Advent 4 B Homilies - Annunciation



TK Notes:
A. Any one who is into counseling knows that people come to you because of some anxiety or fear they face in life due to  a)  a relationship, b) a decision/choice or c) faith/ideology issues. They are all trying to find a way to cope with that situation. Mary too comes with, "How's this possible?"
B. Essentially, a counselor helps the counselee to cope with or face or remove that anxiety/fear.
a. Theologically: explains the meaning/purpose of the experience: The Holy Spirit will come down on you. You are going to conceive a child who will be Emmanuel. He is going to save Israel.
b. Sociologically: I'll be with you; I'll accompany you. Even your cousin Elizabeth....
c. Psychologically: Do not be afraid, Mary .....
We touch the heart by addressing the mind and providing support.
C. If that's so, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." Acceptance, conquering the fear and doubt.
People undertake difficult tasks and responsibilities in life if you follow these steps.
We move from "How's it possible?" to "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord" when God enters into our life.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

Christmas is just about here, but we all know that there are still lots of things to be done. One of these things is for us as a community of the followers of Jesus to appreciate more fully that it is only in the life he brings to us and shares with us that we can be truly at rest and happy and at peace. So today at our sacred gathering there is a prayer running through all we say and do:

Lord, come into our hearts this Christmas
as our Lord,
our Leader,
and our Light.’
 Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments


St Mark has no story of Mary’s conception of Jesus nor of her pregnancy, so the reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year is from St Luke, the famous story of the Annunciation.

It is difficult to enter into the story because we have long been accustomed to read it as uniquely the story of Mary, and therefore outside our experience. This is clearly against the intention of St Luke who had given us Mary as the model of the faithful one entering into God’s great plan for the world. Take her as model of a church community discovering its vocation to bring Jesus into the world, or an individual person discovering his or her personal vocation.
Take the story as a long journey during which God, through the angel, walks with Mary. He is accompanying her at every stage, until finally she surrenders herself to him and he leaves her. 

Textual Comments

vs 26 – 28: Mary experiences herself deeply loved by God at her first encounter with His word.
vs 29 – 30: She is filled with awe but the angel reassures her, calling her by name.
vs 31 – 33:  The angel unfolds God’s plan for her, a plan that is way beyond
her own expectations for herself.
vs 34 – 35: Mary is in awe again, and once more she receives words of reassurance.
vs 36 – 37: The angle gives further grounds for trust by citing another example of God’s power.
vs 38a:       Mary leaves herself humbly and trustingly in God’s hands and plan.
vs 38b:       Mary is now perfectly at peace and the angel can leave her.

  Scripture Reflection Prayer

Lord, there is something very wonderful stirring within your church:
- she in entering into the struggles of the poor for a more human society;
- voices within the church speak out fearlessly against all forms of injustice;
- lay people grow in holiness through their family commitments and their
work
It seems that you have sent your angel to your church in our time,
with the good news that she is still your chosen one,
called to bring forth your Son into the modern world
and make the dreams of the ancient prophets a reality.
Naturally, we are confused and fearful, deeply disturbed by this word.
We have become set in our ways, sterile even.
Tell us again, Lord, through your holy angel, that we need not be afraid:
- that the power of the Most High will cover us with its shadow;
- what has been conceived within us will be your own child;
- that you have done wonderful deeds before, since nothing is impossible to you,
so that we may see ourselves as your humble servants,
letting you bring to fulfillment the word you have spoken to us.

Lord, we think today of all who are faced with a difficult decision:
- can they attempt a reconciliation?
- take on some new responsibility?
- engage themselves in a work of human liberation?
Send them an angel to walk with them as Gabriel walked with Mary,
- to call them by name;
- to speak a word of encouragement -
“Rejoice, so highly favoured, do not be afraid”;
- to assure them that what they have conceived will be great and a Son of  the Most High;
- to remind them that nothing is impossible to you,
and finally, when they have accepted your will, to leave them.

Lord, we thank you today for those who have conceived a child
and received it as a sign that they are highly favoured.
Even if they feel deeply disturbed,
called to bring forth a holy child who is destined to live forever,
they see themselves as humble servants of this great mystery,
and give themselves trustingly to the fulfillment of your word.

Lord, we thank you today for the many great women of our world.
They conceived a vision within themselves, trusting that it came from you.
They struggled with feelings of infertility, imposed on them by society,
but they took courage from knowing that they were servants of a sacred work,
bringing to birth the rule of your Son.

Lord, we thank you for the precious moments of contemplative prayer,
when after a long journey with many doubts and hesitations,
with you at our side calming fears and answering questions,
we finally felt able to let the word you had spoken be done to us
and you could withdraw your sensible presence from us.

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Homily Notes

1. Part of the way that Christians have always attempted to celebrate and communicate the mystery of the Lord has been to apply passages and titles to him from the time of the covenant of preparation: the time of the Old Testament. The liturgy abounds with such titles at this time, but most Christians miss them as they are found in the daily eucharistic liturgy and in the Liturgy of the Hours. Often when they do come up we pass on so quickly that we miss them, yet these titles express some of our most basic hopes.

