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Epiphany 2018


Story: A husband asked his wife, "Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?" She replied, "Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions."

"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild the nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart." So wrote Howard Thurman.
  

More from last year’s post: 

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From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from -- in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi -- non-believers in the eyes of Israel -- possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:

  • gold is a gift fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority;
  • frankincense is a gift fitting for a priest, one who offers sacrifice (frankincense was an aromatic perfume sprinkled on the animals sacrificed in the Temple);
  • myrrh is a fitting “gift” for someone who is to die (myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial).
HOMILY POINTS:

Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion. 

‘Into the Woods’

In the Broadway musical Into the Woods, composer Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine recast the familiar stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and an original tale about a baker and his wife who are childless.  In the beginning of the story, all of the characters express their wishes for happiness: a handsome prince, a warm home and enough to eat, a child to love.  But in order to realize those dreams, the characters have to travel “into the woods” to confront the wolves and witches and giants and charlatans that thwart their dreams.

In their journeys through the woods, the characters discover that life is not a fairy tale: some characters die; others see their fairy tale lives disintegrate.  No one is particularly happy.  They discover that the line between dreams and nightmares is a fine one.  They realize that the real monsters we must defeat are selfishness and greed, that the most potent spells we have to break are fear and self-deception.

The woods is a dangerous place, the company learns, but the way of happiness is marked by humility and generosity.  As one of the characters sings at the end, wishes come true — not free.

The Epiphany Gospel recounts a similar journey: like the fairy tale characters seeking “happily ever after” in their trek ‘Into the Woods,’ the magi set out to find the Messiah-King the world longed for.  Every human life is a journey: in our journeys through the time God has given us, we seek signs of God in our midst; we seek happiness that is authentic and real.  In the end, we come to realize that it is love in all its joy and sorrow, in all its demands and gifts, that make us real and whole human beings.  In encountering the Christ, the magi behold the love of God in their midst (a love that the self-absorbed Herod cannot see); in taking on the monsters and witches within themselves, Cinderella and Jack and company conquer the dangers of the “woods” and begin to live lives of true happiness and meaning.  May our encounter with Christ — in the Sunday gospels of this new year, in our everyday lives of both struggle and grace — be a constant epiphany of re-creating and transforming our lives in the love of Emmanuel, “God with us.”  

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Fr. Jude Botelho: 

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah reminds the Jews that salvation is for all peoples. It is true that the Messiah would be born of David’s stock. It is true that the light had shone on them and their eyes were opened to see the Lord, but this light would shine in the darkness, for all the people who lived in the darkness. At the sight of the light, all peoples, even those living in the farthest regions of the world, would flock to Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents the Church. We know that the regions of darkness represent all those who live in the darkness of ignorance. We often create our own darkness, when we believe that we can see even when we cannot do so. We cannot come to Christ unless God moves us. It is always God who takes the initiative and faith is an invitation, not an acquisition by our own efforts.

The Quest

Once upon a time, in a far off land deep in shadow, there lived two orphans who were very unhappy living in shadowland. One day they decided to leave their homeland and journey beyond the grey mountains until they would come face to face with the light that makes colours. So while the rest of the country was fast asleep in their grey beds, they packed their few belongings in a knapsack and set off on their quest to discover the light and bring it back to shadowland. – Most of the stories we remember from our own childhood are stories of quests where the hero leaves the world of the familiar and sets out for an unknown country in search of something special or someone special. Many of our great religious stories follow the same pattern. Does our faith journey lead us on such a quest?

Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Word’

In the Gospel we realize that the prophecy of Isaiah started being fulfilled when the star led the wise men to the new born king. The gospel does not tell us which country the wise men came from, how many they were, nor their names. God in his goodness caused a star to appear in the sky, a sign which the wise men understood, as a sign to let them know that the Saviour of the world was born. Though the star guided them, the wise men had to still search for the new born king. They thought that Jerusalem was the obvious place for the king of the Jews to be born, but on reaching there, the star disappeared as though signaling that they were looking in the wrong place. The wise men are like so many of us looking for God led by our own expectations, often leading us to wrong places and disappointments. We have to ask for help as the wise men did, as we cannot manage the faith journey on our own. Only when Herod sent them on the way to Bethlehem the star reappeared and led them to the birthplace of Jesus, ‘and the sight filled them with great joy.’ They had put in their human efforts to seek the Lord and now their eyes are opened with enlightenment. Though they saw just a helpless babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, they recognized him as the Saviour of the world. It is easy to get bogged down with things not being the way we expect them to be. It is only the light of faith that helps us to see what God wants to reveal to us. When the wise men recognized the child, worshipped him and offered him the gifts they had brought for the king. We cannot approach God empty-handed, even the simplest of offerings, is acceptable to God and in return we ourselves are doubly blessed. Like the Magi, when we have this vision of God, we ourselves are changed, we are blessed and we can no more return to the same way of life. The gospel narrative tells us that the wise men, being warned in a dream returned by another way back home.

