Christmas: The Nativity of Our Lord - C -1

Xday candles

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

impatient prayer 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, means both “word” and “event”. Mary, through her interior attitude of respectful listening, turns the event into a sacred word.

Prayer reflection
Nothing happens before its time.”Trinidadian saying
Lord, we pray for those who are involved in lofty projects and are becoming impatient:

images – parish youth leaders who are not getting co-operation;
– a new party that has won no seats in the elections;
– parents who are trying in vain to dialogue with their teenagers.
Help them to remember Mary and how when the time came
For her to have her child she gave birth to a son.
She was at peace, felt no great concern that there was no room for them in the inn,
Merely wrapped her child in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.

Lord, these days we are all very busy.
At work or in school we have to expend much effort to achieve success.
At home we are bombarded with information from television and radio.
We have time only for the sensational
and we allow the 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
maryponderingLord, 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.
 Thomas O’Loughlin

Welcoming all at the Eucharist at Christmas!
xmas welcome • Acknowledge that there are visitors there, and that many of them are non-Catholics. Such an acknowledgement can make people feel at ease that they are known about and welcomed as such. They do not feel they have to pretend not to be who they are and hide their identity.
• Make everyone feel positively welcome: wherever you come from, you are here now, and let us all thank the Father together.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt (as God gives us), so assume people are people of good will. They are not there out of bad motives or as spies from some ‘society for relativist thought’. The message to the shepherds was to all people of good will — so assume that and do not then chastise people because they do not have the right canonical credentials.
• Assuming that there are people present who have little understanding of what is going on, be that bit more explanatory. This is a basic work of the kerygma and many Catholics may benefit as well.
• Do not make excluding announcements about who can and cannot’receive communion’. People know the rules (it is one bit of Canon Law the media pick up on) and so presume their good will, leave it to their consciences, and to God.
• Do not make announcements that suppose that ‘being at Mass’ and ‘getting communion’ are separable realities (this possibility of separating them is itself a surviving product of a defective praxis by the church in the early middle ages): the Eucharist is a meal as that is what Jesus wanted, and part of a meal is eating!
• Do not get worried about people being there out of curiosity; but pray that what begins as curiosity may grow to faith. (It was curiosity that drew the shepherds to go over to Bethlehem according to Luke.)
• We are always called to act with charity: so we must not cause insult or pain. We must remember that God loves everyone — it is he, after all, who keeps everyone in existence.
• Show that we are people of joy, not killjoys.
• Remember: ‘a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench’ (Is 42:3 and Mt 12:20).
• Remember: ‘And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”‘ (Lk 15:2).
• Remember we do not act at the liturgy in our own name, nor as local agents / representatives of Canon Law, but in the name of the Lord ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4) — and no human being likes being excluded or told how defective they are. When we make people that way we push them further from the good news we are here to preach.

Homily notes
1. The homily today always seems to be inadequate: the festival is bubbling over with symbols of the season (holly, ivy, Santa, and whatnot) and with people’s heightened emotions on the big day. Moreover, the mystery that one has to speak about is so much more than anything capable of being put into words that anything actually said seems paltry and trite. Yet the day still needs a word. The day needs to have its focus drawn to the mind as well as to the senses. And, there may be many there in the assembly today who will never hear the word from one end of the year to the other, and to them alone is owed the duty of preaching. The task is to take the theme of God-with-us and present it in such a way that (1) the homily can be followed using a framework already familiar to the audience; (2) that seems appropriately seasonal; and (3) that has a certain lightness suited to holiday time.
Xmas mystery1
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.
Bethlehem3. 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 new. 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.
stars5. 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.
holy family6. 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.
Sean Goan

Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
Luke puts his account of the birth of Jesus in the context of the rule of the emperor Augustus. He is the ruler of the world and the one credited with bringing peace to the empire, yet now in the humblest of circumstances a child is born whose rule will never end and whose power derives not from military might nor economic wealth. He is the true Saviour whose birth is a cause of joy in heaven and on earth and is first announced to the disenfranchised.