2. The most famous set of Advent titles are the ‘Great O Antiphons’ that accompany the Magnificat at Evening Prayer Between 17 and 23 December. Exactly how old they are is disputed (Some date them to the Second Century Century), but by around 800 preachers were already using the acrostic for remembering their order to make a point in preaching.
The acrostic works like this: take the first letter of each in reverse order and it spells two words thus:  ‘ero cras’

O Sapientia
    17 Dec.     Our wisdom who is more than all human cunning.
O Adonai         18 Dec.      Our leader who is like the morning star and calls us from  sleep.
O Radix             19 Dec       The one promised by the Father who frees us from darkness.
O Clavis            20 Dec    The one who shows us the way that leads to peace.
O Oriens          21 Dec       And he is the giver of light and happiness to suffering humanity.
O Radix            22 Dec       He is God living among his people.
O Emmauel  23 Dec      Jesus Christ whom we follow and who we are about to welcome again
this Christmas is all of these, and more

The words ‘ero cras’ mean ‘I am coming tomorrow’ literally: ‘I will be [here] tomorrow‘. Jesus Christ whom we follow and who we are about to welcome again this Christmas is all of these, and more

3. One of the ways that we expand our religious understanding is by expanding the range of names we use to name the divine. Here is a lovely set of names all addressing Christ using a different Old Testament range of images; it was by applying such images that the first Christology was Created. Using them today – and having the prophecy of Nathan as the first reading is a cue for bringing them to the foreground today —can deepen our appreciation of the mystery we are celebrating. 

Final Note

This Sunday has another marian theme running through it — although in most circumstances it probably would only add noise to draw attention to it — which is the celebration of the moment of the Annunciation such as is celebrated in the recitation of the Angelus. Not only is the gospel reading that of the Annunciation, but the collect for today is the famous Gratianz tuam known to generations of English-speaking Catholics as ‘Pour forth we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace …’ and now rendered: ‘Lord, fill our hearts with your love’. If this is a theme that you want to explore, then one way of doing so is to recall that Christians — following the example of the Jews of the Second Temple — have always seen regular collective times of prayer as a way of both sanctifying the day and of praying as a whole body even if individuals are scattered. In the early church this led to the practice of reciting the Our Father at dawn, noon, and sunset; while in more recent times it has been expressed in the recitation of the Angelus.  

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Sean Goan
Gospel notes


If John the Baptist dominates the early part of Advent, it is Mary the mother of Jesus who comes centre stage now. In this text from Luke, our attention is focused on the event upon which the mystery of God’s saving will depends. Throughout the scriptures, God has sought out people with humility and courage to hear and respond to his word and through them his saving will has been made known. In this young woman from Nazareth the human response to God finds its perfect model. Luke presents Mary as the woman of faith and he gives more prominence to her than the other evangelists. By her openness to the Spirit of God she opens the way for God to come into the world and that is the way Luke presents discipleship. God will be at work in the world wherever the followers of Jesus leave themselves open to the work of his Spirit in an attitude of faith. 

Reflection

It’s a little ironic that David should have imagined that he could do something for God. It seems that his success as king went to his head and he forgot his humble origins as a shepherd boy. In the gospel for today we see an Israelite who is fully aware of who she is before her God and it is this humility which allows her to say ‘yes’. The promise made to David in the grandeur of his palace centuries before would now be fulfilled because an ordinary girl in ordinary surroundings has an extraordinary openness to her God. There is very little splendour and majesty in the Christmas story; it is characterised by simplicity and humility and these are the gifts we need to appreciate the power of it.

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1.     From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel on this Sunday before Christmas is Luke’s account of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary.  The Annunciation story is filled with First Testament imagery (e.g., the announcement by the angel parallels the announcements of the births of many key figures in salvation history, such as Isaac and Samuel; the “overshadowing” of Mary recalls the cloud of glory covering the tent of the ark and temple in Jerusalem).  Mary's yes to Gabriel’s words set the stage for the greatest event in human history: God’s becoming human. 

HOMILY POINTS:

In today’s Gospel, God begins the “Christ event” with Mary, a simple Jewish girl who is at the very bottom of her people’s social ladder; the God who created all things makes the fulfillment of his promise dependent upon one of the most dispossessed and powerless of his creatures.  Yet God exalts her humility, her simplicity, her trust in his love and mercy.  God’s “favor” belongs the poor, the rejected, the abandoned and the forgotten among us today. 

In his becoming human in the Son of Mary, God enters human history is show us how to live God-like, grace-filled, holy lives of compassion, forgiveness and justice in our time and place in that history.

In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say I am your servant, O God.  Be it done.  

The mystery of the Incarnation is relived every time we echo Mary’s “yes” to God’s call to bring his Christ into our world, when we accept, as did Mary, God’s asking us to make the Gospel Jesus alive in our own time and place.    

Everyday annunciations

She had not talked to her friend for some time and wondered how she was doing.  She had heard that the family was going through a tough time.  One morning, she saw that a movie they both said they were looking forward to seeing had opened.  So she called her:  “Hi.  Would you like to take in a movie this afternoon?”  After a pause, her friend said, “You know, that would be great.  It would give us a chance to talk.”  

Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you. 

The chair of the college’s education department asked her to come in.  “A downtown church is organizing an after-school program for at-risk kids,” he explained. “They’ve asked if any of our students could serve as tutors.  You have a real gift for working with young kids and you’re going to make a great teacher.  So I thought of you immediately.”  She asked a lot of questions; she wondered how she could work it into her busy class schedule; and she didn’t have anywhere near the confidence in herself that her professor clearly had.  But, in the end, she said:  “I’d love to help.” 

