Christmas 2013 A - Homilies and Stories

Jesus sells: One never tires of Jesus as a subject. The cover stories of Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report regularly mark His nativity. One reason for featuring Him so often is that their circulation invariably increases. Born twenty centuries ago, Jesus still sells. Mel Gibson broke all records with his DVD of The Passion of the Christ. He sold nine million copies in three weeks at $22 a clip. The first book published by Pope Benedict XVI is called "Jesus of Nazareth." It quickly found a home on the Best Seller list of The New York Times. Artists at their easels struggle to paint His portrait again. Have you seen Andy Warhol's Nativity? Composers struggle to salute Him with a fresh musical score. Will it ever be otherwise? I believe not. Tell others of Jesus. But firstly allow Him to be born in you. He can't be born again, but we can. (Fr. James Gilhooley)

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“But I did show up”: A story is told of an old woman who lived all alone. Each year as Christmas drew near she would sigh and lament her loneliness, wishing that some people would visit her. Since nobody would visit her, she decided to pray to the baby Jesus and his mother requesting that they pay her a visit. Finally the baby Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her that her prayer had been heard and that the Holy Family would visit her on Christmas day. Oh, how excited she was! She began cleaning and polishing everything in her house squeaky clean in preparation for the divine visitor. She cooked her best dish and baked her best cake in readiness for the visit of Jesus and his mother. Who knows, maybe if she pleased them well enough, they might decide to stay on and live with her!

When Christmas day finally arrived her house was squeaky clean. Everything was in place to give her divine guests a befitting welcome. She sat by the door and read a book, just to make sure the visitors would not have to ring the door bell twice before she would open the door and let them in. It was a cold and rainy day. At about noon she spotted a gypsy couple in the rain making their way to her house. The man was dirty and disheveled. The thinly-clad woman was nursing a baby who was crying in the rain. “Why can’t these gypsies just get a decent job,” she said to herself. Then she screamed at them, “Turn back, turn back immediately. Come another day if you like. Today, I am expecting very important visitors.” The gypsy family turned back and left. The woman continued to wait. She waited all day and no divine visitors showed up. At sunset she fell asleep on the chair and there in her dream was Jesus. “Jesus,” she screamed, “how could you disappoint me? You said you were coming to visit me for Christmas and I waited all day and you never showed up.” “But I did show up,” replied Jesus. I came with My father and mother in the rain and you turned us away.”
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John Litteton
Reflection

Thankfully, many of us are lucky enough to open gifts every Christmas Day. These gifts are signs of respect, affection and love for the person or people to whom they are given. They are normally given without any conditions and, occasionally, they are important tokens of gratitude.
Christmas may be described as encapsulating several significant themes: for example, homecomings, festive celebrations and holidays from school and work. Nevertheless, it is fundamentally about the greatest gift that humankind could receive from God after the most basic gift of creation and life itself: the gift of redemption from the consequences of sin, which has entered the world and human history in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
unwrapping presentsIt is always fascinating to watch young children opening their Christmas presents. They usually do so with great excitement and much impatience. In their eagerness to discover what gifts they have received, they often tear off the wrapping paper and packaging, casting them aside and disregarding them as if they were not part of the presents.
Although understandable, their enthusiasm is insensitive to the people who took so much care choosing appropriate wrapping paper and carefully folding the edges to ensure that the present looked perfect. No offence is ever taken, though, because adults love to see the innocence of childhood in such anticipation and excitement.
Basically, then, there is much more to giving a present than the gift itself that lies under several layers of wrapping. There is also the selection of suitable packaging and the extra care taken when parcelling. Frequently, too, there is the specially chosen card that has a significant message written on it. All these extra layers are as much part of the gift as what is found inside. But it is possible that their meaning is overlooked in the rush to get at the gift.
There is a crucial lesson here for us about how we welcome the newborn infant Jesus. He is the fulfilment of God’s promise to send the Messiah. But his coming into the world was carefully choreographed by God the Father so that people would be properly prepared for his arrival. The various layers of wrapping are the details of the unfolding story of salvation history over many centuries.
Xmas prophetsFor instance, Jesus, the gift of our heavenly Father, was carefully anticipated by the long series of Old Testament prophets, culminating in John the Baptist, who spoke faithfully about his impending arrival and challenged the people to undergo repentance for their sins. Similarly, Jesus’ birth was heralded to the world by the angels who sang ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to people who enjoy his favour’ (Lk 2:14).
Amidst the excitement and confusion associated with Jesus’ birth, we learn that his mother, Mary, ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). She acknowledged that God had done great things in her life, as we recite in the famous Magnificat prayer (see Lk 1:46-55). None of the many layers of wrapping had gone unnoticed by the mother of Jesus. She never forgot the goodness of God and the tremendous blessing that he had given, not only to her but to his Chosen People.
As we go home from Mass today, let us remember to notice everything about the presents that we receive from those who love us. In thanking them, let us acknowledge their efforts in surrounding their gift with layers of love that are symbolised in the wrapping and packaging.
Then let us, like Mary the mother of Jesus, ponder the wonder of what God has done for the human race by sending his only Son among us to save us from our sins. In doing so, let us recognise how God deliberately, carefully and lovingly prepared the world and its people for this great day.
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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily notes

1. The homily today always seems to be inadequate: the festival is bubbling over with symbols of the season (holly, ivy, Santa, and whatnot) and with people’s heightened emotions on the big day. Moreover, the mystery that one has to speak about is so much more than anything capable of being put into words that anything actually said seems paltry and trite. Yet the day still needs a word. The day needs to have its focus drawn to the mind as well as to the senses. And, there may be many there in the assembly today who will never hear the word from one end of the year to the other, and to them alone is owed the duty of preaching. The task is to take the theme of God-with-us and present it in such a way that (1) the homily can be followed using a framework already familiar to the audience; (2) that seems appropriately seasonal; and (3) that has a certain lightness suited to holiday time.
2. Here is a strategy that can produce a short homily that is easy to follow. The individuals who make up the congregation are asked to imagine where they stand in the array of people that are mentioned in the Bethlehem scene.
Christmas people

