birth control, free love, reproductive rights, an exaggerated idea of liberty and, yes, cohabitation. There are many reasons couples should not cohabit. First, cohabitation is sinful. It leads to sexual relationships that belong in marriage. Even if a couple is not sexually active, cohabitation can lead to near occasions of sin. Second, cohabitation is detrimental. It undermines communication. It is a fact that couples who live together do not communicate as well as couples who don’t live together. Each person is afraid of offending the other person, who can leave any time. So problems are put off, and issues unresolved. Third, cohabitation is unstable. A far greater number of couples who cohabit (as much as 80 percent) divorce, compared with the overall divorce rate of nearly 50 percent. There is no permanent bond or agreement with the couple, but only a loose commitment to be together. Fourth, cohabitation is risky. You commit part of your life to another person privately, but since you have not committed publicly, he or she could part at any time. You risk losing the person you love because you have not entered into a permanent relationship with that person. Finally, cohabitation is convenient. The problem with convenience is that it short-circuits good marriage preparation. Couples don’t discern their partners when they cohabit and, often, end up not understanding their partners.

There are three strategies to overcome this problem. First, we all need to realize the evil of cohabitation. It is wrong to live as married persons when you are single. It’s a lie, and lying is sinful. We need to understand the harm this is doing to marriages and families. Second, we all need to reflect on our behavior, not only couples themselves, but parents, siblings, grandparents, and others who encourage or support children in this sin. Finally, we all need to repent of this sin, and establish proper boundaries for engaged couples. These three “Rs” can help us end this problem. May the prayers of our Lady help us, too. Mary, Virgin Most Prudent, pray for us. Amen. 

*****************

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     G. K. Chesterton,

the noted British poet and theologian, was a brilliant man who could think deep thoughts and express them well. However, he was also extremely absent-minded and over the years he became rather notorious for getting lost. He would just absolutely forget where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to be doing. On one such occasion, he sent a telegram to his wife which carried these words: "Honey, seems I'm lost again. Presently, I am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" As only a spouse could say it, she telegraphed back a one-word reply "HOME!"

This is precisely what this classic passage in the first chapter of Matthew does for us... it brings us home...

-- Home to the real meaning of Christmas
-- Home to the most magnificent truth in the entire Bible
-- Home to our Lord's greatest promise
-- Home to the reason we celebrate Christmas

Namely this: "GOD IS WITH US!" When we accept Christ into our lives, nothing, not even death, can separate us from God and His love. It is what Christmas is about. God is with us. The great people of faith have always claimed that promise. Just think of it:

-- Moses caught between the Pharaoh and the deep Red Sea in a seemingly hopeless situation believed that God was with him and he went forward and trusted God to open a way and He did!

-- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went into the fiery furnace into a seemingly hopeless situation and they trusted God to be with them and He was!

-- Little David stood before Goliath. What chance could a small boy with a slingshot have against this giant of a warrior? But David believed that God was with him and it made all the difference!

Now, it's interesting to note that when the writer of Matthew's gospel wanted to capture the meaning of Christmas, the meaning of the Christ event, the meaning of Jesus in a single word, he did a very wise thing. He reached back into the Old Testament, pulled out an old word, dusted it off, and used it to convey the message. The word was Emmanuel...  
_______________________

 2.     When you turn sixteen 

what's the most important thing in the world? Any 16-year-olds here? Anyone want to take on that question?  

That's right. Getting your driver's license. In most states, if you are under the age of eighteen, you now need to take "Driver's Ed" before you can qualify for a driver's license. That means students have already had to learn all the "rules of the road," those traffic signs and signals that foretell and forewarn about what lies ahead on the highway.  

Reading the signs -- those written on walls and windows, and those written upon the winds of a changing world -- is a hard-earned skill to some and a gift to others. One of the 12 tribes of Israel, the Tribe of Issachar, was known as the tribe that "knows the signs and knows what to do" (1 Chronicles 12:32). Jesus also instructed his disciples to learn how to "read the signs." Or in his words, "You know how to read the signs of the sky. I want you to learn how to read the signs of the times" (Luke 12:56).