The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you.  Nothing is impossible for God. 

After her beloved father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, she began making an annual gift to the Alzheimer’s Association.  One day she received a call asking if she would help organize a “memory walk” for Alzheimer’s research.  As she talked to the volunteer, her eyes fell on the photo of her Dad on her desk.  “Yes, I’d love to help.”   

I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done.

It may seem that annunciations only happen to Mary and people in the Bible — but the fact is that God calls every one of us to the vocation of prophet, the ministry of charity, the work of forgiveness.  Gabriel may come in the form of an invitation, a plea, a concern for another’s well-being.  Like Mary, we think of all the kinds of reasons why this doesn’t make any sense or that it’s beyond us — but it is in these everyday annunciations that God changes the course of history.  In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say “I am your servant, O God.  Be it done.”    

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2.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil: 

1) “You shall name him Jesus.”

Some names are unfortunate. I heard about a man who joined the Navy. His name was Tonsillitis Jackson. The Navy couldn't believe it, so they did a check on him, and discovered that indeed his name really was Tonsillitis Jackson. What's more, he had brothers and sisters who were named: Meningitis, Appendicitis, Peritonitis, and Laryngitis. A sense of identity, a sense of destiny, comes with the conferring of a name. And that is the kind of name that was given to Jesus as we read in today’s gospel. It conferred upon him a destiny, a vocation that he was to fulfill for us.
 2) “Mary did you know?”
One of the most beautiful of the modern Christmas songs was written by a man who is best known, perhaps, as a comedian. His name is Mark Lowry. Lowry is also a musician of some note. He performed for many years with the Gaither Vocal band. In 1984 he was asked to pen some words for his local church choir, and he wrote a poem that began like this, “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?” A few years later guitarist Buddy Greene added a perfectly matching tune and a wonderful song was born. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? Mary, did you know when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God!” Each of the little couplets touches the heart in a wonderful way. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?” The song’s been around now for nearly two decades. Listen for it on the radio. The most popular version is sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd. (Mary Did You Know? - Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd - YouTube) Mary, did you know . . . ? How could Mary know what was happening to her when the angel Gabriel came to her long ago? Only Luke tells this story and we have it in today’s gospel.
3) “You are pregnant”:
In January of 2002, a hospital in London, England, mistakenly sent letters to over 30 unsuspecting patients informing them that they were pregnant. The hospital's computer system, which normally is used to send form letters telling people that their operations have been postponed, was in the hands of a clerical worker who hit the wrong key. And so, instead of informing patients about a rescheduled procedure, the computer sent identical form letters telling the recipients that they were "great with child." Among the recipients of the letters were six elderly men. ("Hospital Tells Elderly Men They're Pregnant," Reuters, London, (Jan. 10). Can you imagine the surprise of those six men? "Your doctor at Such-and-Such hospital is pleased to inform you that you are expecting a baby!" Quite a shock, to say the least! Some of the women were probably surprised as well. "How can it be?" some of them may have asked. "That's not possible! I think I'm going to be sick!" There was possibly some high anxiety in the homes of some women patients who received this letter. Don't you think Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced troubling thoughts when the angel of the Lord first appeared to her? Mary was a virgin engaged to be married. She had never been with a man – even the man she was to wed.
4) "Didn't you get my E-mail?"

As a little girl climbed up into Santa's lap, Santa asked the usual, "And what would you like for Christmas?" The little girl just stared at Santa with her mouth open and horrified look on her face for a minute, and then she gasped: "Didn't you get my E-mail?" That had to have been the same sort of horrified look that Mary must have had on her face when the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and spoke to her about God's purpose for her life.
5) "My search is over."
 I like the story about a professor who sat at his desk one evening working on the next day's lectures. His housekeeper had laid that day’s mail and papers on his desk, and he began to shuffle through them, discarding most to the wastebasket. He then noticed a magazine, which was not even addressed to him but had been delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article titled "The Needs of the Congo Mission.” Casually he began to read when he was suddenly consumed by these words: "The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one - one on whom, already, the Master's eyes have been cast - that he or she shall be called to this place to help us." Professor Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: "My search is over." He gave himself to the Congo. That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer's mailbox. By chance he noticed the title. It leaped out at him. Chance? Nope. It was one of God's surprises. This morning we focus on one of the greatest surprises that ever there was, the surprise that took place when an angel by the name of Gabriel appeared to a young teenager by the name of Mary. Gabriel piled one surprise upon another. Mary and Joseph's Christmas tree had more astonishing surprises than any couple on earth had ever experienced.
6) "Do not be afraid!"