3. Do you imagine yourself as one of the people inside the inn?
For this group the birth of Jesus is an irrelevance: it does not touch them and they show no interest. To them it was just an external knock on the door, and they just kept going on with what they were doing. Then as now, this is the majority of people.
shepherds
4. Do you place yourself among the shepherds? Here are people who are open to wonder. They can accept good news. They are people who are already part of a faith tradition, they shared the practices, hopes, and fears of the people, but were also ready to respond with faith to the voice of God.
5. Do you imagine yourself as one of the wise ones, the kings, who came from the east? These are people who are dedicated to searching out the great human questions, but they are not just engaged in idle speculation: they set out and searched for the truth. They listened to the promptings of conscience; they did not come empty handed. These are dedicated searchers after the truth and conscientious doers of the good. All their talents they are placing in the service of God-with­us.
6. Do you imagine yourself like Joseph: caring for the welfare of the church, working in the community, taking on special responsibilities towards the Word made flesh. He is helping to make the good news known, and prepared to response to the inner call of vocation.
7. Do you imagine yourself as sharing in the vocation of Mary?
She first brought the Anointed One into the world; but it is through us that Jesus enters our world.
8. We are all at the birth scene: each of us is called upon to fulfill all these vocations in varying ways.
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Michel de Verteuil
Scriptural Prayers
“Nothing happens before its time.” 
Trinidadian saying
Lord, we pray for those who are involved in lofty projects and are becoming impatient:
* parish youth leaders who are not getting co-operation;
* a new party that has won no seats in the elections;
* parents who are trying in vain to dialogue with their teenagers.
Help them to remember Mary and how when the time came
For her to have her child she gave birth to a son.
She was at peace, felt no great concern that there was no room for them in the inn,
Merely wrapped her child in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.
Lord, these days we are all very busy.
At work or in school we have to expend much effort to achieve success.
At home we are bombarded with information from television and radio.
We have time only for the sensational
and we allow the oridnary events of life to come and go:
• the signs of maturity in our children;
• the life crises of those close to us;
• new stirrings of resentment or of hope among ordinary people in our country.
simple things
Even in our relationship with you we concentrate on the miraculous
and the extraordinary, glorify and praise you
because things turn out exactly as we were told they would.
Mary teaches us on the contrary to see in every event a call to grow,
a sacred word you speak to us,
to be welcomed as a treasure and pondered in our hearts,
reflected on and integrated into our consciousness.
Lord, help us to be more like Mary.
My cell will not be one of stone or wood, but of self-knowledge.”   St Catherine of Siena
Lord, we thank you for all the contemplatives in the world,
those in enclosed convents, and those called, like Mary,
to live in their families and in secular surroundings.
While others chatter and repeat endlessly what they have been told,
these, like Mary, know  how to be silent,
treasuring things and pondering them in their hearts.
For meditation
baby Jesus
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known. (Jn 1:18)
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Homilies:
 
1. Fr. Ray E Atwood
 
The Nativity of the Lord—Mass at Midnight—December 25, 2013
The great gift exchange
Purpose: In the Incarnation, God demonstrated his love for humanity. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh, and dwelt among men and women. Christmas is the celebration of the gift of God in Christ Jesus. It is one of the most solemn and beautiful celebrations of the liturgical year. The readings remind us of the awesome power of this gift. Aware of this great gift, the Christian response is to spend our lives in the service of others.

Every family has its Christmas customs and traditions. My family was no different. We would decorate a tree, put up colorful lights, hang garlands, bake sugar cookies, and buy groceries in preparation for Christmas eve. On Christmas eve, we would gather in the early evening for our family celebration. We would eat dinner first. Mom would make a simple meal of tuna salad sandwiches and oyster stew, and we exchanged gifts after helping mom clean up after dinner. We gathered around the Christmas tree, and each of us took our places around a semicircle. The oldest in the family would distribute the gifts. Each person would read the label on his or gift, open it, and show it to the rest of us. Then, we had to say “thank you” for every gift we received.
I thought about this family ritual while reflecting on the Christmas message. It occurred to me that Christmas is a celebration of a great exchange—the exchange of gifts between God and his people. God gives us the gift of his only-begotten Son, and we give him the gift of worship, and lives of service to others.
People spend many weeks, and lots of money, selecting, purchasing, and wrapping gifts for loved ones, friends, co-workers, and others. We do this as a sign of gratitude and love. But we sometimes forget that the greatest gift exchange is not between family members, friends, or co-workers. The greatest gift exchange is between God and the human race. The Scripture readings for Christmas talk about this great gift. St. Luke tells us that the Child Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. The angel declares that “today, in the city of David, a savior has been born, who is Christ and Lord” (Lk. 2:11). God sent the greatest gift of all time, the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, who saved us from our sins. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He preached, taught, healed, suffered, died, rose, ascended to Heaven, and sent the Spirit on his apostles. Jesus lives in our midst, teaching, healing, and loving us through the Church.
Unfortunately, we don’t always appreciate the gift he gives. There is a story told about a man who punished his five-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of expensive gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became even more upset when the child pasted the gold paper on a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box to her father the next morning, and announced, “This is for you, daddy.” The father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, but his anger flared up again when he discovered that the box was empty. He yelled, “Don’t you know, young lady, when you give someone a present that there’s supposed to be something inside the package?” The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes, and said, “But daddy, it’s not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was full. It was the best gift I could give you.” The father was crushed. He fell on his knees, put his arms around his little girl, and begged her forgiveness. The little girl was killed in a car accident a few weeks later, and it is said that the father kept that gold box by his bed for the rest of his life. Whenever he was discouragedh or faced tough problems, he would open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of the child who put it there.
In a real sense, each of us has been given a special gift from God our Father, not a box of kisses, but a Lord and Savior. God the Father has given us a precious gift. The Father’s gift was not wrapped in gold paper, but wrapped in swaddling clothes; the Father’s gift was not given in an empty box, but was born in a manger; the Father’s gift was not an invisible token of love, but instead a Person whom we could see, hear, and touch. God has given us his Word in the Flesh.
The question is: “What are we going to give him in return? How will we repay him for this great gift?” A true gift exchange takes place between both parties. Of course, we can never fully repay the gift of Jesus. But we can do something in gratitude for the gift of the Savior. We can give the gift of praise at Mass, our time, talent, and treasure to the Church, obedience to God’s commandments, and service to our brothers and sisters. These are precious gifts. As you open and examine your Christmas presents, think about the Father’s gift to you. Think about all he has done for you this year, and reflect on ways you can express your appreciation. Offer him a sacrifice of praise from your heart, and recommit yourself to doing his will. May we express by our lives the gratitude in our hearts for the gift of Jesus the Lord. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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The Nativity of the Lord: Mass at Dawn—December 25, 2013
The Paradox of Christmas 
Purpose: Out of love for us, God took on human flesh, the human condition in every way except sin. Our Savior has appeared on earth. Light dawns for us all. This homily explores the paradox of Christmas: a season of light and darkness, joy and sadness for some. But the message of Christ can transform our lives and our experiences, if we are open to receive it.

