Christmas - Homilies and Stories

 Socrates taught for forty years, Plato for fifty, Aristotle for forty, and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ's three-year ministry infinitely transcends the im­pact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures; yet, some of the finest paintings of Raphel, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their in­spiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry; but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world's greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfec­tion of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratorios they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble carpenter of Nazareth. 
"His unique contribution to the human race  is the salvation of the soul. Philosophy could not accomplish that. Nor art. Nor literature. Nor music. Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead." 

The life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ are a standing rebuke to every form of pride to which men are liable.

Pride of birth and rank:—"Is not this the carpenter's son?"
Pride of wealth—"The Son of man hath no where to lay His head."
Pride of respectability—"Can any good come out of Nazareth?’
Pride of personal appearance—“He hath no form or comeliness.”
Pride of reputation—“A friend of Publicans and sinners.”
Pride of learning — "How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?"
Pride of superiority — "I am among you as He that serveth."
Pride of success — "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." "Neither did His brethren believe in Him." "He is despised and rejected of men."
Pride of ability — "I can of mine own self do nothing."
Pride of self-will — "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me."
Price of intellect — "As nay Father hath taught me I speak these things."
Pride in death — "He . . . became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
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From Sermons.com

Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) - "What Was Seen at Bethlehem"
Hebrews 1:1-4 - "No Time for a Sermon" by Leonard Sweet

I wonder what I would have heard had I been there that night. It is a question that annually haunts me. Would I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of barnyard animals shifting around? Would I have seen the star in the sky that night or simply two poor and very frightened kids? Would I have understood the hushed silence of the divine presence, or simply the chill of a cold east wind. Would I have understood the message of Emmanuel, God with us, or would the cosmic implications of that evening have passed me by?

I am convinced that had two people been there that night in Bethlehem it is quite possible that they could have heard and seen two entirely different scenes. I believe this because all of life is this way. God never presents himself in revelation in a manner in which we are forced to believe. We are always left with an option, for that is God's way. Thus, one person can say "It is a miracle, while another says "It is coincidence." 

Certainly very few people in Palestine saw and heard and understood what took place that night. The choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the haggling and trading going on in the Jerusalem bazaar. There was a bright star in the sky but the only ones apparently to pay any attention to it were pagan astrologers from the East. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own problems to offer any assistance.

In one of the All in the Family episodes that aired some years ago Edith and Archie are attending Edith's high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days. had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn't seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become. Later, when Edith and Archie and talking, she says in her whiny voices "Archie, ain't Buck a beautiful person." Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: "Your a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp. Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, "Yeah, ain't it too bad." 

Merry Christmas! 

Christmas Day is "No Time For A Sermon." 

No, it is not that there is no time for a sermon because the choir sang so many beautiful Christmas songs. It is not because there is no time for a sermon because it took so long to seat the "Christmas crowd." It is not because the critters in the "live" nativity scene got loose and ate all the Christmas cookies for coffee hour. 

The reason that on this Sunday, on Christmas Day, there is "no time for a sermon" is because on Christmas Day there is only time for each of us to discover "a silence in which another voice may speak" (Mary Oliver, "Praying"). Today is the time for us to FEEL the gift of Christmas from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes, not "hear" about it with our ears.

The gift of Christmas is something that sneaks up on us at unexpected moments. It may come in the wee hours of the morning after having spent a long night wrapping presents. It may come while we are waiting for a bus and are listening to "canned" Christmas music and watching our fellow commuters who are wearing way too much red and green. It may come when our child, or grandchild, or neighborhood kid, suddenly offers a small gift and a spontaneous snuggle, instead of a hurried "hi" and scuttling away.

Until we experience our "Christmas moment" the holiday is all about "to-do" lists, stress tests, credit limits, and on-line access. Until that "Christmas moment," we have been concerned with unemployment, skyrocketing grocery prices, troops coming home, and if the weather will turn freakish and spoil all our plans. Until we experience a true "Christmas moment," Christmas is crazy and chaotic.
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 God's Sign of Love 

A young girl ran away from home to get married. Her father was angry and said he would never forgive her or ever want to see her again. She was sorry and wrote long letters seeking forgiveness, but still the father remained unforgiving. She eventually had a son. One day, when the boy was old enough to run and play, an idea came to her. Why not send her son to her father. He would be a living letter telling her father of her love for him and that she still very much wanted his forgiveness.

They drove to grandfather's house. The boy had not been there before, but the house was as his mother remembered it. She told the boy to knock on the door. When Grandpa answered, he was to give him a big hug and a kiss. The boy went to the door, knocked, grandfather answered, the boy reached up, kissed him and give him a huge hug. His heart melted and the father motioned for the girl to come in as she was standing just a few feet from the door.

Reconciliation happened that day just as reconciliation happens this night between God and his children. Jesus is God's sign of his love for us and his power to forgive us our wrongs.