It's an obvious understatement to say we live in a day of great fear. The language of "terror" has become the motivating mantra of our day. I did a Google search for the word "fear," and I came up with a fascinating site called "The Phobia List"—pages of phobias, A to Z. Everything from Alliumphobia—the fear of garlic and Lachanophobia—the fear of vegetables to Zemmiphobia—the fear of the great mole rat. It even lists Ecclesiophobia—the fear of church and, get this, Homilophobia—the fear of sermons! You can even get a poster of the "Phobia List" which will cover your entire wall. We all have our own phobia lists, and the list can be as fresh as the morning papers: Daily bad news from the auto industry, uncertainty about the state of the economy or personal security. A questionable course in Iraq with no clear sense of how long it will go on, when it will end. Fear of bird flu or bad weather or a bitter diagnosis from the family doctor. Add to that, fear-mongering TV preachers and politicians who use talk of terror for political gain until the fear of terror becomes its own terror. And add to that, panic-driven newscasters who can't even give the weather without fear-filled, bated breath. It all leads to what Jane Spencer in the Wall Street Journal refers to as the "fear system" of our day. Into that maze of fear, we have the audacity to read the word of the angel to Mary: "Do not be afraid!"
7) "What will we do with this baby Jesus?"
Wade Burton tells about a man who was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at a lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' restroom carrying a tiny baby. She asked the man, "Will you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the restroom." He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd. The man couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but could not see her. What should he do? Put the baby down and run? When calmness settled in he went to the Traveler's Aid booth, and they soon found the real mother. The woman who had left him holding the baby was not the baby's mother. She had taken the child, perhaps to satisfy a motherly urge to hold a child. The man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he to do with a baby? In a way each of us is in the same situation as this gentleman. We are left with the question, "What will we do with the baby?" Have we really come to terms with the fact that this baby is not simply extraordinarily gifted, but that he is himself a gift from the heart of God?
8) "$500 for information on the missing cat."
Remember the story about the guy who hated his wife's cat? He just hated that cat with a vengeance, but his wife loved the cat. One day, the cat disappeared. His wife was grief-stricken, so the man put an ad in the newspaper: "$500 for information on the missing cat." His friend saw the ad and said to him: "Wow! $500 for word on the cat that you hated…that's pretty risky, isn't it?" With a sly, knowing twinkle in his eye, the man responded: "It's not so risky when you know what you know." We know the end of the story. Life is not so scary when you know what you know. We know God keeps his promises and sends a Savior. We know Jesus comes and his name is called Emmanuel, meaning "God With Us.")

10) “He’s out moose-hunting.”
There was a story years ago in the Canadian version of the Reader’s Digest of a large moose that wandered into a residential area in Calgary, Canada. The moose ended up on the lawn of a lady named Lorna Cade. A Fish and Wildlife officer was dispatched to try to coax the magnificent animal back into the wild. After two hours of absolutely no progress, the officer finally shot the moose with a tranquilizer dart. The moose bolted down a lane and eventually collapsed on another nearby lawn. The reporters who had been following this event interviewed the lady at the house where the moose collapsed. They asked her what she thought about the moose which had passed out on her lawn. “I’m surprised,” she answered, “but not as surprised as my husband will be. He’s out moose-hunting.” (1) Her husband had gone out looking for moose and a large moose had come to him. That is the message of Christmas. While humanity spends its time seeking after God, God comes to us in the babe of Bethlehem. ember Humphrey the humpback whale?
Humphrey became a national celebrity in 1985 when he made his way into the San Francisco Bay and headed up the Sacramento River into fresh water which, of course, could have been fatal for him. Each evening a large local television audience would tune in for the latest update on Humphrey’s plight. Then national media coverage began and the whole country watched the ensuing story. None of the traditional herding techniques were working and the world held its breath as Humphrey appeared to be dying. His skin was graying and he was becoming more and more listless. As a last ditch effort, Dr. Bernie Krause, who had recorded the sounds humpback whales made while feeding suggested using them as a possible way to lure Humphrey out. No one knew if this would work, but it was their last shot at saving him. A speaker was lowered over the side of a boat, the sounds of other humpback whales were played, and everyone stood quietly while the eerie songs reverberated through the hull. Suddenly, Humphrey emerged from the water at the bow of the ship right where the speaker was playing, and gazed at the startled crew. The Captain quickly started down the river with Humphrey following close behind. As they approached the San Francisco Bay, and the water gained in salinity, Humphrey was visibly excited and began diving deeply to everyone’s delight and amazement. It was like the climax to a Hollywood film. The air was filled with helicopters and the river banks were lined with thousands of spectators all cheering Humphrey on to freedom. Don’t you think that’s interesting? They failed using various methods to lure Humphrey to turn around. Nothing worked until he heard the recorded sounds of other humpback whales. I guess it takes a whale to talk to whales! Now imagine God’s dilemma. God sought to communicate His love and His purpose for humanity through the Law and through the prophets, through Scripture, and through the worship of the Hebrew people in the Temple of Jerusalem. But still the people did not get it. We did not know how much God loves us and that God’s ultimate plan was for us to love one another. So God did the only thing left. God became one of us in the Babe in the manger. God came to us when, intellectually, we could not reach up to Him.
12) “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph”: Virginity is seldom praised and is often ridiculed. College coeds sometimes make fun of a virgin if they discover one on the hall. Someone has written that in our time we have experienced the “McDonaldization of sex.” It’s like fast food, cheap and available. Couples just hook up. As the song asks, “What’s love got to do with it?” According to surveys, more than half of our 11th graders have had sex with a casual acquaintance. (Howell, James C. The Life We Claim. Abingdon: Nashville, 2005.) The National College Health Assessment Survey found that 71 percent of college students are sexually active. (The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, (Friday, March 23, 2007), p. A.4.). Thousands of Hollywood movies and TV sit-coms have trained our young people to assume that sex happens on or about the third date if the boy and girl really like each other. You don’t even have to be in love. If the chemistry is right, you do it. The message is that if you don’t become sexually active, one or both of you are weird. Sex is not the only holiness issue of our time, but it is the presenting issue for our culture. The culture is claiming that sex is just one more human appetite that should be satisfied in whatever way suits you. But the Bible screams, “No!” St. Paul warned us, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” (I Cor. 6:18) Why is that? Because his sin defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit, our body. The church dares to hold up a standard that our culture trashes —fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.
13) “Somewhere, somehow, set things right."
On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a moving photograph of a mother and her little girl being taken to a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The girl, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, the mother can do to stop this tragedy. In her helplessness, she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hand over her little girl's eyes so that at least she will not have to see the horror which faces her. When people see this picture in the museum, they do not move quickly or easily to the next one. You can feel their emotion, almost hear their cries, "O God, don't let that be all there is. Somewhere, somehow, set things right." Luke's word to us this day is that God hears those prayers, and that it is into just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that the power of God is born. It is there that God invests His treasure, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things -- setting things right.
14) "Have you found him?"