“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place” (Lk. 2:15). There is a paradox at Christmas time. On the one hand, Christmas is a season of light, love, joy, and peace. We celebrate festive liturgies, light candles, decorate trees, sing carols, rejoice in the company of loved ones, eat cookies, drink eggnog and apple cider, attend parties, and open presents. It is a time of joyful celebration. On the other hand, the traditionally happy holidays are an especially difficult time for those who are grieving, or who are alone. At this joyous time of year, scenes of happy families are not what some are experiencing. People who are alone, people who have experienced the loss of a spouse to death or divorce, or the death of a child, or close friend, find Christmas to be a season of constant despair, rather than perpetual hope. What should be a happy time of year is in fact a depressing time because some are reminded of everything they don’t have in their lives. People suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
What is the answer to the paradox of Christmas? How do we reconcile ourselves to it? The answer to the paradox of Christmas is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the key to understanding the paradox of Christmas. Jesus holds the key to Christmas joy in his tiny hands.
On the one hand, he is the reason for our love, joy, and peace. Jesus came into our world to free us from the fear of death, to dry our tears, and scatter darkness from our hearts. Everyone has good reason to rejoice because he became one of us “in the wonder of the Incarnation.” On the other hand, Jesus is the solution to the sadness and emptiness in our lives. Jesus came to give us hope and joy. Our hope and joy come from the fact that our Savior came to be with us, and take us with him. Jesus fills our empty hearts with his grace, mercy, and peace.
Jesus is the answer to the paradox of Christmas. He scatters darkness and brings light; he drives out evil and brings in goodness; he destroys death and restores life. One little baby did all that. What a difference one baby can make!
In a Western mining camp, a baby was born. His mother was the only woman in the place, and she died soon after the child’s birth. The miners decided to keep the child, and care for him. The little baby lay in an old box, wrapped in rags, torn from old clothes. One miner rode 80 miles on a mule to Sacramento, California, and bought a complete set of baby clothes, and a beautiful rosewood cradle. The clean cradle stood in stark contrast to the dirty floors, and grimy walls of the mining cabin. The men realized that a baby’s home could be nicer than that. So they scrubbed, papered, and whitewashed the place. On sunny days, they took the infant outdoors for a nap in the fresh air. The men cleaned the house and grounds, and then cleaned themselves. After work, they changed their clothes, washed, and shaved. They even purchased a few mirrors for the place. They made a rule against unnecessary noise. These miners stopped yelling and shouting. They even stopped cursing and swearing. Eventually, this once rough and roaring camp became the most clean, courteous, and kind camp in the entire West—and all because of one baby! We don’t know the baby’s name, or what he grew up to become, but we do know that he changed lives early in his life.
My brothers and sisters, the Baby of Bethlehem shows us the power of God’s love for the world. God gave us the greatest Christmas gift ever when he sent his only-begotten Son “to save us all from Satan’s power,” as the song goes. He is the key to the paradox of Christmas.
This year, I encourage you to follow the example of the shepherds, and go to Bethlehem, the manger of your heart. As you turn on your Christmas lights, turn on the light of Christ in your life. As you play Christmas songs, let songs of praise rise from your lips. As you open your Christmas presents, open your hearts to Jesus our Savior. As you pray with your family before Christmas dinner, remember those less fortunate than yourself, those for whom the holidays are sad, and those who feel there is no hope or joy at this time.
Whether in church or at home, this year enjoy the Christmas trees and the decorations, but do take a few minutes to gaze at the statue of that Baby in a manger. Let him confront you, challenge you, and change you. Thank him for everything he has done for you, and the promises he still has in store for you, promises beyond anything you can possibly imagine.
Jesus is the key to the paradox of Christmas. Jesus is “the reason for the season.” May he be the key to a richer, fuller, happier life for us all. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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The Nativity of the Lord: Mass during the Day—December 25, 2013
The Underground Manger
Purpose: To describe the underground manger in Europe during World War II. God once spoke to us through his Son, the Word made Flesh. Salvation has been revealed to all the nations. Jesus gives hope to the human race. The listener can find hope in him, even in the darkest of times. He is encouraged to remember the Person of Jesus every Christmas.   

As the year, 1940, wound down, and Christmas approached, the United Kingdom stood defiantly alone against Fascist tyranny. The Nazi blitzkrieg had overrun much of Europe, and thousands of British troops lay dead in France and Belgium. That fall, the Luftwaffe had been narrowly defeated in the Battle of Britain. And while invasion seemed unlikely (it had, in fact, been postponed), it was a possibility. Christmas 1940 was a somber, simple, and solemn one. There was a wartime ban on the pealing of church bells, which could only be rung as a signal for invasion. Food rationing was a fact of everyday life, which meant that Christmas dinner for many would consist of fish and chips, a small piece of pork, soup, or cheese sandwiches, and tea. The Sunday Dispatch wished its readers “Not a merry Christmas, but a happy Christmas—devoted to the service of our country.”
For thousands of families, Christmas literally went underground in December 1940. In the subway, called “The Tube,” Londoners were sheltered from nighttime bombing raids. Children hung their stockings on three-tier bunks, female volunteers distributed sandwiches, and Salvation Army carol singers handed out sweets. Quentin Reynolds, the associate editor for Colliers magazine, observed, “This year, England celebrates Christmas underground. It will be a Christmas of contrasts: holly and barbed wire, guns and tinsel.” Despite the looming threat of invasion, Britons tried to keep their spirits up. There were the traditional pantomimes, which contributed to war funds. One air-raid shelter group staged Cinderella.  In it, Cinderella lost her gas mask instead of the glass slipper, and the Wicked Fairy appeared as Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler. Two days before Christmas, Edward R. Murrow heard carols as he strolled past the entrance to an air-raid shelter. “The singing was steady and firm, and it came from the underground,” he reported to his radio listeners in faraway, neutral America. Signing off his Christmas Eve broadcast, he said, “Merry Christmas is somehow ill-timed and out of place, so I shall just use the current London phrase—so long and good luck.”
Two thousand years ago, the first Christmas took place, not in an air raid shelter, but in a quiet hamlet on the other side of the world, one of the most famous towns on earth: Bethlehem. In a cave outside of town, the Savior was born. Surrounded by animals and angels, the Son of God came into the world as a man. St. John the Apostle puts it this way: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). The long-anticipated event had finally arrived.
Christmas is the night that light entered a dark world, grace entered a sinful world, and salvation entered a struggling world.
St. Leo the Great put it well: “In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its Creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which {the devil} had overthrow mankind” (Leo, Sermon, 190).
The external trappings of the first Christmas were crude and simple: a cave for a house, a manger for a crib, animals for company. Christmas is about the gift of a Savior. Christmas is about a God who loved us so much that he became one of us. Christmas is about Jesus. Jesus was born in a cave, not an inn. Jesus came into the world as a tiny Babe, not a conquering hero. Jesus became poor so that we could become rich in grace. Jesus came to change hearts, and hearts need changing.
My brothers and sisters, history is a great teacher. The account of Christmas 1940 in London reminds us what the true meaning of Christmas is. The account of Christmas 1940 in London reminds us that Christmas is not about external trappings like trees and toys, but rather grateful hearts and joyful families who welcome the Messiah.
America, like the United Kingdom in 1940, celebrated Christmas under the clouds of war. Like the United Kingdom, our future was at stake, but you wouldn’t know it looking around these days. Other than pat downs at airports, and pictures of soldiers overseas on occasional nightly newscasts, there are few signs that we remain at war against violent Islamic extremists. We don’t have curfews, roadblocks, blackouts, or rationing. On Black Friday, crowds waited anxiously for hours outside malls and store,s like Target and Best Buy, to take advantage of special deals, and discounted items. Our tables are full of delicious delicacies; our homes are stacked with electronic devices, like I-phones, I-pads, laptop computers, and entertainment packages. We are blessed in countless ways. We are at war, but do we have a spirit of sacrifice as a nation at war should? We celebrate Christmas by giving gifts, and attending family gatherings, but do we have the true spirit of Christmas in our hearts and families?
As we enjoy Christmas activities, it is important to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus this, and every, Christmas. The Person of Jesus is here and now. He comes to give us life and salvation. He comes to wake us up. He wants to be born again in our minds and hearts. He wants us to be at peace with our neighbor. He wants us to embrace a cross. rather than lounge on a couch.
It is important for us to remember that, for millions of people, Christmas will be more like 1940 England than 2013 America. For the Indian family that goes to bed hungry today, for the nine-year-old Brazilian child who lives on the streets, and the American family out of work and running out of hope, Christmas 2013 will be a somber, simple, and solemn holiday.
These people, as well as our troops fighting overseas, need our encouragement, praise, and support. Christ has come among us. Let’s act like we believe it! Mary, Queen of Heaven and earth, pray for us. Amen.