There is a remarkable variety in the twelve readings that are given for the Christmas Masses. One of the most striking things about them is that only three of them actually tell the Christmas story. The other nine are taken from both Old and New Testaments and in different ways invite reflection on the feast that is being celebrated. They all challenge us to move beyond the sentiment of the nativity play and to make our own this remarkable truth that we dare not believe. By the ‘flesh taking’ of God’s eternal Word everybody and everything is made sacred and if we accept this then we must live differently in the world for it really is a beautiful and a holy place and all the cruelty and injustice that surround us cannot be allowed to erase that.
Donal Neary SJ
Gospel Reflection

God made flesh
In a country church there was a whitewashed wall – maybe you heard this story, but like the Christmas story it’s a good one. As people came in, they bowed to ike wall or blessed themselves passing it. People wondered why, as there was no picture on the wall. At a time of repainting the church, the whitewash and a few layers of paint were removed and a fresco of the nativity was found. The ritual had remained when the reason was forgotten.
There are many customs and visuals of Christmas, houses are lit up with stars, reindeer, and baubles – everything to celebrate that the divine mixed with the human in an intense way, the family of heaven and earth joined, when light and hope shone on the world. Some reminders are more direct than others. Others may be a bit like the fresco – still there and yet we wonder why. Let’s stop saying put Christ back into Christmas, say rather find Christ in all of Christmas.
In every face you see this day, think of the face of God. We often pray that the face of God may shine on us, when we are brought face to face with God we will be face to face with immense and enduring love. We long for this now and forever.
People long for justice, for peace. People long for just enough in life like street children of Calcutta and children all over the world, and we long for reconciliation. Christmas is also a reminder of them. Not alone of God’s immense love for all, but for the immense and enduring torture as God suffers still today in us all. The cross is in the crib, reminding us of the future of this child.
Also – enjoy all the reminders of Christmas. Let everything secular about Christmas remind us of its holy meaning. Every light you see, every red nosed reindeer, every cracker and bit of pudding, every bit of love under a mistletoe, in them all see, and be aware of Christ in everything of these next few days; and be glad of the face of Christ made human for us this night.
From the Connections:
MASS OF THE VIGIL “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 1-25 [18-25]

For Matthew, the story of Jesus begins with the promise to Abraham -- that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  So Matthew begins his Gospel with “a family record” of Jesus, tracing the infant's birth from Abraham (highlighting his Jewish identity) and David (his Messiahship).  The historical accuracy of Matthew’s list is dubious; but that is not the point.  Matthew’s genealogy celebrates this Jesus as the fulfillment of a world that God envisioned from the first moment of creation – a world created in the justice and peace that is the very nature of its Creator.
Matthew’s version of Jesus birth at Bethlehem follows.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable, but that of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child.
Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.
Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David's house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel “God is with us.”
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”Luke 2: 1-14
Centuries of hope in God’s promise have come to fulfillment: the Messiah is born!
Luke's account of Jesus’ birth (Gospel) begins by placing the event during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. - 14 A.D., was honored as “savior” and “god” in ancient Greek inscriptions.  His long reign was hailed as the pax Augusta -- a period of peace throughout the vast Roman world.  Luke very deliberately points out that it is during the rule of Augustus, the savior, god and peace-maker, that Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, enters human history.
Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows how it is the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the sinner who embraces the preaching of Jesus.  The announcement of the Messiah’s birth to shepherds -- who were among the most isolated and despised in the Jewish community -- is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the poor are especially blessed of God.
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2: 15-20
Typical of Luke’s Gospel, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem -- among the poorest and most disregarded of Jewish society who become the first messengers of the Gospel.
From the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, we have a romantic image of shepherds as gentle, peaceful figures.  But that manger scene image is a far cry from the reality:  The shepherds of Biblical times were tough, earthy characters who fearlessly used their clubs to defend their flocks from wolves and other wild animals.  They had even less patience for the pompous scribes and Pharisees who treated them as second and third-class citizens, barring these ill-bred rustics from the synagogue and courts.
And yet it was to shepherds that God first revealed the birth of the Messiah.  The shepherds’ vision on the Bethlehem hillside proclaims to all people of every place and generation that Christ comes for the sake of all of humankind.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18
The Gospel for Christmas Day is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning . . . ,” “the light shines on in darkness . . .”), John’s prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.
In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.

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

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah prophesies that the northern kingdom of Israel, which had been destroyed would be liberated and its inhabitants would be set free when the Messiah comes. But their liberator would not be a mighty warrior but a little child. God’s ways are not our ways! This little child is God’s answer to man’s needs. A surprising answer but full of promise; this child has many titles foremost among them will be ‘Prince of Peace’.