Here is another De Mello story. The young hermit (sannyasi) came to the master in hermit robes and asked. "For years I have been seeking God. I have sought him everywhere that he is said to be: on mountain peaks, the vastness of the desert, the silence of the cloister, and the dwellings of the poor." "Have you found him?" the master asked. "No. I have not. Have you?" What could the master say? The evening sun was sending shafts of golden light into the room. Hundreds of sparrows were twittering on a nearby banyan tree. In the distance one could hear the sound of highway traffic. A mosquito droned a warning that it was going to strike…And yet this man could sit there and say he had not found God. After a while the young hermit left, disappointed, to search elsewhere. Since God can be found everywhere, we must continually look for Him and especially, perhaps in the most difficult places. That is why in the first reading today; God tells David that He cannot be contained in a man-made temple. 

15. The FBI and the White House staff:

The FBI agents conducted a raid in a psychiatric hospital in Santiago that was under investigation for medical insurance fraud.  After hours of reviewing thousands of medical records, the dozens of agents were terribly hungry.  The chief in charge of the investigation called a nearby pizza parlor with delivery service to order a quick dinner for his colleagues. Here is the recorded text of the conversation. Agent: Hello. I would like to order 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of soda. Pizza Man: And where would you like them delivered? Agent: We're over at the psychiatric hospital, and we are all FBI agents, and since we have locked the front door to help our operations, you will have to go around to the back to the service entrance to deliver the pizzas. Pizza Man: A group of FBI agents calling from the psychiatric hospital that I should come with 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of sodas through the back door? Agent: That’s right, and it is very urgent. We've been here all day and we're starving. I have my F.B.I. checkbook right here. Will you show up soon? Pizza Man:  I don't think so. Agent: Why? Pizza Man:  Because last week it was President Obama who ordered pizzas from that psychiatric hospital for his White House staff! I shall ask your doctors to give you stronger medicines to ward off your F.B.I. hallucinations and to help you sleep well.  Bye.” Click. Bzzz. The feeling that the Pizza Man had as he participated in that conversation may have been something like what the teenaged Mary felt at the beginning of her encounter with the angelic messenger on the day of the Annunciation. 

16. A De Mello story on Emmanuel:

“Excuse me,” said a small river fish that happened to reach the ocean. . “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?" "The ocean," said the older fish "is the thing you are in now." "Oh, this? But this is only salty water. What I’m seeking is the ocean," said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere. Today’s Gospel introduces God as Emmanuel, one living with us. Christmas celebration should enable us to experience this God within us and all around us. 

17. “I'm the president of 7-UP!"

Three men were pacing nervously outside the delivery room at a hospital when the head nurse came out beaming. To the first she said, "Congratulations, sir, you are the father of twins." "Terrific!" said the man, "I just signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins and this'll be great press." To the second man the nurse said, "Congratulations to you too. You are the father of healthy triplets!"  "Fantastic!" he said. "I'm the vice-president of 3-M Company. This'll be great P.R.!"  At that point the third man turned ashen and ran for the door. "What's wrong, sir? Where are you going?" called the nurse. As he jumped into his car, the man shouted, "I'm dashing to my office to resign. I'm the president of 7-UP!" 

That's exactly what Mary was feeling as she listened to the angel spell out what God wanted of her: "Virgin birth?! Are you crazy? Who's going to believe that? I'll be stoned to death as soon as the neighbors see I'm pregnant! Dear God, what are you asking of me?" (Msgr. Dennis Clarke)

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3.     From Sermons.com 

The greatest thing about Christmas morning is the surprises. When else in life do you get to pile 10, 20, 30, 40 sometimes 50 surprises all together and sit for an hour enjoying each of them? One after another, surprise after surprise. Christmas Morning is wonderful in that way. I can remember still today the way I felt as a child, the amazement, the astonishment of Christmas morning.

Chuck Swindoll writes, "surprises come in many forms and guises: some good, some borderline amazing, some awful, some tragic, some hilarious. But there's one thing we can usually say -- surprises aren't boring." Surprises are woven through the very fabric of all our lives. They await each one of us at unexpected and unpredictable junctures.

I like the story about a professor who sat at his desk one evening working on the next day's lectures. His housekeeper had laid that days mail and papers at his desk and he began to shuffle through them discarding most to the wastebasket. He then noticed a magazine, which was not even addressed to him but delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article titled "The Needs of the Congo Mission".