Christmas Presence

I have always been a less than adequate speller. Practice and learning phonics with my children has aided in my improvement, but sometimes I still get it wrong.  And, it can be in the most embarrassing ways. Several years ago, I had planned the family Christmas to be celebrated in my home.  I had even mailed formal invitations to each family member. They read as follows: “The honor of your present, is requested on December 25th, to a family celebration of Christmas, at five o'clock in the evening.” I didn't catch my mistake, but my entire family did.  Being the good-humored bunch that they are and loving a practical joke, they all became conspirators. Christmas evening, at exactly five o'clock, my doorbell rang.  Putting on my best holiday smile and producing my warmest "Merry Christmas" I opened the door. My salutation was caught in midair when, instead of family faces, I was greeted to an enlarged copy of my invitation with the word "presents" highlighted, and all the gifts everyone had planned to bring stacked neatly on my doorstep.  No one was in sight.  Realizing I had been "had", I collected the presents, brought them inside and closed the door. I rushed to my bedroom, found a sheet of poster paper and wrote in large letters, "Thank you for your presents, I do hope you come again next year!", highlighting the word "presents".  Then I taped it to my front door and waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally I relented and opened the door and collected relatives from behind, bushes, trees, shrubs and cars.  We laughed and cajoled.  After dinner, as is tradition in our home, the oldest grandchild there reads the Christmas story from Luke's account.  We pray, thanking God for the prior year's blessings and then begin opening the gifts. When the wrapping paper was put away and children bustled around in the den with new toys, the adults nibbled on dessert.  This is the time when conversation generally gives way to introspection. Watching our children play, my brother-in-law sighed, "How often do we want God's presents more than His presence?" Everyone smiled.

Lissa Lee Joseph Donders in ‘With Hearts on Fire’

Adventurers
When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refuelling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our scepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man.

Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Star of Bethlehem

Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, the star of Bethlehem.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

Angel at work?

The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine’s light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery. At the base of the engine’s head lamp the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw the “flagman” in the beam, seconds before the train was due to reach the washed-out bridge. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, “I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.” No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlight’s beam was not an angel…and yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed.

Billy Graham from ‘Unto the Hills’

May we find God in all things and see all things in God! 

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From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     The tale of the star:

Eusebius, a scholarly church historian of the early fourth century, evidently made a considerable study of the literature available to him, and came to this conclusion about the star: "The star was new and a stranger among the usual lights of heaven, a strange star, not one of the many known stars, but being new and fresh." A recent writer, Robert McIver, has spent 3 decades researching this subject. In his book, Star of Bethlehem - Star of Messiah, published 1998, he cites star records from ancient Chinese and Korean astronomers who both noted such an unusual new star about the time of Christ’s birth. He also discusses paintings in the Roman catacombs, as well as coins from various countries which depict an unusual star about this time. He even notes possible interpretations, but it is at least an interesting coincidence, if nothing else, that such indications of an unusual new star at about the time of Christ’s birth can be found all over the world. (SOURCE: "When They Saw The Star" by Henry M. Morris). 

2.     Every December, Mrs. Diane Bartosik  

wears a little golden pin on her United Airlines uniform. It’s a beautiful pin depicting the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. In her work as a flight attendant, people will sometimes comment on the beauty of the pin. She uses those situations as opportunities to be a witness for Christ. She wore that little pin on her flight to Los Angeles this past week. She came to one seat, where there were two young girls, seven and ten years old. The seven year old said, "That’s a pretty pin." Diane responded, "Do you know what the pin means?" They both looked carefully at the three men on camels following a star . . . . and then said, "No." They didn’t know what it signified. Then Diane explained, "It’s the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus." "Do you know that story?" They both said, "No". They had never heard it before. Over the next few hours as they flew across the Pacific, many people commented on the beautiful pin; but to Diane’s amazement, not a single one seemed to understand or at least did not acknowledge that they understood what it symbolized. Throughout the flight, people were attracted to the glitter of the pin --- but in every case, the people Diane met were either indifferent to its meaning, or did not understand its meaning, or in one case a mother did not want her little six-year-old son to even hear the story of the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Wise men. 

3.     Epiphany of a pilot:  

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft's electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter's position and course to steer it to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter's window. The pilot's sign said "Where am I?" in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said "You are in a helicopter." The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the "You are in a helicopter" sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded "I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer." 

       4: “Because you never know what’s going to happen next!”
 
A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next!” The same element of suspense and discovery marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next. When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and curiosity. The magi- astrologers described in today’s Gospel had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided over by a mad king like Herod, in search of a Divine child. But their great Faith, curiosity, and adventurous spirit enabled them to discover the secret of the whole universe – the secret of God’s incredible love for His people – because the Child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of the school students and the Faith and adventurousness of the magi so that we may discover the "epiphany" of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere. (adapted from Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

           5: Artaban the fourth Wise Man:
 
In 1895, Henry van Dyke wrote the story, The Other Wise Man," telling of a fourth wise man called Artaban. Our hero is not mentioned in the Gospel because he missed the caravan. He got to Bethlehem too late to see the Baby Jesus. But Artaban did make it in time to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier. For 33 years Artaban searched for Jesus. He did not find Jesus, but all the while the Fourth wise man fed the hungry and helped the poor. Then one day in Jerusalem Artaban saw the "King of the Jews" being crucified. He started to offer a pearl as ransom. But then he saw a girl being sold into slavery to pay family debts. Artaban gave his pearl to buy freedom for the girl. Suddenly the earth quaked as Jesus died on the cross and a stone struck Artaban. Dying, he heard a Voice saying: "When you helped the least of my children, you helped me. Meet me in Heaven!" Artaban, the fourth Wise Man, had been making God present in his community for years by helping others. God asks each of us on the feast of Epiphany to be a fourth Wise Man by becoming Gods epiphanies, making His love present in the world around us by our acts of love and kindness.