There have always been some people who just seem to "know" what is coming next for our future...  
_______________________
3.     His Name Says It All

Matthew doesn't want Joseph or any of us to get stuck in the dream. Matthew wants to bring us back down to earth, back to our waking reality, by invoking the name of Immanuel. Because if the Jesus, whose name was given to Joseph in a dream, is to do us any good, he'd better meet us and be with us in all those times when dreams end and when the crushing weight of a miserable world comes crashing down around our shoulders again. If he is only Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins, it would still be too easy to turn him into the one who also saves us out of the real world. But if he is Immanuel, then we realize we don't have to go anywhere to meet him other than the hurly-burly reality of our Monday mornings and our Thursday afternoons. We don't have to go find him in some other realm because he has already found us in exactly this realm and this world.

Immanuel is God-with-us in the cancer clinic and in the Alzheimer's ward at the local nursing home. Immanuel is God-with-us when the pink slip comes and when the beloved child sneers, "I hate you!" Immanuel is God-with-us when you pack the Christmas decorations away and, with an aching heart, you realize afresh that your one son never did call over the holidays. Not once. Immanuel is God-with-us when your dear wife or mother stares at you with an Alzheimer's glaze and absently asks, "What was your name again?"

Ever and always Jesus stares straight into you with his two good eyes and he does so not only when you can smile back but most certainly also when your own eyes are full of tears. In fact, Jesus is Immanuel, "God with you" even in those times when you are so angry with God that you refuse to meet his eyes. But even when you feel like you can't look at him, he never looks away from you. He can't. His name says it all.

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
____________________________
4.     God Does Not Desert Us

I find it strange that God has never deserted me. I don't understand that kind of grace frankly. I do not deserve his eternal presence, nor do you. Yet, God has forever identified with the human dilemma. There may not be a soul in the world who truly understands your feelings. God understands. All in your life may fall away. God will never fall away.

In Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation, a story is told of Mary Wilson, presently of Dallas, Texas. You would never know by looking at this modest woman that she was the recipient of the Silver Star and she bore the nickname "The Angel of Anzio." You will recall that when the Allies got bogged down in the boot of Italy during World War II, they attempted a daring breakout by launching an amphibious landing on the Anzio Beach. Unfortunately, the Allies got pinned down at the landing site and came dangerously close to being driven back into the ocean. It looked like another Dunkirk was in the making.

Mary Wilson was the head of the fifty-one army nurses who went ashore at Anzio. Things got so bad that bullets zipped through her tent as she assisted the surgeon in surgery. When the situation continued to deteriorate arrangements were made to get all of the nurses out. But Mary Wilson would have none of it. She refused to leave at the gravest hour. As she related her story years later, she said: "How could I possibly leave them. I was a part of them."

Our God is a good God. He does not desert us in our hour of need. He hears the cries of Israel. He hears the cries of the church. He hears the cries of His children. Christmas is about God's eternal identification with the human dilemma.

____________________
5.     A Tough Question

When I meet with a couple in preparation for their baby's baptism, I always ask this question: Have you prepared a will and have you specified in it who would rear your child if you were removed from the picture? Young parents don't like to even think about such a possibility, but life's uncertainties make it necessary. It's a tough question. Whom do you trust enough to rear your precious child? God had to answer that question when he decided to send his son Jesus to planet earth. God had to select a mother and a stepfather for his son.

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
____________________________________
6.     Mary, Let's Go To The Barn

I love this story: A grade school class was putting on a Christmas play which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn. In that class was one little boy who wanted very much to be Joseph. But when the parts were handed out, his biggest rival was given that part, and he was assigned to be the inn keeper instead. He was really bitter about this.

So during all the rehearsals he kept plotting in his mind what he might do the night of performance to get even with his rival who was Joseph. Finally, the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn, and the inn-keeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.

Joseph answered, "We'd like to have a room for the night." Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said, "Great, come on in and I'll give you the best room in the house."

For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn't know what to do, and a long silence ensued. Finally though, thinking quickly on his feet, Joseph looked in past the inn-keeper, first to the left and then to the right and said, "No wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like this. Come on, Mary, let's go to the barn." And once again the play was back on course.