Casually he began to read when he was suddenly consumed by these words: "The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one - one on whom, already, the Master's eyes have been cast - that he or she shall be called to this place to help us." Professor Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: "My search is over." He gave himself to the Congo.

That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer's mailbox. By chance he noticed the title. It leaped out at him. Chance? Nope. It was one of God's surprises.

This morning we focus on one of the greatest surprises that ever there was, the surprise that took place when an angel by the name of Gabriel appeared to a young teenager by the name of Mary. Gabriel piled one surprise upon another. Mary and Joseph's Christmas tree had more astonishing surprises than any couple on earth had ever experienced. Gabriel surprised Mary with the following:
 

1. "The Lord is with you, do not be afraid."
2. "You will conceive in your womb, and bear a son."
3. "He will be called the Son of God."
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"Survivor" is a reality tv game show that has proven to be one of the most successful franchises in television history. Starting in 1992 as the brainchild of a British tv producer, Survivor has spread throughout the world to play in over 50 countries as diverse as Chile and China.

If you've watched CBS' "Survivor" with its $1,000,000 prize, you notice how quickly the sixteen to twenty strangers separate out into two groups, no matter how many "tribes" there are. In one group are those who, in the face of the unexpected, meltdown, freeze, or fold. In the other group are those who cope, manage, and overcome when the unforeseen rears its head.

This difference in ability and mobility is less dependent on the facts, and far more dependent upon faith. All "Survivor" stories combine components of grace and good luck, grit and gumption. But at the very base of those who "survive" in the face of surprising challenges, are those who have faith. When it is just too hard to hang on, we need another we can hang on to.

First century Palestine was not a particularly progressive society. Jews and Gentiles, Jewish and pagan, iron-fisted Roman rulers and oppressed subjects lived in an uneasy, unequal social equilibrium. In the first century there were definite "haves" and "have-nots" - the "who's who" and "who's not" lists that circulated locally. Getting on one of these "who's not" lists had far more social, political, and even "Survivor" repercussions than any Christmas "naughty and nice" list.

In the 21st century it is hard for us to hear how the angel Gabriel's "good news" sounded to Mary. In the 21st century it is not a death sentence to receive a birth notice. It was then. That is exactly what Mary heard at that moment of angelic visitation...
 
Consider the Impossible

f impossibilities. Consider the impossibilities Mary faced in this story: She is a virgin and pregnant-she is having a child while she is a virgin. Impossible! No way! Won't happen! Joseph has to follow through on the marriage after he discovers Mary is pregnant. Impossible! Mary must avoid being stoned to death when the neighbors hear the news. Impossible!

Consider the impossibility Elizabeth faced. She was well past the childbearing age, and yet God says she is going to conceive and bear a child. This impossible news left old Zechariah speechless. Impossible! No way! Won't happen!

This is a story of biblical impossibilities. But, what are the impossibilities in our world? What would you label "impossible" in your life? Peace in our world. Impossible! No way! Won't happen! Christian values returning to our nation, morality becoming the norm? Impossible! Our church reaching our surrounding community and making our world different? Impossible! Restoring relationships, healing past hurts in our lives. A relative or friend entering a relationship with Christ. Breaking an addiction and overcoming past hurts and disappointments? Impossible!

We find ourselves with the same troubled mind as Mary, wondering over the impossible (v. 29). We even ask the same question Mary asked, "How will this be?" (v. 34). To us it seems impossible! No way! Won't happen! The real question for people today is "How can the impossible become possible?"

Dwight Gunter, The Possible Impossible
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Speaking of a New Order 

Men are strangely quiet in Luke's first chapter. Zechariah is silenced. Joseph says nothing at all. What is the gospel writer up to here? In the hush, our gaze is drawn toward two women-cousins who rush to greet each other, females with wombs filled by miraculous cavorting babies, and spirits set afire by the living God. Pure hysteria. I imagine that Plato would have cringed at the rampant emotionalism of it all. And it's just getting started, for after the raucous reunion, after the cousins bump their rounded tummies, the women start to prophesy. They start to talk about how the world ought to be. They make claims about what God wants of us. Their talk is full of typical irrational stuff: you know, tyrants being thrown down; hungry people getting food. They protest social inequalities. They speak of a new order.

Scott Black Johnston, Head of Household?
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Tranquility in the Midst of Turmoil

Two artists were commissioned to paint their conception of peace. A panel of distinguished judges would determine which artist had best captured the idea. The winner would get a rich commission. And after they had been painting for a long time, the judges assembled to view their work.

The first artist unveiled his painting, and there was a beautiful, magnificent pastoral scene, with a farmer coming in after a hard day in the fields. His wife was cooking, his children were playing around the hearth, and all was at peace in this tranquil and beautiful farm.

"That's it," said the judges, "but we'll look at the other rendering anyway." They removed the veil of the second painting. Instead of a tranquil, pastoral scene, there was a raging waterfall producing a mist which communicated hostility. But over on the side of the waterfall was a tiny branch of a tree growing out of a rock, and on the end of the branch was a bird's nest. And on the edge of the nest was a mother bird, singing her heart out in the midst of the turbulence around her. The judges thought for a moment, then said, "This is peace, tranquility and celebration in the midst of turmoil."