              6: A woman among the Magi?
 
Renowned Gospel of Matthew professor, Dominican friar and priest, Rev. Benedict Thomas Viviano has a new Biblical theory that may change nativity scenes across the globe: there was one Wise Woman (or more) among the Wise Men. (https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/17405/viviano_writes_about_a_woman_magi). Viviano’s original theory was published in 2011 in Studies of Matthew by Leuven University Press. It’s “perfectly plausible” that Matthew would have understood the magi as some sort of Eastern sages, he said. “On the other hand, the masculine plural magoi does not close the question of gender. … The main reason to think of the presence of one or more women among the magi is the background story of the queen of Sheba, with her quest for Israelite royal wisdom, her reverent awe, and her three gifts fit for a king,” Viviano suggested. His second reason to suspect the presence of the feminine is the Israelite tradition of personifying wisdom as a woman, he said (Proverbs 8:22-30; 9:1-6; Book of Sirach, 24). Viviano’s third argument for his female-among-the-magi cause is that Matthew’s Gospel later characterizes Jesus as embodying wisdom, which Jewish literature considers female and even terms Lady Wisdom. The passages he refers to are Matthew, Chapter 11:19 and 25-30. What difference would it have made if there had been a woman among the magi? A women’s magazine says:  They would have come before the birth of Jesus, brought provisions for the child and his mother and the woman would have served as a midwife!

             7: "I want the big cow!":
It was an excited little girl who told me this story. The first two wise men got down from their camels and offered their precious gifts to the Baby. He declined them. When the Baby Jesus declined the gift of the third of the also, the exasperated wise man asked, "Then what do you want?" The Child Jesus answered quickly and with a warm smile, "Your big cow!"

          8: Three Wise Women:
 
While they were talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest, this question, "Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?" When he professed his ignorance, she told him: "God knows men are too proud to ask directions. If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts!”

Additional Anecdotes from Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) The wise men:
 
There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legends, that star is there to this day and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It's a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside. There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthazar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that, after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life, and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way. The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don't need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well -- kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder. I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time....

2) Epiphany of adventurers:
 
When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept, tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. It was no different at the time of the Magi in todays Gospel story. To the cynical observer, the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country ruled by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of Faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe the secret of Gods incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

3) My Star:
 
Consider the true story of a young man named Tony. He travelled all over the world, appearing widely on stage and on television as a drummer in a world-famous music group. Then one day Tony felt called to the priesthood. When he resigned from the music group to enter a seminary, some people thought him to be a fool. The story could end here. And if it did, some would consider it to be a sad story. It would be the story of a young man who let a dream slip through his fingers. But the story doesnt end here. Tonys now a priest in the diocese of Dallas. And hes tremendously happy. Jesus will someday say to him what he said to Artaban: Youve been helping me all your life, Tony. What you did for your Parishioners, you did for me. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies). 

4) An epiphany in the airport.
 
We spot what looks like a family a mom, a dad, and three teenage daughters. The girls and their mom are each holding a bouquet of roses. We are wondering what the story is. Whom are they expecting? The dad keeps looking at his watch. The mom keeps turning her head to make sure she hears each airport announcement. Finally the door opens. First come the "rushers"--men and women in suits with briefcases and bags over their shoulders, rushing towards phones, bathrooms, and their cars or rent-a-cars. We're still wondering and watching to learn whom this family we've been studying is there to meet. Then out come a young Marine, his wife, and their obviously brand-new baby. The three girls run to the couple and the baby. Then Mom. Dad. Hugs. Kisses. Embraces. "OOPS! The flowers!" But the baby is the center of attention. Each member of the family gets closer and closer to the mother and each opens the bundle in pink to have a first peek at this new life on the planet. We're seeing it from a distance. It's better than the evening news. Then we notice several other smiling people also watching the same scene. There are many other hugging scenes, people meeting people, but this is the big one. We're smiling too. A tear of joy. What wonderful moment we are photographing into our memory. We're thinking, "Family! Children! Grandchildren!" This is what life is all about. We're experiencing an epiphany. Life is filled with them. Praise God!