Tim Zingale, Christmas Colors

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Silent Night

The Army chaplain of the 106th Division was captured in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Along with many other Americans, he was herded on to a freight car and taken into the heart of Germany.

On the evening of December 23rd, the men were in the railroad yard of a German city, when a devastating attack was made by the British Royal Air Force. Many of the American prisoners were killed as well as many Germans. The next night, Christmas Eve, the air raid was repeated. When the planes began to fly over, there was fear and alarm among the prisoners who were packed like sardines into these freight cars. The chaplain persuaded the German officer in charge to let him go up and down the line of the cars and talk to the men. As he passed by he said, "Boys, this is Christmas Eve and we are in a tough spot. But, if you have your Bibles, get them out and read the story of the birth of Jesus and you will know that He is with us even here. If you can't read because of the darkness, then let's sing."
Immediately there was a medley of response. Some sang revival songs and some sang hymns. Then a rich baritone struck up "Silent Night, Holy Night," and he was joined by others. Carload after carload joined in singing that beautiful Christmas carol. Then something marvelous happened. Other voices, German voices, began to sing the song in the original "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht." The German voices and American voices blended together in praise of Christ who came to bring all people together in peace.

James D. Kegel, Christmas Peace
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God's Timing Is Perfect

Christopher Columbus, discouraged one day, walked by a monastery. He was thirsty, so he went in for a drink of water. An old monk sat with him and listened to how he wanted to go on an expedition to find another land. Bad timing? When the story was over, Christopher Columbus went on, but the old monk was a personal friend of Queen Isabella, and he was the one who convinced her to finance Columbus' expedition. Europe's discovery of America started with a drink of water in a monastery.

Abraham Lincoln was out in the back of his store one day, rummaging through an old barrel. As he finished, he reached down and felt a couple books in his hand. And he pulled them up and saw they were Blackstone's Commentaries. Something happened to Abraham Lincoln as he read those. He became a lawyer, and it totally changed his direction. He got into politics and became the President of the United States and healer of the wound of the Civil War. It all started with him rummaging in a barrel.
John Calvin was going down to Italy. War broke out and the road he was going to take was blockaded, so he went to Geneva. Bad timing? His time in Geneva made a change in his life that has changed many lives since.
George Whitfield was a bartender in England and couldn't get along with his sister-in-law, who owned the bar, so he left. Bad timing? Out of that experience he turned to God, went to Oxford, became part of the Holy Club with John Wesley and helped change England.

What I'm saying is this: God's timing is perfect and purposeful. We can trust Him and make the most of the opportunities He has given to us in His time.

Dwight Gunter, Time ___________________________

Gloria! Christ Is Our Own
 


It doesn't seem that long ago. It is as clear as yesterday. It was in the morning, 6:30, a Sunday morning, and I heard the patter of little feet. And the patter of the feet came into the kitchen, and it was dark in our kitchen except for the light above the kitchen table. I was putting the finishing touches on the Sunday sermon, and the little child came in half asleep, and he said to me, "Where's the scissors, Dad?" I gave him the scissors and he went over to where there was a chain which was made of paper, a paper chain link for each of the days of Advent, and he went and cut off the chain and he said, "Dad, one more day to Christmas!" And then that little boy got up into my lap, and he put his arms around my neck, and he just sat there and hugged me, for what seemed like five minutes of stillness and five minutes of love. And I put my arms around his little body and that child was my very own, my very own child, belonging to the world, belonging to my wife, belonging to his family, belonging to God, but also, belonging to me, my very own. And there was an inner glow of satisfaction deep within me.

And when you finally realize that Christ is your very own, not only for all the world, not only for all the shepherds, not only for all the angels, but when you realize that Christ is your very own, then there becomes a glow in your heart, and you begin to sing the Gloria.

Edward F. Markquart, Gloria!
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A Grown Up Christmas

Recently, I was in a department store doing some Christmas shopping. Christmas music was playing and I was getting into the spirit of it all... when suddenly I realized that I was singing along with Natalie Cole. Natalie and I were singing her new Christmas song. It's a big hit. It's called "My Grown-up Christmas List." Have you heard this? In the song, Natalie Cole reminisces about how when she was young, she sat on Santa's knee and told him about her childhood fantasies. And then she sings about how she's all grown up now, but she still has dreams... things she would like for Christmas, not just for herself but for our needy world. Then she sings her "Grown-up Christmas List." Here are the things she wants for Christmas now:
"No more lives torn apart
And wars will never start,
And time will heal all hearts.
Everyone will have a friend
And right will always win,
And love will never end.
This is my lifelong dream,
My Grown-up Christmas List."

Do you know what Natalie Cole is longing for in that song? She is longing for the peace of Christmas... and the place to find that is in the miracle of Bethlehem. When we go back to Bethlehem, we discover that real peace means being set right in all our relationships. It means being... right with God, right with ourselves, and right with other people. 