 
2. From Connections:

 















MASS OF THE VIGIL 
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 1-25 [18-25]

For Matthew, the story of Jesus begins with the promise to Abraham -- that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  So Matthew begins his Gospel with “a family record” of Jesus, tracing the infant's birth from Abraham (highlighting his Jewish identity) and David (his Messiahship).  The historical accuracy of Matthew’s list is dubious; but that is not the point.  Matthew’s genealogy celebrates this Jesus as the fulfillment of a world that God envisioned from the first moment of creation – a world created in the justice and peace that is the very nature of its Creator.
Matthew’s version of Jesus birth at Bethlehem follows.  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

 
MASS AT MIDNIGHT
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”Luke 2: 1-14
Centuries of hope in God’s promise have come to fulfillment: the Messiah is born!
Luke's account of Jesus’ birth (Gospel) begins by placing the event during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. - 14 A.D., was honored as “savior” and “god” in ancient Greek inscriptions.  His long reign was hailed as the pax Augusta -- a period of peace throughout the vast Roman world.  Luke very deliberately points out that it is during the rule of Augustus, the savior, god and peace-maker, that Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, enters human history.
Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows how it is the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the sinner who embraces the preaching of Jesus.  The announcement of the Messiah’s birth to shepherds -- who were among the most isolated and despised in the Jewish community -- is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the poor are especially blessed of God.

MASS AT DAWN
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2: 15-20

Typical of Luke’s Gospel, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem -- among the poorest and most disregarded of Jewish society who become the first messengers of the Gospel.
From the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, we have a romantic image of shepherds as gentle, peaceful figures.  But that manger scene image is a far cry from the reality:  The shepherds of Biblical times were tough, earthy characters who fearlessly used their clubs to defend their flocks from wolves and other wild animals.  They had even less patience for the pompous scribes and Pharisees who treated them as second and third-class citizens, barring these ill-bred rustics from the synagogue and courts.
And yet it was to shepherds that God first revealed the birth of the Messiah.  The shepherds’ vision on the Bethlehem hillside proclaims to all people of every place and generation that Christ comes for the sake of all of humankind.


MASS DURING THE DAY
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18

The Gospel for Christmas Day is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning . . . ,” “the light shines on in darkness . . .”), John’s prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.
In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.

HOMILY POINTS:
The humility and selflessness of Jesus that will be the centerpiece of his ministry and mission as the Messiah are first seen in his simple birth among the poor.
The true miracle of Christmas continues to take place in the Bethlehems of our hearts.  In the emptiness of our souls, God forgives us, reassures us, exalts us, elates us, loves us.
Christmas is more than a birth of a child; it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.
In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.




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ILLUSTRATIONS:
 
From Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:

 
1) Extraterrestrial child: After explaining childbirth, the biology teacher asked her 3rd graders to write an essay on "childbirth" in their families. Susan went home and asked her mother how she was born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “A big white swan brought you darling, and left you on our doorstep.” Continuing her research she asked grandma how she got her mother as a child. Being in the middle of something, her grandma similarly deflected the question by saying, “A fairy brought your mom as a little baby, and I found her in our garden in an open box”. Then the girl went and asked her great-grandmother how she got her grandma as a baby. “I picked her from a box I found in the gooseberry bush," said the surprised great-grandma. With this information the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, "I am very sad to find out that there was not even a single natural birth in our family for three generations. All our children were extraterrestrials." (Rev. Fairchild). Today the words of Isaiah tell us of another non-normal birth. It’s a non-normal birth, never before, nor after, seen or experienced, because it is the birth of God as man – Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, as our Savior.

2) Thanks for listening: In the Cable TV episodes Inside The Actor’s Studio, James Lipton invites celebrities – famous actors, writers and directors – to talk about their careers and how they do what they do. And he always ends each episode the same way, with one particular question: “If you believe that God exists, what do you think He will say to you when you finally see Him?” It’s a good question, by the way, to ask ourselves periodically. It can make for an interesting examination of conscience. Anyway: on this episode, the person James Lipton was interviewing was Steven Spielberg, the famous film director. Lipton asked him that final question: What do you hope God will say to you when you finally see Him? And Spielberg thought for a moment and smiled. He replied: “’Thanks for listening.” So much of the Christmas story is, truly, about listening. When Gabriel arrives to bring Mary the news that she will bear a child…she listens. When the angel tells Joseph in his dreams what is about to happen…he listens. The shepherds listen when the angel announces the “good news of great joy.” Two thousand years later, we confront this stunning message – “tidings of comfort and joy,” as the carol describes it – and our hearts swell with the sentiment of the season. We hear. But are we paying attention? Are we listening? Christmas invites us to listen to God telling us how much He loves the world. (Deacon Greg Kandra).2013

3)  The first Christmas crib: It was St Francis of Assisi who assembled the first crib in a cave on an Italian hillside. It was in 1293 that the first crèche was set up in the woods of Greccio near Assisi, on Christmas Eve. The crib was ready, hay was brought, the ox and the donkey were led to the spot. Greccio became a new Bethlehem. The aim of St. Francis was to make the Christmas story come alive for the people of the locality. His idea was to show them how close it was to them and their lives. And it seems that he succeeded. On Christmas Eve, the friars and the people assembled with candles and torches around the crib. Francis spoke to the people, who were mostly farmers and shepherds,  about God’s Son coming among us to teach us that we too are children of God, and that as such we have an eternal destiny. The shepherds and farmers got the messages: God had time for simple folks like them. At the end of the vigil they all returned to their homes, full of peace and joy, feeling very close to God and to one another. (http://www.catholicdoors.com/misc/christmascrib.htm) 
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More Illustrations from Last Year:

 It was a cold December afternoon. Rain mixed with snow splashed against the windshield. Overhead dark clouds hovered seemingly just above the treetops. All day long two men, a pastor named Jerry and a layman named Jim, had been delivering Christmas boxes. Many of the families who would receive these boxes would get nothing else for Christmas that year. The pickup truck had been loaded when the two men started out on their journey but now, only one box remained. It was covered with an old piece of tarp to protect it against the rain. 