In deep shadow, a light has shone
High in the Andes, an Indian prince is anointed in the darkness. Then, on a large raft in the centre of a sacred lake, his naked body is plastered with gold dust by members of his tribe. They turn away so that they do not look on his face. They all wait in silence. Then the sun comes over the horizon and bathes in its light the Indian prince, gold in glory. He plunges into the lake, and the people cast jewels and sacred objects of gold into the water to sanctify the place where he swims. He is the legendary Eldorado, the gilded one. The ceremony is the annual ritual to the god of the sun on behalf of the people who depend on its power.  The feast of Christmas originated when the cult of the sun was particularly strong in Rome. The pagan festival was baptized by the church in Rome which used the same date to celebrate the birth of Christ. We do not know the date of Jesus’ birth, but we do know why December 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate the birth. For us the Yule logs and candles symbolize the warmth and light of another sun: the Son of God. In the darkness of this night we celebrate the birth of the light of the world.
Today’s gospel focuses on the deep significance of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world. The details of the narrative are symbolic and biblical; they are meant to communicate the mystery of our salvation and are not a diary of earthly events. The birth of Jesus is situated in time –when Quirinius governor of Syria ordered a census of all the people of the empire. Mary and Joseph accepted this order and set out from the town of Galilee and travelled to Judea to the town of David called Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph respond with faith and accept the situation as God’s plan for the coming of his son and theirs in the world. They do not understand but accept and believe that this frail weak infant is God coming into the world through them. The coming of Jesus is firstly a coming as a messenger of peace, announced to the shepherds by the host of angels. The initial reaction of the shepherds was fear and terror. We will always be terrified of meeting God if we keep thinking that we must be worthy of meeting him. The angel had to urge the shepherds to let go of their terror, only then did the wonder of the night enter into their souls. They are directed to Bethlehem, they believed and set out on their journey to find the new-born king and their faith was rewarded. The shepherds were outcasts, the poor and despised, to them was revealed the great mystery and they became the first to acknowledge the saviour of mankind. They also became the first missionaries who proclaimed the birth of the messiah. Only those who know their littleness can be exposed to the wonder of greater realities. Mary the littlest of all, treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. Besides bringing peace to the world, the coming of Jesus was to bring hope to the poor and the oppressed. We don’t have to do anything to deserve this peace, we only have to believe and accept it in hope. His blessings descend on all on whom his favour rests. No matter who we are, or in what state we are, he comes to bring us peace and hope!

A Saviour is born to us
The Russians have for centuries told a legend about a young medieval prince, Alexis, who lived in a sumptuous palace, while all around, in filthy hovels, lived hundreds of poor peasants. The Prince was moved with compassion for these poor folk and determined to better their lot. So he began to visit them. But as he moved in and out among them he found that he’d got absolutely no point of contact with them. They treated him with enormous respect, but he was never able to win their confidences, and he returned to the palace a disappointed young man.  Then one day a very different man came among the people. He was a rough and ready young doctor who devoted his life to serving the poor. He started by renting a filthy rat-ridden shack in one of the back streets. His clothes were old and tattered and he lived simply on the plainest food. He made no money from his profession because he treated most people free and gave away his medicines. Before long this young doctor had won the respect and affection of all those people as Prince Alexis had never succeeded in doing. He was one of them. And little by little he transformed the whole spirit of the place, settling quarrels, reconciling enemies, helping people to live decent lives. No one ever guessed that this young doctor was in fact the Prince himself, who had abandoned his palace and gone down among his people to become one of them. That’s just what God did on that first Christmas Day. He came right down side by side with us to help us to become the sort of beings he intends us to be.
Anthony Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’
That’s what Christmas is all about!
One Christmas Eve a man was sitting quietly, listening to Christmas carols. Suddenly he heard the sound of geese. He went to the door and saw several geese wandering about in the snow, cold, hungry, dazed, and confused. The man went out and tried everything he knew to get the geese to go into his warm garage, but they were too frightened to understand. Then he thought himself, “If just for a moment I could become a goose to tell them what to do in their own language.” Suddenly it hit him. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s celebrating the fact that God chose to become one of us so that he could speak to us our own language and tell us what was for our own good.
Marl Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Christ missing at Christmas
Fr. Prakash could hardly believe his eyes. Christmas evening, he stared at the crib in the Church vestibule and was shocked to see the baby Jesus missing. Worried, Fr. Prakash commissioned the sacristan out to retrieve it. Scouting around the parish, the sacristan saw little Christopher, riding his new tricycle with the statue of the child Jesus precariously placed besides him. “Chris, you scoundrel,” cried the sacristan, “Why did you steal that statue?” Unfazed the boy replied, “I promised baby Jesus that if I got a tricycle for Christmas, I’d give him the first ride!” Two points are worth reflecting on: Christ seems missing from our Christmases, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that Jesus is taken forth to transform today’s world.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds’