It is obvious that Joseph cared deeply for Mary. He would not have risked his own reputation and protected hers if he did not. But his love was deeper and grounded on more than love for his bride to be. For you see he understood that obedience to God, even in the most dire of circumstances creates a life of substance and character.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com. Adapted from a Story by John Simmons.
_____________________
7.     Obedience and Compassion

There is a lot of talk today about what makes Christmas. Newspaper and television advertisements coax people into believing that they can have a real Christmas by going to a festive shopping center, eating at trendy restaurants, or watching glittering "Christmas programs" on television. Others believe that Christmas is made by the fastidious keeping of time-honored family rituals, such as, sentimental ornaments on just the right tree, eating food from a menu which has been handed down from generation to generation, or by visiting the same relatives at precisely the same time on Christmas Day. Some believe that Christmas is made by purchasing a uniquely special gift for every relative, friend, and acquaintance. To be sure, all of these contribute to our cultural understanding of Christmas.

But the answer to "What makes a real Christmas?" must be found in human history. That is what Joseph did. And, in a very real sense, it was the theology of Joseph which made possible the first Christmas. If Joseph had not cooperated with God's action in human history, the birth of Jesus would have been quite different.

The witness of Joseph calls us to cooperate with God's work in today's world. It calls us to respond to God's action among us.

Joseph, not having all of the evidence and knowledge of the future, decided to do more than law and custom required. He elected to do more than was expected of him. He let justice and compassion guide his decision about his pregnant betrothed. He was pulled, not by the strength of custom, but by the law of love.

Joseph Pennel Jr., From Anticipation to Transfiguration, CSS Publishing Company, p. 34.
_____________________
8.     Emmanuel (God with Us)

The Stunning Impact of Christmas: An old pioneer traveled westward across the great plains until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon. He gawked at the sight before him: a vast chasm one mile down, eighteen miles across, and more than a hundred miles long! He gasped, "Something musta happened here!" A visitor to our world at Christmas time, seeing the lights, the decorations, the trees, the parades, the festivities, and the religious services, would also probably say, "Something must have happened here!" Indeed, something did happen. God came to our world on the first Christmas.

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, Tyndale, p. 86.
_____________________
9.     Problems and Obedience

Sooner or later, every one of us comes up against the rough side of life, and we have to face big problems. Dr. J. A. Hadfield, noted British psychologist, commented on this when he said, "When people run up against life and find it too much for them, one swears, one gets a headache, one gets drunk, and one prays" (J. A. Hadfield, Psychology and Morals [Robert Hadfield Co., 1935], p. 55).

When life gets hard, what do you do? Do you give up? Do you swear? Do you lash out in hostility? Do you try to find someone to blame? Do you give in to bitterness? Do you run away? Do you hide behind some illness? Do you drug yourself? Or, do you pray? Do you consider the problem prayerfully and then listen for God? That's what Joseph did, and it worked.

What a great lesson to learn from Joseph: the art of listening! Maybe this is why Jesus went often into the wilderness alone to do some praying and listening. Perhaps he learned from father Joseph how to listen for God's will. Joseph was big enough to listen. What a wonderful quality!

Joseph Was Big Enough to Obey

Even when it was hard to do, Joseph listened and heard God's command. Then he had the courage to act, to obey, to do God's will...
--------------------------------
10.  Andrew Greeley 

Background:

 The Christmas stories in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are not meant to be literal history, like, let us say, detailed descriptions of the Battle of Gettysburg. Rather they are theological stories designed to tell us that with the birth of Jesus a new phase of the history of humankind had begun. The stories may not be true in all their details but they are True in the sense that they disclose to us a sudden, dramatic, and total transformation in the human condition.  

 As John Shea says in his book Starlight, we discover at Christmas, not only the light that is God and the light that Jesus came to bring to the world, but the light that is and has always been in us because we are creatures who share in the light of God, beings in whom the spark of God's light and love has always shone. Christmas reveals to us that like Mary and Joseph we too can be the light of the world and that indeed our own frail and often dim lights are not completely discontinuous from the light of Jesus, from the starlight that shone at Bethlehem.