We need a little Christmas right now, but the little Christmas that we need is the courage that comes as the favor of God. We must remember that the Christian community has done its best when it has gone against the wind. William L. Self, Have I Got News for You!
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Expect Great Things 

British missionary William Carey's famous quote, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God" is very meaningful to those who have received a special challenge or calling from God. Like Mary and Joseph, we may be called on at any time to walk a path for Him that has rarely, if ever, been walked before. We must teach our family not to fear "surprises from heaven," but to face them faithfully and obediently.

Ken Blackwood, Surprises from Heaven
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God's Grace at Work

 Anne Lamott, author of the wonderful book Traveling Mercies tells of how in her church babies get passed around the moment they're brought into the sanctuary - everyone takes care of everyone else's babies. Every baby instantly has more parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles than he ever knew.

Imagine what that teaches children about Christian community! What they learn about love even as infants! For the adults everyone gets a chance to remember the miracle of birth, God's hand in our human being.  

If there is a heresy today it is that we're so preoccupied with other things that we fail to pay attention to the fact of God's spectacular grace at work in and through our humanity, God's miraculous unmerited love in evidence around us. God's Son born to bring us Second Birth while we labor under the assumption that we have to do it all ourselves.

Peter Buehler, With God Nothing Is Impossible
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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 causal 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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Trust and Humility 

Years ago, TIME magazine reported on a 2-foot-long, 40-pound package that arrived at the post office in Troy, Michigan, addressed to a Michael Achorn. The post office phoned Achorn's wife, Margaret, who cheerfully went to accept it. As she drove the package back to her office in Detroit, she began to worry. The box was from a well-known mail-order house, but the sender, Edward Achorn, was unknown to Margaret and her husband, despite the identical last name.

What if the thing was a bomb? Fearing the worse, Margaret telephoned postal authorities. The bomb squad soon arrived with eight squad cars and an armored truck. They took the suspected bomb in the armored truck to a remote tip of Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River. There they wrapped detonating cord around the package and, as they say in the bomb business, "opened it remotely."

When the debris settled, all that was left intact was the factory warranty for the contents: a $450 stereo AM-FM receiver and tape deck. Now the only mystery is who is Edward Achorn and why did he send Michael and Margaret such a nice Christmas present?

We live in a cynical age -- an age of terrorists and corporate charlatans. Who can talk of angels and humble maidens and divine revelation in the same breath to such a generation? Yet, on such a foundation does our faith rest.
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The Future of the World in the Hands of Girl 

"She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he'd been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. "You mustn't be afraid, Mary," he said. And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn't notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl."

Frederick Buechner
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Bring Peace 

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

Etty Hillesum, died in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29. From An Interrupted Life, a compilation of her diaries and letters.
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Humor: Mary vs. Eve 


One week a Sunday school teacher had just finished telling her class the Christmas story, how Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and how Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. After telling the story the teacher asked, "Who do you think the most important woman in the Bible is?" Of course, the teacher was expecting one of the kids to say, "Mary." But instead, a little boy raised his hand and said, "Eve." So the teacher asked him why he thought Eve was the most important woman in the Bible. And the little boy replied.  "Well, they named two days of the year after Eve. You know, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve."

 
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4.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

Dear Friend,

We live in a world of efficiency, where talent counts and where we are measured by what we can produce, what we can do, what we can deliver. In business, if we prove ourselves, we are acknowledged, rewarded, promoted, and given greater responsibility. While this is the norm in the business world, we have to be careful that this norm does not affect our relationships with people and more especially with God. God is no businessman! Faith is not merited and grace is a free gift. Yet we keep trying to merit, earn something from God, to do something for God.

Have a graced, gift-filled weekend! 

In the first reading we see David has plans to build a temple for God, so he tells the prophet of his plans to build a temple for God. But the prophet tells David that God does not want a temple. Why does God reject David’s plan? Firstly we cannot make God indebted to us. We cannot take the initiative with God. He is always in charge, He takes the initiative. Secondly, all through Israel’s history in the desert, God came to dwell with them in the tent of meeting. The tent was not a solid structure, it was a temporary dwelling place, the dwelling of the poor, of the traveller. God chose to accompany the Israelites in a tent, with the poor, through the poor. God is on the move and wishes us to move on and not settle down. We want to do things for God, but God rather wants to do things for us. Let Him build the house for us!

All for you Daddy!

The story goes that some time ago, a man punished his 3-year old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy." He was embarrassed by his earlier over reaction, but his anger flared again when he found the box was empty. He yelled at her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside it?" The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy, it is not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Daddy." The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged for her forgiveness. It is told that the man kept that gold box by his bed for years and whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there. 

Anonymous

The Gospel focuses on Mary, who becomes the new ark of the covenant, the new tent of meeting, the new dwelling place of God. Mary is great not because of what she did for God but because of what she allowed God to do for her and in her life. “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you! Mary is highly favoured not because she deserves it, not because she has earned God’s favour but precisely because God has chosen her! God does not look at our capabilities but our availability! God does not need our talents, He needs us! Mary is human and so she is surprised by the announcement that she is going to be the mother of Jesus. She asks: “How is this possible? How can this be?” We too sometimes ask: How can this be possible? I have done nothing to deserve this. We are so used to being chosen for our talents and capabilities that we think we have to earn and merit what we get from God. The angel assures Mary that what will happen is the work of grace, in and through the Spirit. With God the impossible becomes possible! Mary’s response is a “Yes” to God’s plan. We see then a contrast between David’s (our) plan for the way God should dwell with his people and Mary’s openness to God’s plan to dwell in her life. We cannot give God anything unless we have first received from Him. Love is an exchange of giving and receiving. What is important is that we receive first what God has to offer and only then can we meaningfully give in return. Christmas is a time of gift-giving. Henri Nouwen once wrote: “When someone accepts a gift, he admits another into his world and is ready to give him a place in his own being… Ultimately a gift becomes a gift only when it is accepted.” Have we accepted His gift?