5) O Henrys story of real love through sacrificial sharing:
 
Gift of the Magi:   (A summarized version):   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 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 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 husbands 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 knew 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.  (Given in my Christmas homily notes).
6) The true epiphany:
 
A rabbi put the following question to his disciples, "How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?" One student replied, "When from a distance you can distinguish between a sheep and a dog." "No," said the rabbi. Another student quickly offered, "When you can tell a fig tree from a grapevine." "No," repeated the rabbi. "Then tell us, please," asked the students. Replied the rabbi, "Darkness ends and day begins when you can look into the faces of all other human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters."

 7) Run away to return:
 
John Thomas Randolph offers this modern story of running and returning to illustrate our Lord's circumstances. Here is the difference between cowardice and heroism. The coward runs away and stays away. The hero runs away but he always returns at the appropriate time. I have a biography of General Douglas MacArthur that was written by Bob Considine. The picture on the front cover shows the general standing like a boulder, looking off into the distance, with that famous corncob pipe in his mouth. You can almost hear him telling the people of the Philippines, "I came through and I shall return." Ordered to make a strategic withdrawal, his promise to return became the rallying cry for a whole country. MacArthur had to "run away" for a while, but he would "return" and it was the returning that mattered most. Jesus ran away into Egypt, but he returned! All of our running away, as Christians, should be with the ultimate goal of returning. Why do we run away? When I look at my own experience, I find that I usually run away for one of three reasons: I am frightened ; I am fatigued; or I am frustrated. Isn't that why you run away too?
8) "I hope it will identify me with the Gospel that I preach."

In October, 1989, a new star was added to the 1900 stars on the famed sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. The new star was placed near the stars of Julie Andrews and Wayne Newton. The new star, as curious as it seems, was evangelist Billy Graham, who has preached the Gospel to more than 100 million people around the world. Forty years ago he refused to have his name on a star, but he reconsidered it in 1989. He said, "I hope it will identify me with the Gospel that I preach." At the unveiling he added, "We should put our eyes on the star, which is the Lord."
9) Epiphany of a protecting God:
 
The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engines light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery At the base of the engines head lamp the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw again the flagman he had seen in the beam, seconds before the train was due to reach the washed-out bridge. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, Im sure it was no accident. It was Gods way of protecting us. No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlights beam was not an angeland yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed. (Billy Graham from Unto the Hills) 

10) The Star:
 
In Arthur C. Clarkes short story, The Star, we read about a Jesuit astrophysicist who makes a space trip with other scientists to a distant galaxy called the Phoenix Nebula. There they chance upon a solitary planet still orbiting the remnant of a central sun, which had exploded thousands of years ago. The explorers land their spacecraft on this planet and examine the scorched surface caused by that cosmic detonation. They discover a melted-down monolithic marker at the entrance of a great vault in which they find the carefully stored treasures and records of an advanced civilization. On their return trip to earth in our own galaxy, the Jesuit astrophysicist calculates the exact time when the light from this cosmic explosion in the Phoenix Nebula reached earth. It was the date of Christs birth when the light from that fire was seen as a bright new star appearing in the East. But now that he had solved an ancient mystery, he had a greater mystery to grapple with. How could a loving God allow a whole planet of intelligent being to be given a galactic conflagration, so that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem at his Sons birth? This science-fiction story about the star of Bethlehem has its source in todays Gospel. Mathews narration of the Magi uses the star as its central symbol. From its rising in the East to its coming to a standstill over Bethlehem, the star leads and guides the astrologers. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds). 

11) The night the stars fell:
 
One summer night in a seaside cottage, a small boy felt himself lifted from bed. Dazed with sleep, he heard his mother murmur about the lateness of the hour, heard his father laugh. Then he was borne in his father’s arms, with the swiftness of a dream, down the porch steps, out onto the beach. Overhead the sky blazed with stars. “Watch!” his father said. And incredibly, as he spoke, one of the stars moved. In a streak of golden fire, it flashed across the astonished heavens. And before the wonder of this could fade, another star leaped from its place, and then another, plunging toward the restless sea. “What is it?” the child whispered. “Shooting stars,” his father said. “They come every year on certain nights in August. I thought you’d like to see the show.” That was all: just an unexpected glimpse of something haunting and mysterious and beautiful. But, back in bed, the child stared for a long time into the dark, rapt with the knowledge that all around the quiet house the night was full of the silent music of the falling stars. Decades have passed, but I remember that night still, because I was the fortunate seven-year-old whose father believed that a new experience was more important for a small boy than an unbroken night’s sleep. No doubt in my childhood I had the usual quota of playthings, but these are forgotten now. What I remember is the night the stars fell …(Arthur Gordon from A Touch of Wonder).

12) A new Magi story:
 
In this story the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior, were thee different ages.  Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle-aged man and Melchior an elderly man.  They found a cave where the Holy One was and entered, one at a time, to do him homage.  Melchior, the old man, entered first.  He found an old man like himself in the cave.  They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude.  Middle-aged Balthassar entered next.  He found a man his own age there.  They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility.  Young Gaspar was the last to enter.  He found a young prophet waiting for him.  They spoke about reform and promise.  Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each others stories.  So they got their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh together and all three went into the cave.  They found a Baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old.  There is a deep message here.  Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jew or Gentile. (Fr. Pellegrino).

