Christmas: Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ - Year C - 2


John Littleton
Gospel Reflection
Christmas has finally Come. We rejoice that the Word has become flesh, that God the Son has become human while remaining divine. There is no more waiting because the Messiah has arrived and now is the time liberation from our enslavement to sin. But this is n surprising since, in the Hebrew Scriptures ( Christians call the Old Testament), this arrival had b prophesied for many centuries before the birth of Christ.
The prophets taught that God would intervene dramatically in human history, redeeming his people by defeating the power of sin, thereby bringing an end to oppression and injustice (which are some of the consequences of sin), and by establishing freedom, peace and happiness. God would send the Saviour to rescue his people from their long-lasting trials and tribulations. As a result, the world and human life would never again be the same.

In Isaiah’s words the prophecy was definite: ‘For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end’ (Isaiah 9:5-7). This particular prophecy is one of the most important messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The prophecy was fulfilled at the Incarnation and the birth of Jesus. He is the ‘Son of the Most High’ (Luke 1:32) who was destined to be the Saviour of the world. He is the light that came into the world casting away the darkness of sin and cancelling human 5trangement from God (see John 1:9).

We are the descendants, both historically and spiritually of the many generations of people who ‘walked in darkness’ (Isaiah 9:1) for centuries as they waited and prepared for the Messiah’s arrival. Sadly, we become lost in spiritual darkness whenever our lives are sinful. Our challenge at Christmas is to abandon sin and invite the light of Christ to shine in our lives.

When, with the light of God’s grace, we overcome the darkness of sin, we are able to contribute to the ending of oppression and injustice in our world. That is what Jesus meant when, during his public ministry
thirty years after his birth, he advised his disciples: ‘Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well’ (Matthew 6:33). Yet there is much disharmony and violence in our world. This is because countless numbers of people have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah and have not responded to his life- giving and redemptive message.

Christmas is a time for both giving and receiving gifts. The greatest gift that God gives us is sending his only Son among us to redeem us from the effects of sin. Christmas celebrates the reality that God is with us uniquely in and through Jesus Christ.

We are encouraged at Christmas to renew our hope in God because he has intervened spectacularly in history, particularly by becoming human, to save us from sin and death. Christmas is about life and light — the life offered us in Christ and his light which destroys the spiritual darkness of sin. We rejoice and are glad that he lives among us. 

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's 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... 

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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments 

This well-known story is very rich so we will focus on some aspects only, staying with Mary’s perspective, especially in verses 6 to 7, and 16 to 20.

In verses 6 and 7 Luke tells us that Mary gave birth “when the time came for her to have her child.” Contrary to the popular interpretation, he indicates no regret that there was no room in the inn. All happened as was foretold.

To understand the significance of verse 19, it is important to note that the Greek word which we translate as “things” is rhema, which means both “word” and “event”. Mary, through her interior attitude of respectful listening, turns the event into a sacred word.
 
Thomas O’Loughlin 
Homily Notes

Christmas Vigil Mass: 

1. The homily today always seems to be inadequate: the festival is bubbling over with symbols of the season (holly, ivy, ‘Santa, and what not) and with people’s heightened emotions on the big day. Moreover, the mystery that one has to speak about is so much more than anything capable of being put into words that anything actually said seems paltry and trite. Yet the day still needs a word. l’he day needs to have its focus drawn to the mind as well as to the senses. And, there may be many there in the assembly today who will never hear the word from one end of the year to the other, and to them alone is owed the duty of preaching. The task is to take the theme of God-with-us and present it in such a way that (1) the homily can be followed using a framework already fa­miliar to the audience; (2) that seems appropriately seasonal; and (3) that has a certain lightness suited to holiday time.
2. Here is a strategy that can produce a short homily that is easy to follow. The individuals who make up the congregation are asked to imagine where they stand in the array of people that are mentioned in the Bethlehem scene.
3. Do you imagine yourself as one of the people inside the inn?
For this group the birth of Jesus is an irrelevance: it does not touch them and they show no interest. To them it was just an external knock on the door, and they just kept going on with what they were doing. Then as now, this is the majority of people.