What you did to the least

Tolstoy once told the story about an old cobbler, Martin, who dreamt that Christ was going to visit him. All day he waited and watched but nothing extraordinary seemed to be happening. While he waited he gave hospitality to one person who was cold, to another who needed reconciliation, to another who needed clothing. At the end of the day, he was disappointed that Christ had not come. That night he had another dream, and all those to whom he gave hospitality returned and a voice said, “Martin, do you not know me? I am Jesus. What you did to the least of these you did to me.

Receiving graciously is also a gift!

They tell of a man in a small town in South Dakota who tried to give some money back to the Social Security Administration, but could not. At age 65 the man retired from his work as a farm labourer and moved into town. His retirement house was extremely modest, sparsely furnished, and simply kept. Most could not manage on his meagre minimum security cheque. At the end of the first month of collecting on Social security, this humble man went to the bank with five dollars in cash and told the teller he wanted to return some money because the government had given him more than he needed. With that request he “blew everybody in the bank away.” They explained to him that he couldn’t do that, that the government could give out social security funds, but that there was no set-up programme for taking any of it back! There was no category for people who wanted to give any of their social security back to the government. Application: To receive something graciously from another is as much a gift as giving.

Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for all Seasons’

Praying my way

Some years ago I was sitting by the bed of an elderly lady who was very troubled because she couldn’t pray. I invited her to talk to me about it. She spoke at great length about how she kept falling asleep, how she was disappointed at not being able to complete a rosary, and how her mind wandered all over the place when she watched the mass on television, which was the only way of sharing in Eucharist within her limit at that time. I continued to encourage her to speak, as she told me how important prayer had always been in her life, and how it had sustained her throughout each day. She spoke of how good God had been to her, and how she felt ungrateful now through her inability to give him proper time and attention in her day. After listening for some time, I made a suggestion to her. I told her that what she said was beautiful and was, indeed, a prayer. I stood up from the chair, and I asked her to imagine that Jesus was now sitting in the chair. As I left the room, I asked her to keep talking to him just as she has spoken to me. Each day I called after that, I always had a smile, as she told how she spoke quietly to the chair even during her waking hours of the night, and how she was certain that Jesus was there.

Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel Truth!’

God’s House, God’s Housemaid

Three stonecutters were involved in building work. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “I’m breaking stones!” The second answered, “I’m earning a living!” The third exclaimed, “I’m building a house for God!” Like the third stone cutter, in today’s first reading King David desires to build God’s house. But, let’s ask: who really builds whose house? And ultimately, who is God’s perfect housemaid? The symbol of ‘house’ is significant in the first reading. Since he is living in a palace while the Ark of the Covenant rests in a tent, David tells Prophet Nathan of his desire to build God a house. However, God asks, seemingly sarcastically: “Are you the man to build me a house?” The Bible says that it was David’s son, Solomon – not David – who was chosen to build God’s house (see I King 5:2-5). Yet, reminding David of all the blessings he received, God promises, “The Lord will make you a House.”Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
God breaks into our lives!

Yesterday I watched a huge flight of geese winging their way south through one of those panoramic sunsets that colour the entire sky for a few moments. I saw them as I leaned against the lion statue in front of the Chicago Art Institute, where I was watching the Christmas shoppers hurry along Michigan Avenue. When I lowered my gaze, I noticed that a bag lady, standing a few feet away, had also been watching the geese. Our eyes met and we smiled –silently acknowledging the fact that we had shared a marvelous sight, a symbol of the mystery of the struggle to survive. I overheard the lady talking to herself as she shuffled away. Her words “God spoils me” were startling. Was the lady, this street derelict, being facetious? No. I believe the sight of the geese has shattered, however briefly, the harsh reality of her struggle. I realized later that moments such as this one sustained her; it was the way she survived the indignity of the street. Her smile was real. The sight of the geese was her Christmas present. It was proof God existed. It was all she needed. I envy her.

Fred Lloyd Cochran in ‘Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul’

Joy to the World

In the prologue to his book Joy, William Schutz tells how the birth of his son Ethan inspired him to write the book. Ethan begins his life by giving joy to his parents. The joy continues as Ethan sees, touches, tastes and hears things for the first time. But something happens to Ethan as it does to all of us. Somehow his joy diminishes with growth, never to return fully. Schutz wrote his book to help readers recapture some of this joy. Like Ethan, Jesus too begins his life by giving joy. Even before he is born his very presence brings joy to people. -Even when we cannot achieve our full human potential in some of those areas Schutz outlines, we can still experience a profound interior joy because Jesus is in our midst. The power of his presence enables us to endure any difficulty, transcend any trial or overcome any obstacle. His presence can bring peace where there is anxiety, sharing where there is selfishness and dreams where there is despair. Isaac Watts was right when he composed a Christmas carol entitled “Joy to the World!” Indeed, there is real joy in the world at Christmas time because the Lord is come. He is Emmanuel, God with us!

Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

May we discover the joy of welcoming Jesus into our lives!!