13)  The whispering angel:
 
The seventeenth century painter Guido Reni has left us a magnificent painting of Matthew. An angel is whispering to him various events in the life of Jesus. The attentive Evangelist is frantically writing down all that he is told. The tale will become his Gospel. A portion of those whispers is today's story of the Epiphany. It is only Matthew who tells us this tale filled with wonder. Why the other Evangelists ignored this magical story, we will never know - at least this side of the grave. (Fr. Gilhooly).

14) The Star of Bethlehem:
 
Gordon Wilson's daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for peace and reconciliation. He said: "I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, a star of hope, the star of Bethlehem. (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho)

15) The New Age:
 
Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful eighteenth century Neapolitan nativity scene. In many ways it is a very familiar scene. The usual characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East seeking, as Auden once put it, "how to be human now"; Joseph; Mary; the Babe -- all are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint. There is, however, something surprising about this scene, something unexpected here, easily missed by the causal observer. What is strange here is that the stable, and the shepherds, and the cradle are set, not in the expected small town of Bethlehem, but among the ruins of mighty Roman columns. The fragile manger is surrounded by broken and decaying columns. The artists knew the meaning of this event: The Gospel, the birth of God's new age, was also the death of the old world. Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: God's presence in the world means finally the end of their own power. They seek not to preserve the birth of God's new age, but to crush it. For Herod, the Gospel is news too bad to be endured, for Mary, Joseph, and all the other characters it is news too good to miss. Adapted from Thomas G. Long, Something Is About To Happen (Fr. Kayala).

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

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

18) Epiphany under water:
 
There was once a holy monk who lived in Egypt. One day a young man came to visit him. The young man asked: "Oh, holy man, I want to know how to find God." The monk was muscular and burly. He said: "Do you really want to find God?" The young man answered: "Oh, but I do." So the monk took the young man down to the river. Suddenly, the monk grabbed the young man by the neck and held his head under water. At first the young man thought the monk was giving him a special baptism. But when after one minute the monk didnt let go, the young man began struggling. Still the monk wouldnt release him. Second by second, the young man fought harder and harder. After three minutes, the monk pulled the young man out of the water and said: "When you desire God as much as you desired air, you will have the epiphany of God."

19) Herod and Stalin - pride leading to destruction:
 
Why did Herod try to destroy Jesus, but the Magi worshipped him? The difference can be summed up in one word: humility. The Magi had humility, Herod lacked it. And history tells us where that lack of humility landed him. Herod spent his life trying to keep everything under his control. He became pathologically suspicious. He ended up murdering his own wife and three of his sons, because he thought they were plotting against him. In fact, his whole life was a series of violent, horrible crimes. His tyrannical fear of losing control eventually made him universally hated, even by his closest collaborators. As he lay dying, he ordered a thousand of his best servants and ministers to be led into a stadium and slaughtered, because he wanted to be sure there was mourning and sadness in his kingdom upon his death. Joseph Stalin, the equally bloody tyrant of early Soviet Russia, followed a similar path. He climbed the ladder of success by lying, double-crossing, and murdering. And once he had reached the top, he systematically eliminated all potential rivals. But soon he began to think everyone was a potential rival. He sent his best friends to concentration camps in Siberia. He became so suspicious of plots against his life that he slept in a different corner of his house every night. He, too, died fearful, miserable, and half-crazed. These extreme examples illustrate the all-important fact that we are not God. God is God. We are not meant to control everything; we are meant to humbly follow Christ, to trust him, to kneel before him, like the Magi, and say with our lives, "Thy will be done, not mine; thy Kingdom come; not mine." Herod couldn't say that, Stalin couldn't say that - the Magi could. They gave everything over to Christ. And they went home full of joy.  (E- Priest).

20) God who guided the magi guides us, too, provided we trust him: 
 
We really need to let this truth sink in. It's like the story of the rock climber. He was in the mountains, climbing alone (a bad idea). And it was getting late. The sun had just gone down, and the temperature was dropping fast. He was descending a section of rock that was inclined beyond the vertical, like the inside of a steep roof. He was deep in the shadows of cliffs. Suddenly, he slipped, lost his grip, and did a free fall of about forty feet before his rope caught on the last stay he had driven into the rock. He was hanging like a spider on a strand of web. He tried to climb up the rope, but at the end of the long day, he just didn't have the strength. He was hanging there in the void. It was dark. It was cold. He had nowhere to turn. So even though he wasn't a church-going man, he said a prayer: "God, if you're up there, please help me." Much to his surprise, he heard an answer. It said, "Cut your rope." He was surprised but overjoyed to get an answer, but he didn't like the answer he got. He looked below him. Only darkness. It was getting colder. He prayed again, "God, if that's really you, please help me." Again he heard an answer, "It really is me. Cut your rope. Trust me." He looked down again. It was getting colder. He couldn't understand why God wanted him to cut his only support. He took out his knife. But he just couldn't get himself to cut the rope. The next morning in the bright sunlight, a group of rock climbers found him hanging from his rope, frozen to death, ten feet above the ground. So many times we are at the end of our rope and we need the help of someone we can trust - someone who is faithful, like God. He won't always explain everything to us, because we simply can't understand it all - our eyesight is limited. But when we hear His voice in our conscience, we know that the One Who is all-good and all-powerful is faithfully guiding us, as He guided the Wise Men, and He won't leave us hanging - if we believe in Him. (E- Priest).

21) Change your name or change your conduct:
 
Alexander the Great, one of the most remarkable military leaders who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with a relatively small army. One night during a campaign, he couldn't sleep and left his tent to walk around the camp. He came across a soldier asleep on guard duty - a serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death: the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it. The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. "Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?" Alexander the Great asked the soldier. "Yes, sir," the soldier responded in a quivering voice. "Soldier, what's your name?" demanded Alexander the Great. "Alexander, sir." Alexander the Great repeated the question: "What is your name?" "My name is Alexander, sir," the soldier repeated. A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, "What is your name?" A third time the soldier meekly said, "My name is Alexander, sir." Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. "Soldier," he said with intensity, "either change your name or change your conduct." We Christians who carry the name of Christ shouldn't be afraid of following Christ - as Herod was. We should be glad to live up to our name, following Christ wherever he leads us - like the Magi. (From "Hot Illustrations")  E- Priest.

22) Conquer by this sign:
 
The Battle of Milvian Bridge was fought between Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius AD 312. On the evening of October 27, with the armies preparing for battle, Constantine had a vision. A most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven. The famous sign in the sky was a cross of light, with the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. Constantine delineated the sign on the shields of his soldiers, and proceeded to battle, and his troops stood to arms. Maxentius was defeated in the battle, and Constantine was acknowledged as emperor by the senate and people of Rome. Constantine’s victory brought relief to the Christians by ending persecution. 300 years before Constantine, God’s sign appeared on the sky as a luminous star. It announced the Good News that a Saviour was born to emancipate humanity from the clutches of evil. This sign was read by the simple shepherds and wise men. It led the wise men to Bethlehem. (Fr. Bobby). 

23) “The light she lit in my life is still burning.”
 
 Mother Teresa once visited a poor man in Melbourne, Australia. He was living in a basement room, which was in a terrible state of neglect. There was no light in the room. He did not seem to have a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, “Leave it alone. It is alright as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. As she cleaned, she chatted with him. Under a pile of rubbish she found an oil lamp covered with dust. She cleaned it and discovered that it was beautiful. And she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How come you never lighted it?” “Why should I light it?” “No one ever comes to see me.” Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice, I will light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s sisters began to visit him regularly. Things gradually improved for him. Every time the sisters came to visit him, he had the lamp lighted. Then one day he said to them: “Sisters, I will be able to manage myself from now on. Do me a favour. Tell the first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.” The light that God lit to announce the coming of His son is still burning. The Magi followed the path of the great light and reached the cradle of Jesus. For the last twenty centuries many have followed the footprints of the Magi. Today, Jesus stands before us declaring, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12).  (M K Paul) Fr. Bobby. (L/18)


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Fr. Munachi:

On a cold harmattan morning three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion. Okoro, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, “Decide for us, Okoro. Which religions is the right one?” Okoro rubbed his white beards and said thoughtfully, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added, “But you know, when you get there, the mill man doesn’t ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your fruit?’” 
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From Sermons.com 

One of the striking features of the Gospel of John is the way it depicts the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The other gospels usually tell us stories about Jesus. Then, like the disciples, we are left to ask, "Who is this, that wind and sea obey him? Who is this who feeds the multitude on a couple of loaves and a few fish?" But in the Gospel of John, there's never a doubt who Jesus is, because he tells us. Usually he does so with a statement that begins with the words, "I am." Put him in a situation and he will clarify who he is and what he has come to do.

You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35). 

You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, "Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?" And Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture" (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.

You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live" (11:25).

Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life's difficulties, and Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart

In the Gospel of John, in one situation after another, Jesus defines himself and says, "This is who I am...." In the eighth chapter, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). His words echo the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, where the writer defines the person and work of Jesus in terms of light. "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1:3-4, 9). 

Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." This is the kind of thing we might expect to hear in these days after Christmas. Not long ago we gathered on Christmas Eve to hear the prophet Isaiah say, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." We don't know if old Isaiah had any idea who or what he was talking about, yet we celebrate Christmas as a festival of light. We string up twinkle lights on fir trees. We illumine our houses. We burn candles in the windows and plug in GE bulbs on the shrubbery. We burn up the kilowatts because Jesus Christ is born. In the bleak midwinter, why not shine a little light?... 

1. The Light of the World.
2. The Light Comes into Darkness.
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 What's in a name? 

Well, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare thought that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But in San Quentin Live, Johnny Cash sang a ballad that showed how one guy's life was completely skewed because he was a "Boy Named Sue."  

Sometimes names really do matter. "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." "Blessed be the Name of the Lord." 

In the Western Church we call this Sunday the "Second Sunday After Christmas." The day after tomorrow, January 6, will be "Epiphany," the official end of Christmas. Only a small percentage of Christians will take note, since they ceased being Christmassy the day after Christmas even though the church celebrates the twelve days of Christmas called "Christmastide." But in the Eastern Orthodox tradition Epiphany IS Christmas. Epiphany is the day that the "wise men" arrived where Joseph and Mary were staying and worshiped the newborn baby Jesus.   