Story:

 Once upon a time there was a little girl named Jeanne Marie who was afraid of the dark. She wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless all the lights in her room were on. You couldn’t never tell, she argued, who’d sneak into her room at night if it were dark. She absolutely refused to go into her closet because, like the boy in comics several years ago, she thought monsters might lurk in the closet especially at night. She claimed that she could hear the monsters talking about what they were going to do to her. Although she like snow, she hated winter because it was dark so much of the time. She didn’t like to go off to the country for vacation because there were no street lights and the dark was very scary indeed. The monsters who had hidden in her closet now wandered the streets of the summer village and lurked in the woods. She was frightened when she went to the movies because the theatres were too dark. Her mother said to her once aren’t you old enough now not to be afraid of the dark. 

 She said, no, the older she got the more reasons she should think of for being afraid of the dark. She came home from school one day with the story of the midnight sun in Sweden in the summer. Lets live there, she said. But in the winter the sun hardly ever shines there, her mommy said. Well, where does it go. To the South Pole. Well, lets live there. It’s too cold. I don’t care, so long as it’s not dark.  

 Then one day her mommy and daddy took her to midnight Mass in the church. It was totally dark inside. Jeanne Marie was terrified. Then the priest flicked the switch and the church was filled with light. Oh, said Jeanne Marie, it’s so pretty.

  Light always comes on, doesn’t it mommy?

...If you wait long enough

****************
Stories from Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: "You'll know tonight.” It was a few days before Christmas. A woman woke up one morning and told her husband, "I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?" "Oh," her husband replied, "you'll know the day after tomorrow." The next morning, she turned to her husband again and said she had the same dream, and received the same reply.  On the third morning, the woman woke up and smiled at her husband, "I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?" And he smiled back, "You'll know tonight." That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to his wife. She was delighted. She opened it gently. And when she did, she found -- a book! And the book's title was The Meaning of Dreams. Today’s gospel tells us how Joseph had a dream and how he reacted to it. (Rev Samuel Candler.


2:  Emmanuel - God with us: Over 100 years ago Father Damien deVeuster, a Belgian priest, began working with lepers on Molokai, a small Hawaiian island. Father Damien found a source of fresh water in the mountains and developed a system to bring it down to the colony. He built the first sanitation system and clinic. He and the lepers constructed a chapel for worship. Each Sunday Father Damien would begin his sermon with these words: "You lepers know that God loves you." This went on for years. Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way: "We lepers know that God loves us.” Father Damien had contracted leprosy. Yet he went on loving and serving until his death in 1898. Even as Father Damien cast his lot with the lepers, Jesus, Emmanuel, invested himself totally with us sinners. "He was bruised and wounded for our sins. He was lashed, and we were healed."  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel"(Mt 1: 22-23). (Dr. William R. Bouknight). 


3: Beauty and the Beast: Today’s Gospel message is a bit like the story of Beauty and the Beast, the animated film nominated for the Oscar Award in 1991.  In that film, Beauty stepped into the ugly world of the Beast, not because he was loveable, not because he deserved her, but because she loved her father.  But the world of the beast did not change right away, even though Beauty was there.  The servants, who shared the curse of the Beast, warned him that Beauty might be the one they had been waiting for, but the Beast continued to rage and scream and roar, finally sending Beauty away.  On her way home, she was attacked by the wolves, and Beast saved her.  As Beauty returned and nursed the wounded Beast back to health, they began to bicker and blame each other, until in one beautiful moment, Beauty stepped into the heart of the ugly beast. From that moment on, the Beast began to change slowly.  He started to laugh and play.  And then, finally, Beast realized that he loved Beauty, and in an amazing act of love, he released her to find her father.  Beauty and her father returned to the ugly world of the Beast to warn him of the danger of the townspeople's attack, but they were too late.  In the fighting, Beast had been stabbed, and as he lay dying, Beauty confessed her love for him.  And the spell was broken. Beast was changed by the love of Beauty.  Because Beauty stepped into the ugly world of the Beast, Beast was changed, little by little, until one day he was transformed into a wonderful handsome prince.  In Jesus, God stepped into our ugly, beastly world as Joshua (Savior), and Emmanuel (sign of God’s permanent presence with us), to change it, to bring to it – to us – the beauty of the love of God's kingdom.  But change comes slowly.  Yes, just look at our world.  There are so many ugly people, so many beastly things happening. But, there are some people who are changing and some who have been changed by the beauty of God's love, and both begin loving others. Today’s Gospel describes the changes that occurred in St. Joseph and in the Holy Family.