The address on the card meant a drive of several miles beyond the city limit. "What do you think?" Jim asked. He was the driver and it was his truck. Pastor Jerry knew what Jim was thinking. Why drive way out in the country when we could give this last box to someone close by and be home in thirty minutes? It was a tempting thought. Pastor Jerry had a Christmas Eve Communion Service scheduled for 8 p.m. and he could use the time to prepare.  

Jim, however, answered his own question, "Well, let's give it a try. If we can't find the place, we can always come back and give the box to someone else." 

The rain was pouring down by the time they reached the address on the card. The old white framed house stood on a hillside overlooking the valley. It had once been an elegant place, the centerpiece of a large farm. Now, the farm was gone and the house had deteriorated over the years... 
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 The House of Bread 

In the Hebrew, Bethlehem means the house of bread. What a wonderful poetic description of a dwelling place. I remember frequently coming home from school and smelling the aroma of baking bread, creating for our entire family a house of bread. It awakens memories of good food, a warm kitchen, conversation, fulfillment. Everyone who entered the house gravitated towards the kitchen for a piece of bread with melting butter and to enjoy that delicacy in the company of others.

At Bethlehem, at this house of bread, humanity is irresistibly drawn to share in the good news of God. All things converge there and our souls find their birth and their nourishment. The entire universe holds its breath in wonder for it is here and nowhere else that we know our names, and find our homes. 

Susan Hedahl, Places of the Promise, CSS Publishing Inc.
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 God Is Interested in Our Life 

Jim Moore recently served as senior minister of St. Luke's in Houston, Texas. At a breakfast with a friend, who is now a sales representative for a large national company, the friend told Dr. Moore about a recent exchange with his new sales manager. 

It seems Moore's friend was driving his new boss around town when they happened to pass near the friend's home. This friend asked the new sales manager if he would like to stop by his house and meet his family. His wife was baking an apple pie, and his children would be coming in from school. Would he like to meet them? 

"Let's get one thing straight right now," the manager replied. "I'm not interested in your family. I'm not interested in your wife or your children. I'm not interested in you personally at all or any of the circumstances of your life. All I'm interested in are results. All I'm interested in about you is your sales record!" 

The friend told Moore: "That really hurt. I felt as though someone had slapped me across the face, but you know, I realized something. I realized that God is the opposite of that! God is interested in my home and family. God is interested in my wife and children. God does care about me personally. He is interested in all of the circumstances of my life." 

That is the good news of Christmas.

James W. Moore, Christmas Gifts That Always Fit 
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 The New Age 

Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful eighteenth century Neapolitan nativity scene. In many ways it is a very familiar scene. The usual characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East seeking, as Auden once put it, "how to be human now"; Joseph; Mary; the babe -- all are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint. There is, however, something surprising about this scene, something unexpected here, easily missed by the casual observer. What is strange here is that the stable, and the shepherds, and the cradle are set, not in the expected small town of Bethlehem, but among the ruins of mighty Roman columns. The fragile manger is surrounded by broken and decaying columns. The artists knew the meaning of this event: The gospel, the birth of God's new age, was also the death of the old world.

Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: God's presence in the world means finally the end of their own power. They seek not to preserve the birth of God's new age, but to crush it. For Herod, the gospel is news too bad to be endured, for Mary, Joseph, and all the other characters it is news too good to miss.

Adapted from Thomas G. Long, Something Is About To Happen, CSS Publishing
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 I think the Grinch said it best: 

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!"
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas. . . perhaps. . means a little bit more!"

Dr. Suess
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The Christian Gospel in a Nutshell 

In Kurt Vonnegut's book, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Eliot Rosewater, an eccentric do-gooder, was discussing with his wife the birth of twins to a half-witted townsperson named Mary Moody. "I'm baptizing them tomorrow," he says. "I didn't know you -- you did things like that," Sylvia replied. "I couldn't get out of it," said Eliot. "She insisted on it, and nobody else would do it. I told her I wasn't a religious person by any stretch of the imagination. I told her nothing I could do would count in heaven. But she insisted just the same." 

"What will you say?" inquired Sylvia. "Oh -- I don't know. I'll go over to her shack, I guess, sprinkle some water on the babies and say, 'Hello babies. Welcome to the earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It is round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of babies: Darn it, you've got to be kind.' "

Maybe that's the Christian gospel in a nutshell. God has been very kind to us, and to live in God's sight means we must be very kind to each other. If that is not the end of the Christian faith, it may be the beginning.

Charles H. Bayer, When It Is Dark Enough, CSS Publishing Company
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Humor: Hanging Lights for Christmas 

Hanging lights on a Christmas tree can be most stressful. Some nice person on the Internet has even made a list of Things Not to Say When Hanging Lights on the Christmas Tree. Let me read some of them:
8. "Up a little higher. You can reach it. Go on, try."
7. "What on earth do you do to these lights when you put them away every year? Tie them in knots?"
6. "You've got the whole thing on the tree upside-down. The electric plug thing should be down here at the bottom, not up at the top."
5. "I don't care if you have found another two strings, I'm done!"
4. "You've just wound 'em around and around--I thought we agreed it shouldn't look like a spiral this year?"
3. "Have you been drinking?"
2. "Where's the cat?" 
1. And the number one thing not to say when hanging lights on a tree? "If you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all. Don't just throw them on, like you do the icicles. You're worse than your father."
It's not easy getting ready for Christmas. Luke, in his narrative concerning the coming of Christ quotes the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.'" (NRSV)
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com  
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 The Inner Galaxy
The story is told of Teddy Roosevelt entertaining guests at his Sagamore Hill estate on Long Island. After a late dinner he invited his guests outside to walk beneath the brilliant nighttime sky. After a silent, reverent stroll Roosevelt said, "I guess we've been humbled enough now. Let's go inside." And that's what Christmas Eve is all about -- about stargazing toward the infinite to be humble in our finiteness. So in response to the angel chorus and the angel announcement, the simple, rustic, stargazing shepherds said, "Let us go even now into Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened...." And they went inside the stable, and beheld in the manger the inner galaxy -- the interior meaning of the universe. And what did they experience?
For one thing, they experienced mystery. Luke tells us they returned "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen...."