James W. Moore, Collected Sermons, Sermons.com
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 The Antidote to Fear

In a Peanuts cartoon, Linus tells Charlie Brown, "When I hear those coyotes howling at night, it totally depresses me. I start to feel lonely ... Then I get scared."
Charlie Brown says, "I thought holding onto that blanket made you secure."
Linus replies, "I think the warranty has run out."

Isn't that true for us? We fear life, we fear death, and everything in between. We are afraid of little things like a black cat crossing our path or spilled salt. Or, leaving our home at night lest we become a victim of crime. Or, the fear that floods our hearts as we wait for the doctor to
tell us if we have cancer. Or, the fear that startles us when the shrill sound of the telephone jolts us awake in the middle of the night.
The antidote to our fears is found in the coming of Christ into the world. The first words of Adam are "I was afraid." But the first words at the birth of Jesus are, "Don't be afraid."

Ian Chapman, Don't Be Afraid
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Christmas Turns Everything Upside Down


 A preacher tells of the time when a woman, her arms filled with Christmas presents, came out of a department store and bumped right into him. It was a good, solid bump, and all of her parcels dropped on the sidewalk. As he bent down to help her pick them up, she said, more to herself than anyone else, "Oh, I hate Christmas. It turns everything upside down." And so it
does. Christmas turns the world topsy-turvy because it is centered in a baby, and babies change everything! Just watch a doting grandmother or grandfather and you'll see how life is changed!

The Christ child is no exception. This child will change the world! This child is God's son, the one foretold by the prophets. As the gospel writer put it: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Ian Chapman, Don't Be Afraid 
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 A Gold Filled Box of Love 

We often learn the most from our children. There is an old story about a man who 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."

The father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction once he realized the gift was for him. He opened the gift, but his anger flared again when he found that 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 of it?"

 The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy it's 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 her forgiveness. He kept that gold box by his bed for years. Whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.  

In a very real sense, each of us has been given a gold container filled with unconditional love and kisses from God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God's "one and only Son," we have the access to eternal life.  

While there are those times when it seems as if He has left us to make it on our own, and there are those times when it appears as if we cannot go any further in life, there is no more precious possession anyone could hold than the gold box filled with the love of God.

 Don Emmitte

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From the Collection of Fr. Tony Kadavil:

Anecdotes

1) 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.

Introduction

We celebrate Christmas because it is the birthday of our God who became man and Savior to save us from our sins, a God who came to share His love with us and a God who came to live with us always as Emmanuel.

First of all, Christmas is the feast of God’s sending us a Savior. Jesus, the incarnation of God as man, came to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindu Scriptures describe ten incarnations of God, “to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large scale erosion of moral values.” (“Dharma samstaphanarthe sambhavami yuge yuge”- Bhagavathgeetha) But the Christian Scriptures teach only one incarnation, and its purpose is given in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that he sent His only Son so that every one who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.” We celebrate that Incarnation today as good news because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus atoned for our sins and liberated us from slavery to sin by His suffering, death and resurrection. Every Christmas reminds us that we still need this Savior to be reborn in our hearts and lives to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies.

Secondly, it is the feast of God’s sharing His love with us. Jesus as our Savior brought the “good news” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God who wants to save us through His Son Jesus and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God. Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our heavenly Father loves us, forgives us, and provides for us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty and that every time we do so, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this challenging question asked by Alexander Pope, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world, and He is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives today and every day and let us radiate his light around us as sharing and selfless love, in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.

Thirdly, Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel, i.e., God living with us and within us. Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is God-with-us, Emmanuel, who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as announced by the angel to Mary. The Christmas story tells us that there is a way out of our sinfulness and hopelessness, because God is with us. We are not alone. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Holy Bible, in the praying community and in each believer, as His Holy Spirit transforms us into the "Temples of the Holy Spirit.” Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to others around us by loving others as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others, Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, should be our best Christmas gift to others.

Exegesis

Life messages :

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!

Life Messages

Christmas is the feast of the Savior, the feast of Divine love and the feast of the Emmanuel

1) First, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sending us a Savior

The Incarnation of Jesus as God-man to save us from the bondage of sin.

a) The Hindu Scriptures describe ten incarnations of God “to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.”

b) But the Christian Scriptures teach only one Incarnation and its purpose is given in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that he sent His only Son so that every one who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.”

We celebrate the Incarnation today as good news because we have a Divine Savior.

a) As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin by his suffering, death and resurrection, and he atoned for our sins.

b) Every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. 

2) Secondly, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sharing His love with us

a) Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “good news” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God.

b) Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our heavenly Father loves us, forgives us, and provides for us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross.

c) Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty and every time we do that, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this question, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?”(Alexander Pope)

d) Let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives every day as sharing and selfless love, expressed in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.

3) Thirdly, Christmas is the Feast of the Emmanuel (God living with us and within us)

Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is a God who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as the “Emmanuel” announced by the angel to Mary.

a) As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Bible, in the praying community and in each believer as His Holy Spirit transforms us into “Temples of the Holy Spirit.”

b) Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to those around us by loving them as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is to be our best Christmas gift today.