4. Do you place yourself among the shepherds? Here are peo­ple who are open to wonder. They can accept good news. They are people who are already part of a faith tradition, they shared the practices, hopes, and fears of the people, but were also ready to respond with faith to the voice of God.
5. Do you imagine yourself as one of the wise ones, the kings, who came from the east? These are people who are dedicated to searching out the great human questions, but they are not just engaged in idle speculation: they set out and searched for the truth. They listened to the promptings of conscience; they did not come empty handed. These are dedicated searchers after the truth and conscientious doers of the good. All their talents they are placing in the service of God-with­us.
6. Do you imagine yourself like Joseph: caring for the welfare of the church, working in the community, taking on special re­sponsibilities towards the Word made flesh. He is helping to make the good news known, and prepared to response to the inner call of vocation.
7. Do you imagine yourself as sharing in the vocation of Mary? She first brought the Anointed One into the world; but it is through us that Jesus enters our world.
8. We are all at the birth scene: each of us is called upon to fulfill all these vocations in varying ways.

Christmas Day Mass 

1. The homily today has to be simple, snappy, and seasonal.
The reason for this is obvious: there are many in the gather­ing who are not frequent diners at the eucharistic table, and for virtually everyone there are lots of other things going through their minds such as what’s going to happen at lunch, keeping an eye on children with new toys, or how not to get annoyed with the in-laws.
2. So the homily has to have the inclusiveness of a ‘Thought for the Day’ on the radio, yet adequately identify the Christian solemnity we are celebrating. One way to do this is to focus on the Christ as the Prince of Peace.
3. Look at the coming of the Son of God: not in a show of force but in simplicity and poverty.
4. The majesty of God makes itself felt by sharing human weak­ness, limitation and suffering, not by making humans feel his majesty and power.
5. Fear and threats are marks of human relations at every level; the message of the angels to the shepherds is peace on earth, good will to men and women.
6. We celebrate the Prince of Peace. Are we willing to adopt the way of peace ourselves?
We seek security and justice. Are we brave enough to be peacemakers?
7. We are celebrating God sharing his life with us in Jesus; we have gathered for the Lord to share his table with us; are we willing to share our lives and tables and riches with others: for that is how peace and justice are established? 

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Prayer Reflection

“Nothing happens before its time.” Trinidadian saying
Lord, we pray for those who are involved in lofty projects and are becoming impatient:
* parish youth leaders who are not getting co-operation;
* a new party that has won no seats in the elections;
* parents who are trying in vain to dialogue with their teenagers.
Help them to remember Mary and how when the time came
For her to have her child she gave birth to a son.
She was agt peace, felt no great concern that there was no room for them in the inn,
Merely wrapped her child in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.

Lord, these days we are all very busy.
At work or in school we have to expend much effort to achieve success.
At home we are bombarded with information from television and radio.
We have time only for the sensational
and we allow the ordinary events of life to come and go:
• the signs of maturity in our children;
• the life crises of those close to us;
• new stirrings of resentment or of hope among ordinary people in our country.
Even in our relationship with you we concentrate on the miraculous
and the extraordinary, glorify and praise you
because things turn out exactly as we were told they would.
Mary teaches us on the contrary to see in every event a call to grow,
a sacred word you speak to us,
to be welcomed as a treasure and pondered in our hearts,
reflected on and integrated into our consciousness.
Lord, help us to be more like Mary.

My cell will not be one of stone or wood, but of self-knowledge.” St Catherine of Siena
Lord, we thank you for all the contemplatives in the world,
those in enclosed convents, and those called, like Mary,
to live in their families and in secular surroundings.
While others chatter and repeat endlessly what they have been told,
these, like Mary, know  how to be silent,
treasuring things and pondering them in their hearts. 

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ILLUSTRATIONS 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the good news of Christmas.

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

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

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

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

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!"
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas. . . perhaps. . means a little bit more!"

Dr. Suess
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The Christian Gospel in a Nutshell 

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

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

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

Charles H. Bayer, When It Is Dark Enough, CSS Publishing Company

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Humor: Hanging Lights for Christmas 

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

 Abnormal birth: After explaining childbirth the biology teacher asked her 4th graders to write an essay on "childbirth" in their families. Susan went home and asked her mother how she was born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “A big white swan brought you darling, and left you on our doorstep.” Continuing her research she asked grandma how her parents got her. Being in the middle of something, her grandma similarly deflected the question by saying, “A fairy brought me and my mother found me in our garden in an open box”. Then the girl went and asked her great-grandmother how her parents got her as a baby. “My mother picked me from a box found in the gooseberry bush”, said the surprised great-grandma. With this information the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, "I really wonder why there was not even a single natural birth in our family for four generations..." (Rev. Fairchild). Today the words of Isaiah tell us of another non-normal birth. It’s a non-normal birth never before seen or experienced because it is the birth of God as man – Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, as our Savior.

 

 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!
******
At the outset let me express my sincere and prayerful wishes of the Nativity of the Lord. May the promises of hope, joy, peace, love of his birth be fulfilled in each of us now and always.
it happened during the carol service. A young lad dressed like a Santa Claus and accompanied us. When the carols are sung he would dance and entertain the household and finally would distribute sweets to all. It so happened that in a house he was dancing very well. A little child who was looking at the Santa Claus was smiling and trying to imitate the steps. When we were about to leave the Santa Claus asked for a glass of water. The mother of the house extended a glass. The boy removed his Santa mask to drink water. As soon as he removed the mask, the little child, who was smiling and dancing started crying and went to hide behind its mother. The mask made him laugh. The unmasking made him cry. It happens in our relationships too. People tend to like us or we tend to like them not for what they are but for the masks they were. The humble birth of Jesus brings to us the face of God. In Jesus there was no mask. That is why people were afraid to take him in – in their inn and in their hearts.

If I were to summarize the Christmas I will say, ‘today God imprinted his footsteps amidst our midst’.

It was a snow Evening in Ireland. In a countryside a mistress of the house who was sipping her hot evening tea heard her calling bell rung. He looked through the peephole and there seemed to have nobody. She returned to her tea. Again she heard the door bell. She opened to see who was there. No one was there. She came out to see whether anybody was playing around. She saw a little boy and a little girl leaning against the wall. Looking at them she could sense that they were very poor. She asked them, ‘what do you want?’ The little boy said, ‘we want some old newspapers’. The lady asked, ‘why?’ The boy replied, ‘it is very cold and snowing. If we have newspapers we would put inside our dresses and shoes and we would warm ourselves’. The lady took them in and made them sit in the sofa. What the boy said was true that the newspaper that the boy had in his slippers already was wet and yielding. The lady brought for them tea. Taking the tea in his little hands, the boy asked the lady, ‘Madam, are you rich?’ The lady was wonderstruck, ‘Why? Why are you asking that?’ The boy replied, ‘the cup and the saucer are in the same color. My mother used to tell me that only in the houses of the rich people it will be so’. The lady was moved by the reply. She rushed to bring them some dresses and shoes of her own children. After sending the little boy and the little girl out the lady came to the sofa where they were sitting. She took the cup and saucer in hand and observed for the first time that they were of the same color. She thought how she failed to realize her own richness. More often than not she was grumbling over what was lacking in her. And she never seemed to have realized the true worth of her. Under the sofa she saw the wet footprints of that little boy and girl. She preserved those wet newspaper footprints that made her realize how rich she was.

The footprints of a little baby 2000 years ago in Bethlehem remind us this too, ‘how rich we are!’ Saint Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The footprints of Jesus assure us of his rootedness in our human realities. To the people who walked in darkness and did not know to find the way Isaiah proclaimed the feet of the Lord who would guide them. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). Not only at the birth but also at his life and ministry Jesus was leaving the footprints. ‘A woman caught in adultery falls on his feet’ (Lk 7:38). Looking at the abundance of fish the disciples fall on his feet (Mk 5:22). John the Baptist tells that he is not worthy to touch the sandals of Jesus (Jn 1:27). The leader of the synagogue falls on Jesus and pleads for a miracle (Mk 5:33). Zachariah in his song praises God telling that, ‘a dawn comes from heaven’ (Lk 1:79). Towards the end of his life Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and commands them to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14).

Jesus marked his footprints today. It shows us his presence with us. Let us ask today, ‘how many people have left their footprints in the shore of our life? Let us be grateful to them. Let us leave a footprint in the lives of others. Christmas teaches us to get rooted in our lives. Only rootedness of a tree makes the openness possible. Let us get rooted in life – in its fragility, splendor, joy and pain. The footprints of Jesus smashed all kinds of divisions and alienations – sacred and secular, male and female, rich and poor, heaven and earth’. Let us raise up to that oneness.

He smiles our smiles.
He weeps our tears.
He is God Immanuel.
He is God with us.
He is now.
He is here.
Let us keep his footprints alive.