 Abnormal birth:
After explaining childbirth the biology teacher asked her 4th graders to write an essay on "childbirth" in their families. Susan went home and asked her mother how she was born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “A big white swan brought you darling, and left you on our doorstep.” Continuing her research she asked grandma how her parents got her. Being in the middle of something, her grandma similarly deflected the question by saying, “A fairy brought me and my mother found me in our garden in an open box”. Then the girl went and asked her great-grandmother how her parents got her as a baby. “My mother picked me from a box found in the gooseberry bush”, said the surprised great-grandma. With this information the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, "I really wonder why there was not even a single natural birth in our family for four generations..." (Rev. Fairchild). Today the words of Isaiah tell us of another non-normal birth. It’s a non-normal birth never before seen or experienced because it is the birth of God as man – Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, as our Savior.
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 Additional Anecdotes
1) "Man, you don't mess around when you're hungry!"
Have you heard about the little boy who loved going to church? He enjoyed the music, the stained glass windows, the homily and the fellowship. The only part about going to church that the little boy didn't like, were those long personal prayers which the pastor added to the intercessory prayers! Then on Christmas, the little boy's parents invited the pastor home for lunch... and would you believe it, his mom asked the minister to pray the prayer of thanksgiving before the meal. "Oh, no," thought the little boy, "We will never get to eat. I am starving and he will pray forever." But to his surprise, the pastor’s prayer was brief and to the point. He said, "Oh Lord, bless this home. Bless this food, and use us in your service, in Jesus name. Amen." The little boy was so astonished by the pastor’s short prayer that he couldn't help himself. He looked at the pastor and blurted out what he was thinking: "Man, you don't mess around when you're hungry!" Well, I don't want to "mess around" on this Christmas morning because I know that whether we realize it or not... we are hungry. We are all hungry for God. We are all hungry for our Savior. We are all hungry for Christmas... because, you see, this is precisely what Christmas is all about. We need a Savior, we are starved for a Savior, and a Savior is given in Jesus. In fact, the name "Jesus" means literally "The Lord is Salvation," or Yahweh Saves, or Savior. Jesus came at Christmas to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He came to save us from our sins.
 
2) “And all mankind will see God's salvation.”
Every year, the former President Bush and his wife Laura used to send out a Christmas card with a Bible verse on it. For Christmas 2001, when the country was still coming to terms with the Sept. 11th attacks, the Bushes decided to choose a verse that conveyed their faith and hope. They picked this verse from the Psalms: "I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (An interview with First Lady Laura Bush by Ellen Levin, Good Housekeeping, Jan. 2002, pp. 105, 130.) That is the promise of Christmas. Isaiah put it like this: "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.'" That is the hope that sustains us in good times and bad. We shall see God's salvation. Christ came because the world needed saving.
 
3) "We'll all be home for Christmas.”
Senator John McCain spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s. During that time, he was frequently tortured or held in solitary confinement. He reports that his lowest point came on Christmas Eve 1969. McCain was giving up hope of ever getting out of Vietnam alive. To compound his homesickness, the captors played the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" over the PA system. Just then, McCain heard tapping on his cell wall. This was the communication code the POWs used to communicate with one another. On the other side of the wall was Ernie Bruce, a Marine who had been imprisoned for four years already. In spite of his dire situation, Bruce was tapping out, "We'll all be home for Christmas. God bless America." These simple words of comfort restored John McCain's hope. ("The tapping on the wall" by Senator John McCain, Ladies' Home Journal, July 2002, pp. 107-111.) The message of Christmas is always one of hope. This world needs saving, but God began that process of salvation two thousand years ago with the birth of a babe in Bethlehem. There's something about Christmas that elevates us. Christmas is about hope of a better world to come.
 
4) Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid.
A king fell in love with a poor maid. The king wanted to marry her. When he asked them, "How shall I declare my love?" his counselors answered, "Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal raiments before the maid's humble dwelling, and she will instantly fall at your feet and be yours." But it was precisely that which troubled the king. He wanted her glorification, not his. In return for his love he wanted hers, freely given. Finally, the king realized love's truth, that freedom for the beloved demanded equality with the beloved. So late one night, after all the counselors of the palace had retired, he slipped out a side door and appeared before the maid's cottage dressed as a servant to confess his love for her. Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. God chose to express His love for us humans by becoming one like us. We are called to obey not God's power, but God's love. God wants not submission to his power, but in return for his love, our own.
 
5) Camel on the roof of royal palace:
The king of Balkh (northern Afghanistan) named Ebrahim ibn Adam was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well. One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: “Who's there?” “A friend,” came the reply from the roof. “I've lost my camel.” Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: “You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?” “You fool!” the voice from the roof answered. “Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?” The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint. Every Christmas Jesus asks the same question to each one of us: “Where are you looking for Me? In the majestically adorned and illuminated cathedrals or in the stables of the poor and the needy?” Tonight’s scripture readings tell us where to look for Christ the Savior.
 
6) “No Room in the Inn”
The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful and costly tombs ever built, but there is something fascinating about its beginnings. In 1629, when the favorite wife of Indian ruler Shah Jahan died, he ordered that a magnificent tomb be built as a memorial for her. The shah placed his wife’s casket in the middle of a parcel of land, and construction of the temple literally began around it. But several years into the venture, the Shah’s grief gave way to a passion for the project. One late evening while he was surveying the sight, he reportedly stumbled over a wooden box in the dark, and he had some workers to remove it and put it in a common store house. It was months before he realized that his wife’s casket that had been carelessly kept in a common store along with useless articles. The original purpose for the memorial had become lost in the details of construction. [Dr. James Dobson, Coming Home, Timeless Wisdom for Families, (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1998), 122, & “Story of Christless Christmas,” taken from Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, pp. 131-132.] This seemingly unrealistic ancient legend is a painfully relevant parable of the way some people celebrate Christmas today. Sometimes we become so involved in the tasks and details of Christmas that we forget the One we are honoring. Five little words in the Gospel of Luke say it all: "No Room in the Inn.”
 