In our "Cliff Notes" version of Jesus' birth, we converge all the miracles of Emmanuel-God WITH us-into one magical, manger night. But the "wise men," who were Persian astrologers, Gentile "wizards," outside-the-box "scholars" of their day, were still following that strange star during this time. They were making their way to Bethlehem to find whatever awaited them at the end of their star quest, or to put it in terms Judy Garland made famous, at the end of their starbow. 

They were not sure what they would find, but they followed the star well stocked. These astrologers went to a kind of theological "Cabela's" to be prepared for all possibilities of what lay at the end of the star. 

One brought a gift for a "king"-nothing less than pure gold. Gold is never a bad choice. Gold testified to the true royalty of this sign-rich king. But how was this newborn child, not born in a beautifully carved crib but in a stable and laid in a manger, in any way a king? To leave a gift of gold for such a hapless child was a true testimony of faith. 

The second "wise man" or "scientist" brought frankincense-a gift appropriate for a priest, for one who would serve God's mission in this world. The gift of frankincense would provide the scent of an offering to an attentive God, and provide a sense of peace to those who made their sacrifice of the fragrant gift. Did the baby Jesus look like a potentially powerful priest? Probably not. Leaving an expensive gift of a pot of frankincense was truly an act of faith. 

The third astrologer or "wizard" brought myrrh. This was perhaps the most insightful-and weird-of the three gifts of the magi. Myrrh was used as an embalming spice. It was used in burial rituals. In fact, myrrh was a sign of death. Not a very traditional "shower gift." Yet here is death in attendance at the baby Jesus' bedside. 

Think about it. What was an amazing foretelling of what Jesus' life would be on this earth: as a "king," as a "priest," and as the "messiah."....

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Closing the Chasm 

Many years ago, I was walking in the farm that has belonged to my father's family in Kentucky for many generations, and I happened to looked down and I saw this giant anthill. There must have been thousands of these little creatures scurrying back and forth. It was a world unto itself. And as I looked down, I thought to myself, given the capacity of an ant, they have no way of understanding something as big and complex as a human being. If they were aware of me at all, I must have loomed over them as some kind of ominous presence. Then it dawned on me that if I had the power to somehow become an ant and yet take into that new condition as much of the reality of a human being as would be possible - in other words, if I could cross this chasm of otherness from my side - then it would be possible for ants to understand the human in ways that they could never have known before.

As I walked away, I began to realize that the chasm between an ant and a human being, vast as it is, is nothing to compare between the chasm between a human being and this mysterious, divine reality that gives life. And I realized that we are as incapable of understanding God on our own as an ant would be incapable of understanding us.

John Claypool, God Became What We Are
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Called to Obey Love 

Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid. When asked, "How shall I declare my love?" his counselors answered, "Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal glory 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.

Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. 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.

God moved in. He pitches his fleshly tent in silence on straw, in a stable, under a star. The cry from that infant's throat pierced the silence of centuries. God's voice could actually be heard coming from human vocal cords.

That's the joy of it. God has come to be with us! 

James T. Garrett, God's Gift, CSS Publishing Company
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 God Is in Everything 

When Christians say, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth," they do not mean that God is everything, but they do mean that God is in everything. "In everything," wrote Paul to the Romans, "God works for good with those who love him ... " (Romans 8:28). The theologian Robert McAfee Brown likes to use in his writing the musical metaphor of themes and variations.  There are many musical compositions, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for example, which begin with a clear, identifiable musical pattern, or theme. What follows in the music is a series of variations on this theme, the theme being repeated in ever more complex combinations. Sometimes the texture of these combinations is so complex that the theme is hidden, seemingly obscured by the competing and interlocking notes. But those who have heard the theme clearly stated at the beginning of the work can still make it out, can feel the music being organized by the theme. In Jesus Christ "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth ...." That's the theme of all of life heard clearly by the ears of faith, and those who have heard that distinct theme can hear it being sounded wherever the music of life is being played, no matter how jangled are the false notes surrounding it. 

Thomas G. Long, Something Is about to Happen, CSS Publishing Company
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Witnessing Involves Listening

 While I believe that the gospel is always a proclamation about God's actions, effective witnessing involves a lot of listening. For a proclamation to be "good news" for someone, it has to address their needs, their questions, their concerns. I've often quoted this statement from a course on witnessing: "You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich, no matter how good the sandwich might be." 

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
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 The Word Became Flesh 

If John's Gospel were the only one we had, this is all that we would know about Jesus' birth: before his name was Jesus, his name was the Word, and he was with God from the very beginning of creation, bringing things into being, making things happen, shining light into the darkness.  

He was God's self, God's soul, God's life force in the world. He was the breath inside all living things. He was the electric spark that charged peoples' hearts. He was the fire inside the sun. He was the space between the stars. He was the axis around which the galaxies spin.  