Beethoven’s Gift
A story is told about Beethoven, a man not known for social grace. Because of his deafness, he found conversation difficult and humiliating. When he heard of the death of a friend’s son, Beethoven hurried to the house, overcome with grief. He had no words of comfort to offer. But he saw a piano in the room. For the next half hour he played the piano, pouring out his emotions in the most eloquent way he could. When he finished playing, he left. The friend later remarked that no one else’s visit had meant so much.
Philip Yancy from ‘Helping the Hurting’

The First Crib
Once there was a parish which had a beautiful crib. The parishioners, who for the most part were white and well-off, were very proud of it. Mary was depicted as a handsome young maiden with snow-white hands. Joseph was a strong man with a serene expression on his face. The smiling child had the face of an angel. The shepherds were dressed in the garb of gentlemen. All the figures of course were white. The background consisted of low hills with a gorgeous castle perched on the summit of one of them. The star-strewn sky completed the idyllic picture. Then a new parish priest was appointed to the parish. One of the first things he did was to change the crib. Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus were now coloured. As were the shepherds. The backdrop consisted of a shanty town with row after row of impoverished shacks. The whole scene spoke of poverty and marginalization. The devout parishioners took an instant dislike to it. They insisted that their traditional crib be put back. When we look at the crib, everything seems so pretty, so peaceful so orderly. Not a cry is heard from the child, not a sound from the donkey or the oxen, not a smell of any kind. The straw is clean. The coloured but subdued lights add a surreal quality to the whole scene. With our inward ear we hear the singing of the angels, and with our inward eye we see the star which led the Magi to Bethlehem. We have a tendency to pretty up the Christmas story. But in doing that we remove it from us. We empty it of much of the meaning it carries for us. -It was St Francis of Assisi who assembled the first crib in a cave on an Italian hillside in the year 1223. His aim was to make the Christmas story come alive for the people of the locality. His idea was to show them how close it was to them and their lives. And it seems that he succeeded. On Christmas Eve the friars and the people assembled with candles and torches around the crib. Francis spoke to the people, who were mostly farmers and shepherds, about God’s Son coming among us to teach us that we too are children of God, and that as such we have an eternal destiny. The shepherds and farmers got the messages: God had time for simple folks like them. At the end of the vigil they all returned to their homes, full of peace and joy, feeling very close to God and to one another.
Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Days


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

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

Certainly very few people in Palestine saw and heard and understood what took place that night. The choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the haggling and trading going on in the Jerusalem bazaar. There was a bright star in the sky but the only ones apparently to pay any attention to it were pagan astrologers from the East. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own problems to offer any assistance... 
Wally was big for his age--seven years old. Everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. Especially considering the fact that he was also a slow learner. Perhaps he could pull the curtain. To everyone's surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy of course was delighted. After all, all he had to learn was one line: "There is no room in the inn." He had that down in no time.

Then came the night for the program. The parents took their places. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing "Oh come all ye faithful." The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on Scene One. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. "Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?" Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all night. He began, there is...and he hesitated. He started over again. There is. . .and again his mind went completely blank. Everyone was embarrassed for him but poor Wally just didn't know what to do. Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward the stable on stage left. Seeing him walking away Wally in desperation called out: "Look, there's plenty of room at my house, just come on home with me." 

That seems a rather delightful twist on a familiar story. Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. The issues all seem so clear cut. Herod was a villain and the wise men were heroes. The shepherds were heroes and the Innkeeper--well, the poor innkeeper has gone down as one of the heavies in the story. In our minds eye, we envision him as a crotchety old man with a night cap on his head sticking his head out a second story window and tersely shouting: Take the stable and leave me alone.

But perhaps the innkeeper has received bad press. Preachers over the centuries have had a field day with the poor fellow. But was it his fault that the inn was built with twelve rooms instead of thirteen? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving?

But you know something; this simple little statement about there being no room in the Inn becomes a symbol for Luke... 
Gloria! Christ Is Our Own

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

Edward F. Markquart, Gloria!
A Grown Up Christmas 

Recently, I was in a department store doing some Christmas shopping. Christmas music was playing and I was getting into the spirit of it all... when suddenly I realized that I was singing along with Natalie Cole. Natalie and I were singing her new Christmas song. It's a big hit. It's called "My Grown-up Christmas List." Have you heard this? In the song, Natalie Cole reminisces about how when she was young, she sat on Santa's knee and told him about her childhood fantasies. And then she sings about how she's all grown up now, but she still has dreams... things she would like for Christmas, not just for herself but for our needy world. Then she sings her "Grown-up Christmas List." Here are the things she wants for Christmas now:

"No more lives torn apart
And wars will never start,
And time will heal all hearts.
Everyone will have a friend
And right will always win,
And love will never end.
This is my lifelong dream,
My Grown-up Christmas List."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We often learn the most from our children. There is an old story about a man who punished his 3-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy."  