7) The golden rice grains:
There is a beautiful poem by the mystic poet of India, Rabindra Nath Tagore, extolling the reward of generous giving. It tells the story of a king who regularly visited his people, passing through the streets in a chariot. One morning as the king was passing by, a beggar woman who planned to ask him for alms, stood on the road side with her begging bowl. As the king approached her, however, he descended from his chariot and stretched out his hand as though he was expecting a gift from the woman. Excited and surprised, the woman put her hand in the cotton bag on her shoulder, took out a pinch of rice, and with trembling hands gave it to the king. The king was well pleased; he smiled at her put her offering in his pocket and gave her back a pinch of grains from his other pocket. When the woman returned to her small hut that evening and examined the grains she had gotten that day, she was surprised to find a few grains of gold in the rice. You can imagine both her surprise and despair when she realized she should have given all her rice grains to the king. We are here to offer our gifts to Child Jesus in the manger as His birthday gift. Let us remember that Jesus does not want our material gifts as much as He wants our own selves, with all our weakness and temptations, our merits and demerits. Let our Christmas gift to him be a heart full of love and a strong and sincere resolution to share it generously with others.
 
8) “I want somebody who has skin on."
Leonard Griffith, the outstanding pastor in Toronto, tells the story of a mother who was putting her little daughter to bed in the midst of a thunderstorm. She told her daughter that she did not need to be frightened, that God was with her and her mother and father were close by in the living room. The girl replied to her mother, "Mommy, but when it thunders this way, I want somebody who has skin on." This simple, homely story, in essence, is the essential truth of our text. The invisible spirit of God did clothe himself in skin, flesh, and blood and came to dwell among us with grace and truth.
9) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is all about Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean banker who hoards all his money, and goes around saying, "Bah! Humbug!" On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. Then he wakes up on Christmas morning, and finds out he's been given a second chance. He buys the biggest turkey for Bob Crachett and Tiny Tim, is reconciled with his family, serves everyone, and loves everyone for the rest of his life. What makes this such a great story is that Scrooge wakes up on Christmas and decides to spend his life consciously loving and serving others, to live every day as if it were Christmas, loving and serving Christ in everyone.
 
11) “I wish I could be a brother like that”:
 Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. “Is this your car, Mister?" he asked. Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas." The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish..." He hesitated. Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels. "I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?" "Oh yes, I'd love that." After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?" Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again.
"Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked. He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car. "There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And someday I'm gonna give you one just like it...then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you about."
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride. That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when he had said: "It is more blessed to give..." [Dan Clark. From Chicken Soup for the Soul, (1992), pp. 25-26.]

12) Erik’s Jesus in rags:
A Christmas story: (Erik's Old Man by Nancy Dahlberg. From Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul (1997), pp. 307-309)
It was Sunday, Christmas Day. After the holidays in San Francisco we were driving back home to Los Angeles. We stopped for lunch in King City. The restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family and ours were the only children. I heard Erik, my one-year-old, squeal with glee. “Hithere,” the two words he always thought were one. “Hithere” and he pounded his fat baby hands- whack, whack, whack – on the metal high chair. His face was alive with excitement, his eyes were wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and giggled. Then I saw the source of his merriment: an old, dirty smelly bum in rags. He spoke to Erik: “Hi there, baby. Hi there, big boy, I see ya, Buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.”
Our meal came, and the banging and the noise continued. Now the old bum was shouting across the room and Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hithere.” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband, Dennis, was humiliated. Dennis went to pay the check, imploring me to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. “Lord, just let me get out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” and I bolted for the door. It soon was obvious that both the Lord and Erik had other plans. As I drew closer to the man on my way out, Erik, with his eyes riveted on his new friend, leaned over my arm, reaching up with his in a baby’s "pick-me-up position." In the split-second of balancing my baby, I came eye-to-eye with the old man. Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide. The bum implored me: “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need for me to answer since Erik propelled himself from my arms into those of the bum. Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship.
Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath the lashes. His aged hands, rough and worn from hard labor, gently cradled and stroked my baby. I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment. Then he opened his eyes, looked into mine, and said in a firm voice: “You take care of this baby.” And somehow I managed to say “I will." At last the bum handed Erik to me. As I held my arms open to receive my baby, the old man said, “God bless you, Ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I said nothing more than a muttered “thanks.” With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly. And why I was saying, “My God, forgive me. Forgive me”

13) Will you take Christ home with you this Christmas?
When a little boy named Davis came to Christmas morning Mass with his parents, he was surprised to find that baby Jesus was not in the Nativity Set. His parents immediately went into the sacristy and asked the pastor who had removed the Baby Jesus. The pastor rushed to the crib only to realize that some miscreants had stolen the Baby from the manger after the Midnight Mass. Later, during the morning Mass, the pastor informed the congregation of the theft and told them that he couldn't understand the motive behind such a callous act. Then, he asked them to see that the Baby Jesus was returned. The manger, however, remained empty.
Later that afternoon, depressed and sad, the pastor was walking through the wintry streets when he saw his neighbor, little Tommy. Shabbily dressed against the cold, Tommy was proudly walking with a new, bright red wagon. The pastor knew how much his parents must have scrimped and saved to buy him the wagon. With a surge of Christmas spirit, the pastor wished Tommy a Merry Christmas and congratulated him on his beautiful Christmas gift. It was then that he noticed that Tommy’s new red wagon wasn't empty. The Baby Jesus stolen from the church lay on a pillow in the wagon. The pastor was disappointed. He told Tommy that stealing was wrong and that the entire parish had been hurt by his action. Wiping from his cheeks the flowing penitential tears, Tommy said, "But, Father, I didn't steal Jesus! It wasn't like that at all. I've been asking Jesus for a red wagon for Christmas for a long time, and, you see, I promised Him when I got it, He'd be the first one I took out for a ride. I kept my promise and now I am on my way to the church to bring Baby Jesus home!” Each Christmas invites us to take Jesus to our home, because the only inn where He cares to find shelter is the inn of our hearts. If, like the pastor in our story, we have misjudged others, we can take Jesus home with us by asking their forgiveness. If someone has hurt us, we can forgive him or her. Let’s make this a Christmas of reconciliation, love, peace and joy.
 
14) O. Henry’s story of sacrificial Christmas sharing: “Gift of the Magi”:
A brief retelling of this old, but touching story is as follows: It was Christmas Eve, during the days of the Depression of the 1930's. Della and James, a newly married couple, were very poor. They loved each other dearly, but money was hard to come by. In fact, as Christmas approached, they were unhappy because they had no money to buy presents for each other. They had two possessions that they valued deeply: James had a gold watch which had belonged to his father, and Della had long and beautiful brown hair. Della knew that James’ watch had no matching chain--only a worn-out leather strap. A matching chain would be an ideal gift for her husband, but she lacked the money to buy it.
As she stood before the mirror, her eyes fell on her long brown tresses. She was very proud of her beautiful hair, but she knew what she had to do. She faltered a moment, but nothing could stand in the way of love. She hastened to the “hair-dealers,” sold her hair for twenty dollars, and went round shop after shop, hunting for the ideal gift. At last she found it: a matching chain for her husband’s watch. She was very happy and proud of the gift. She knew he would love it, the fruit of her sacrifice.
James came in, beaming with love, proud of the gift he had bought for Della. He knew she would be very happy with the gift. But when he saw her, his face fell. She thought he was angry at what she had done. She tried to console him by saying that her hair would grow fast, and soon it would be as beautiful as before. That is when he gave her his gift. It was an expensive set of combs, with gem-studded rims. She had always wanted them for her hair! She was very happy, but with a tinge of sadness. She knew it would be some time before she could use the precious gift.
Then, with tears in her eyes, she presented him with the gift she had bought. As he looked at the beautiful chain, he said with a sigh: “I guess our gifts will have to wait for some time. The combs were very expensive; I had to sell my watch to buy the combs!” These were the perfect gifts: gifts of sacrificial love. Both James and Della were very happy for, like the Magi, they had discovered LOVE through self-sacrifice.