John goes on to say that not everyone got that message. Many were blinded by this light and preferred the darkness they knew to the light which they did not know. The Word sidled up to them and hummed life into their ears, but they cleared their throats and walked away. So God decided to speak in a new way. God decided to speak body language. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us -- full of grace and truth."  

This is John's Christmas story in a nutshell. Like Luke, John is telling us about an encounter with the Holy One. God's Word was translated into a human being. God's self, soul, and life force were concentrated into one mortal life on earth, and as a result, nothing would ever be the same again. Not because everyone listened, because everyone does not, but because the eternal Word of God took human form.  

Paul E. Flesner, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, CSS Publishing Company

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 Entertaining Angels Unaware 

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us of that incident, and counsels Christians to make hospitality a Christian virtue. "For you may be entertaining angels unaware." But more than that, you may be doing it to Christ, who said, "If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me." 

Tom Long teaches at the seminary at Princeton. But for a while he lived in Atlanta, and attended a Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. Like most downtown churches, it has to cope with the problem of the homeless. So they opened up their gymnasium in the winter as a shelter. It was the practice of that church, as it is in this church when we open our buildings as a shelter in the winter months, to have people from the church serve as hosts and hostesses. 

Long volunteered to be a host one night. The night came and since no one else volunteered, he invited a friend to come and join him. His friend was not a member of that church. In fact, he wasn't a member of any church. But periodically, in their conversations about religious matters, this friend would say, "Tom, I'm not a theologian, but it seems to me...," and then he would express his opinion. 

On this night as they were hosting the shelter, they met the men as they arrived, saw that they had something to eat, hung out with them for a while. Then as the men began to prepare to retire, Tom's friend said, "Tom, you get some sleep. I will stay with them the first watch, then I'll wake you up, and you can come and stay with them for the rest of the night." 

So the friend stayed up and mingled with the guests, listened to them, asked questions about who they were, what had happened to them in their lives that they were now homeless. At 2:00 a.m. he went in and woke up Tom. He said, "Wake up! Wake up! I want you to come and see this. Granted I am no theologian, but I think that Jesus is down there." 

It was promised. "Those who show hospitality to the least of these," he said, "have done it to me."

Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com

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 Living without Christ 

Fred Craddock once told a parable about a man who moved into a cottage equipped with a stove and simple furnishings. As the sharp edge of winter cut across the landscape, the cottage grew cold as did its occupant. He went out back and pulled a few boards off the house to kindle the fire. The fire was warm, but the house seemed as cold as before. More boards came off for a larger fire to warm the now even colder house, which in return required an even larger fire, demanding more boards. In a few days the man cursed the weather, cursed the house, cursed the stove, and moved away. 

The futility that man felt is the futility of those who try to live the Christian life without Christ. He is the Word that was in the beginning with God and was God. And he is alive today. To those of us who are drowning he is someone we can hold on to. He is someone who can set our feet on dry ground again in this New Year. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Glory to God in the High Street 

Many years ago a pastor in Glasgow, Scotland named George McLeod chanced to look up at the stained-glass windows over the chancel of the sanctuary. The phrase, "Glory to God in the highest" was carved in the glass. As he looked he noticed that a pane of glass was broken and missing, the pane on which the letter "e" in the word "highest" was carved. Suddenly he found himself seeing the words that were now there, "Glory to God in the High St." High Street was a nearby avenue. It struck McLeod that the only way to glorify God IS to glorify him in the High St.  The only way to truly glorify God is to glorify him where we live, work and play. Certainly John did that. He did it in his preaching. He did it in his life. 

Robert Raines, The Secular Congregation, quoted by King Duncan
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 Among You Stands One 

"Among you stands one whom you do not know." I suspect there is a lot of truth to that statement, especially at Christmas time. We think of Jesus as the one born in a manger. But Jesus is not just a baby. We have all kinds of misconceptions about who Jesus is, so that it may well be true that he stands among us as one we do not know. 

When we try to describe the Incarnation, we find it difficult to make positive statements. How can we explain that the Son of God gave up being God to become a human being for such a short period of time? We have difficulty explaining that. Even the theologians grasp at all kinds of language to try to explain the mysteries of our faith. Paul Tillich said God was the Ground of our Being. I think it was Rudolf Otto who used the phrase, "the mysterium tremendum," the tremendous mystery. We can't find words big enough, strong enough and powerful enough to describe the mystery at the heart of the Christmas message.

Mickey Anders, A Negative Gospel
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God Became Human! 

Many years ago now, someone gave me a little book by J. B. Phillips entitled, When God Was Man, for a Christmas present. This was written back in the 1950's. I am sure if he were writing it today, he would give it the title, When God Was a Human Being. At any rate, I was reading the book in the days that followed the holiday, and happened to leave it open on a chair in our den. We went out that evening. A lady in the community who had baby-sat for us was there with our little boy. When we came home about 11:00 o'clock, I could tell as soon as I entered the house that the baby sitter was very excited. She picked up my book, which she had found on the den chair, and began to wave it around, and said, "Is this true? When did it happen? What was He like?"  

Well to be honest, I was taken aback because I knew this person...