The father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction once he realized the gift was for him. He opened the gift, but his anger flared again when he found that the box was empty. He yelled at her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside of it?"  

The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy it's not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Daddy." The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged her forgiveness. He kept that gold box by his bed for years. Whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.  

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

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

Don Emmitte
 God's Beautiful World  

Let me tell you about my friend Millard Reed. Millard is president-emeritus of Trevecca University in Nashville. Millard was on a speaking trip in South Carolina when he suddenly fell ill and was rushed to the hospital. His liver had just stopped functioning. His system was shutting down. The doctors said he would die. But a lot of people prayed for Millard, and when the doctors found a new liver for him and installed it, he began to recover.

One day, when Millard was back in Nashville at home, he was feeling a little depressed and he decided to go for a walk around his neighborhood. It was springtime and there were flowers growing in a neighbor's yard. Millard stopped to look at them. A bumblebee was buzzing from one blossom to another. Millard knew about bumblebees and how aerodynamically challenged they are, with those heavy, cumbersome bodies and the tiny, insubstantial little wings. But suddenly this bumblebee did something truly amazing. It headed straight at Millard. And then before it got to him, it suddenly did a perfect loop-de-loop, like a stunt plane, and went back to the flower where it had started!

This took Millard totally by surprise. He remembered the Book of Job, and how God at one point had asked Job if he could make a horse or if he could make a whale or any of the other magnificent creatures God that God had put in the world. Millard said he could almost hear God saying aloud to him, "Millard, if I could make that crazy bumblebee do that, I could give you a new liver." And Millard began to cry. He was still crying when he went back to his house a few minutes later. His wife was alarmed. She thought something was wrong. "Oh no, honey," Millard said, "these aren't tears of sadness, these are tears of joy. I am so happy to be alive in
God's beautiful world!"

John Killinger, Extravagant Joy!

So This Is Christmas

Somewhere a soldier patrols the streets of a shattered city. His mind is not preoccupied with turkey and mistletoe, gifts and carols, or candles and lights on the tree. Every sense is alert. Every nerve is on end. "Will it be a roadside bomb, a suicide bomber, or a sniper?" Celebration is the farthest thing from his mind. Survival is his all-consuming thought. So this is Christmas.

A hungry child shivers in the cold, waiting for a soup kitchen to serve Christmas dinner, the annual holiday reprieve from life as usual. For a moment, warmth and food will intoxicate his senses. Tomorrow, it's back to the trashcans and cardboard shelters, back to hunger and homelessness. When will they ever stop wandering from town to town? When will his mom find a good job, so they can move beyond scratching out a meager existence? So this is Christmas.

Now how do we pay for everything? We charged and borrowed to buy Christmas, only to receive a termination notice two days before the holiday? Where do we find a new job? How do we meet all our financial obligations? So this is Christmas.

Do cancer and caroling go hand in hand? How does a broken body sing, "'Tis the season to be jolly?" When fear and sickness sweep over you in waves, where do you find the voice to sing, "Fa-la-la-la-la?" So this is Christmas.

Fire, earthquake, tidal wave, flood, drought, blizzard, accident; the timing of tragedy is never kind. Death catches humanity unaware. Injuries and inconveniences change schedules, alter lives. So this is Christmas.

A Roman decree sends families scurrying back to their ancestral cities to register. Enrollment means "taxes," and as we all know taxation without representation is galling. Taxation without representation is oppression and tyranny. The families who go back to their ancestral homes to register so they can pay taxes are an oppressed people, who live with cruel taskmasters and know the bitterness of Roman rule. Can anybody say, "Egypt" all over again? So this is Christmas.

Darrik Acre, Jesus, Our Hope

He Gave Himself
In the 80's there were very few American households that did not gather around the television once a week and watch as actor George Wendt burst through the front door of a neighborhood bar in Boston and heard a huge chorus of voices join together and shout, "Norm!" after which his character, Norm Peterson would be greeted by a bartender and would give one of his classic responses. One of my favorites was the night that Woody said, "What's going on, Mr. Peterson?" and Norm responded, "A flashing neon sign in my gut that says, 'Insert Beer Here'." The theme song of that classic TV series, "Cheers," contains these words,
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

We all want to be where everybody knows, and uses our name. There is power in naming something, or someone. In the Harry Potter series, the most villainous of all villains is often referred to as "he who must not be named." Even saying the name of Lord Voldemort meant that something bad might befall the speaker. There is, indeed power in naming a thing.

John Bedingfield, Naming Jesus