15) Two babies in the manger?
In 1994, two Christian missionaries answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics in a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. It was nearing Christmas and the missionaries decided to tell them the story of Christmas. It would be the first time these children would hear the story of the birth of Christ. They told the children about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the Baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and the orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. When the story was finished, the missionaries gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins that the missionaries had brought with them since no colored paper was available.
Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown discarded by a tourist, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt which the missionaries had also brought with them. It was all going smoothly until one of the missionaries sat down at a table to help a 6 year old boy named Misha. He had finished his manger. When the missionary looked at the little boy’s manger, she was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, she called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, Misha began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the
happenings accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the Baby Jesus in the manger.
Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending. He said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me that I could stay with Him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give Him like the shepherds and the magi did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept Him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep You warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep Me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave Me.” “So I got into the manger and then Jesus looked at me and He told me I could stay with Him – for always.” As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found Someone Who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him - FOR ALWAYS. Today we celebrate the great feast of Jesus the Emmanuel – “God With Us. “

16) Did you see the queen? Remember that nursery rhyme?
"Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?"
"I've been to London to look at the queen."
"Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?"
"A frightened a little mouse, under her chair."
The pussycat went to see the queen, but it saw only a mouse. We have come to Christmas to see Jesus coming to our lives as our Lord and personal Savior. But do we see only the lights, the statues in the manger scene and the poinsettias around the altar? We have come to experience the Light of the world shine on us. But do we see only the darkness of our lives and that of the world? God has communicated His love for us and His desire to be with us through the Babe in the manger. Do we get the Message?

17) A Christmas Parable written by Louis Cassels:
“Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for the midnight service. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”
Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have Christmas,” he thought, “it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another. He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his living room window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the storm. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter.
He put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction - except into the warm lighted barn. “They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .” Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now I see why You had to do it.” (Quoted by Fr. Tommy Lane)

18) God has revealed Himself in his Son."
Theologian Karl Barth stood before students and faculty at Princeton in 1963 during his Princeton Lectures. A student asked: "Sir, don't you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only Christianity?" Barth stunned many who were present when he thundered, "No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son." 

19) Shuttle service to heaven:
The brilliant writer, C. S. Lewis, wrote a thought-provoking book called The Great Divorce. It is not about the divorce that occurs between husband and wife. It is about the divorce that occurs between our souls and God. In this book, C. S. Lewis gives us a picture of Hell as a big city, with all its pressures and problems. In this big city, the weather is always cold and wet with a heavy rain. The light is always grey and murky. The people in this city of Hell become more and more aware of the great divorce that has taken place between their soul and God, and they sink deeper and deeper into their dismal surroundings. Except ... there is a way out! There is a way out of this terrible condition! God has provided a shuttle-bus service from Hell to Heaven: regular bus service. All you need to do is get on the bus and let the power of God carry you into the light. The incredible thing about the story is that very few people get on board the buses, even though they are arriving and departing all the time. The people find all kinds of excuses for putting the journey off to some vague future time -- and they miss the opportunity to be carried by the power of God from death to new life; from the misery of being estranged from God to the joy of being in union with God. Though we may stand in the darkness of the "great divorce," the Christmas Promise of God is that He will carry us into the light if only we are willing to get on the bus.

20) Jesus sells:
One never tires of Jesus as a subject. The cover stories of Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report regularly mark His nativity. One reason for featuring Him so often is that their circulation invariably increases. Born twenty centuries ago, Jesus still sells. Mel Gibson broke all records with his DVD of The Passion of the Christ. He sold nine million copies in three weeks at $22 a clip. The first book published by Pope Benedict XVI is called "Jesus of Nazareth." It quickly found a home on the Best Seller list of The New York Times. Artists at their easels struggle to paint His portrait again. Have you seen Andy Warhol's Nativity? Composers struggle to salute Him with a fresh musical score. Will it ever be otherwise? I believe not. Tell others of Jesus. But firstly allow Him to be born in you. He can't be born again, but we can. (Fr. James Gilhooley)

22) “But I did show up”:
A story is told of an old woman who lived all alone. Each year as Christmas drew near she would sigh and lament her loneliness, wishing that some people would visit her. Since nobody would visit her, she decided to pray to the baby Jesus and his mother requesting that they pay her a visit. Finally the baby Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her that her prayer had been heard and that the Holy Family would visit her on Christmas day. Oh, how excited she was! She began cleaning and polishing everything in her house squeaky clean in preparation for the divine visitor. She cooked her best dish and baked her best cake in readiness for the visit of Jesus and his mother. Who knows, maybe if she pleased them well enough, they might decide to stay on and live with her!
When Christmas day finally arrived her house was squeaky clean. Everything was in place to give her divine guests a befitting welcome. She sat by the door and read a book, just to make sure the visitors would not have to ring the door bell twice before she would open the door and let them in. It was a cold and rainy day. At about noon she spotted a gypsy couple in the rain making their way to her house. The man was dirty and disheveled. The thinly-clad woman was nursing a baby who was crying in the rain. “Why can’t these gypsies just get a decent job,” she said to herself. Then she screamed at them, “Turn back, turn back immediately. Come another day if you like. Today, I am expecting very important visitors.” The gypsy family turned back and left. The woman continued to wait. She waited all day and no divine visitors showed up. At sunset she fell asleep on the chair and there in her dream was Jesus. “Jesus,” she screamed, “how could you disappoint me? You said you were coming to visit me for Christmas and I waited all day and you never showed up.” “But I did show up,” replied Jesus. I came with My father and mother in the rain and you turned us away.”

23) “Your God Is Too Small.”
JB Phillips authored a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. One of the great reasons for Advent is to celebrate the birth of Jesus and explore the BIGNESS of our GREAT God. The irony of Christmas is this: the bigness of God can be seen in a tiny baby. According to Paul in Colossians 1:15-23 this tiny baby is the dynamic, omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe!