Introduction: The Scripture lessons for today focus on the first Christmas, or the birth of Jesus, which we celebrate today in all its solemnity. We are celebrating the fulfillment of the prophecies about our merciful God who sent His own Son to save a sinful world.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies how the God of Israel will honor the desolate and forsaken Jerusalem and land of Israel by espousing her as a man marries a virgin and makes her a mother. Yahweh does this by sending His long-awaited Messiah into Israel to possess it and rule over it. The Messiah will vindicate Israel and save her. Through His prophet Isaiah, the Lord God wished to inspire the hopeless Israelites, returned from the Babylonian exile, to plant crops and make their desolate land fertile and prosperous so that she might be able to hold up her head again among the other nations. In the second reading, St. Paul recounts the history of God’s mercy to Israel, His chosen people. God showed His mercy to His chosen people of Israel by fulfilling the prophecy about His long-awaited Messiah. He sent His Son as the Savior and the descendant of David. The Gospel reviews the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17), tracing his descent from Abraham through David as foretold by the prophet, then describing his birth as our Savior at Bethlehem (1:18-25), through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel also shows how God resolved the doubts of Joseph by sending His angel, first to reassure Joseph, then to instruct him to name the child Jesus. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yehosua, which means ”Yahweh is salvation.” Just as the first Joshua (the successor of Moses), saved the Israelites from their enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus) would save them from their sins.
Life messages: 1) We need to allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2019 and every day of the New Year 2020. Let us show the good will and generosity of sharing with others Jesus, our Savior reborn in our hearts, by love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service. 2) We need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons. The message of Christmas is that we can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places –- in the streets, in slums, in asylums, in orphanages, in nursing homes –- starting in our own homes, workplaces and town. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas – the joy of the Savior.
CHRISTMAS VIGIL: Is 62:1-5, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25, Mt 1:1-25 [1:18-25] L-19
Anecdote: 1) Consider Christmas Again: When Pope Julius I authorized December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today? In 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi used a nearby cave to set up a manger filled with straw, and his friend, Vellita, brought in an ox and a donkey, just like those at Bethlehem, nobody saw how that novel idea was going to evolve through centuries. When Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in America in 1832, who would have ever thought that the decorations would become as elaborate as they are today? There is an unproved legend that Martin Luther is responsible for the origin of the Christmas tree. This story says that one Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through the snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of the snow glistening on the trees. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a small fir tree and shared the story with his children. He decorated the Christmas tree with small candles which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth. In 2019, as we walk through Advent again in the midst of all the excitement, elaborate decorations and expensive commercialization which surround Christmas today, we are given another opportunity to pause, to consider again the event of Christmas and the Person whose birth we celebrate. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
2) Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid. A king fell in love with a poor maid. The king wanted to marry her. When he asked his counselors, “How shall I declare my love?” they answered, “Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal raiments before the maid’s humble dwelling, and she will instantly fall at your feet and be yours.” But it was precisely that which troubled the king. He wanted her glorification, not his. In return for his love, he wanted hers, freely given. Finally, the king realized love’s truth, that freedom for the beloved demanded equality with the beloved. So late one night, after all the counselors of the palace had retired, he slipped out a side door and appeared before the maid’s cottage dressed as a servant to confess his love for her. Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. God chose to express His love for us humans by becoming one like us. We are called to obey, not God’s power, but God’s love. God wants not submission to His power, but in return for His love, our own. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ )
Introduction: The Scripture lessons for today focus on the first Christmas. In the first reading, Isaiah shows us the vindication of Israel by the Lord God. This vindication has found its fulfillment, for all of us, in the coming of Jesus as our Savior. In the second reading, St. Paul recounts the history of God’s mercy to Israel, His chosen people. That mercy has culminated in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah for Whom the Jews have been waiting for centuries. The Gospel reviews the genealogy of Jesus, tracing His descent from David, then recounts the story of His birth in Bethlehem as our Savior.
The first reading, Isaiah: 62:1-5 explained. After their exile in Babylon, the Jews returned to Judah where they had a difficult time restoring their old institutions, their economy, their capital Jerusalem and their Temple on Mount Zion. They were quite discouraged when the prophet Isaiah received this prophecy from God to restore their fallen spirits (Chapters 56-66.) Just as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, so Isaiah looked forward to God’s breaking the silence of many years. In today’s text, Isaiah uses imagery to describe the conversion of Israel from gloom to joy. Isaiah compares the dispirited Jewish people to a woman who had thought she would never marry. But she suddenly has found a suitor! It’s Israel, the land of the Jews that the Lord proposes to marry, and, by extension, to make fertile. The prophecy’s goal has been to inspire the hopeless people to plant crops and make their desolate land fertile. Now, the Lord God says through Isaiah, Israel will be able to hold up her head again among the other nations, who will see her vindication.
Second Reading, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 explained: This reading is taken from the account of Paul’s first missionary journey, which began in Syria and took him to Antioch in Pisidia. This is the first of the several speeches of St. Paul in which he tells the Jews that the Christian Church is the logical development of Judaism. When St. Paul delivered this speech, the Jews had 1800 years of history behind them. Paul takes advantage of their knowledge to show that the coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of all history.
Exegesis: The genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17): While Paul presents Jesus as a descendent of David in our second reading, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham. This genealogy not only shows Jesus’ human ancestry, but also indicates that salvation history has reached its climax with the birth of the Son of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. Though we often skip over these lists of names, the Gospel writers took great pains to compile the genealogies and to make several theological points in the process. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a line of ancestors whom Matthew arranges into three groups, of 14 patriarchs, 14 kings and 14 princes. The three groups are based on the three stages of Jewish history: i) the rise of Israel to a great kingdom by the time of David, ii) the fall of the nation by the time of Babylonian exile and iii) the resurrection of the nation after the exile. Strangely enough, the list includes a number of disreputable characters, including three women of bad reputation: Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba. Perhaps the Lord God included these women in His Son’s human genealogy to emphasize God’s grace, to give us all hope, and to show us that Jesus is sent to save sinners. Thus, God’s powerful work of salvation comes to us under the appearance of weakness. From the beginning, Matthew’s account challenges our human expectations as to how God will fulfill our hopes for endless peace, justice, and righteousness. Luke’s account shows us another example of this kind of challenge. The royal child, heir to King David’s throne and bearer of wonderful titles, is born in poverty. He is laid in a manger because there is no room in the inn.
The three-step marriage: Engagement, betrothal and marriage proper were the three stages of the Jewish marriage ceremony. The engagement was often made through the parents when the couples were only children. The betrothal was the ratification of the engagement into which a couple had previously (been) entered. It made the young man and woman husband and wife, legally married, but without cohabitation and conjugal rights for one year. The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal. It was during the betrothal period that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus. The essence of God’s story in Matthew is that, in the birth of Jesus, the Spirit of God was seen operating in the world as He had never done before.
Joseph the “father” of Jesus (Mt. 1:18-25): While Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the role of Mary, Matthew’s brings Joseph to the forefront. Joseph is important to Matthew’s Gospel, because Jesus came from David’s lineage through Joseph (1:1-17). The Davidic descent of Jesus is shown as both legal and natural. In other words, Jesus is descendant of Abraham and David not only by physical descent but also by God’s supernatural action. The Davidic descent of Jesus is transferred not through natural paternity but through legal paternity. Matthew carefully constructs verse 1:18 to avoid saying that Jesus was the son of Joseph. As Mary’s legal husband, Joseph became the legal father of Jesus. Later, by naming the child, Joseph acknowledged Him as his own. The legal father was on par with the biological father as regards rights and duties. Since it was common practice for couples to marry within their clan, probably Mary also belonged to the house of David. Several early Church Fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin and Tertullian, testify to this belief, basing their testimony on an unbroken oral tradition. Joseph is presented as a righteous man (v. 19), who chose to obey God’s command rather than to observe rigidly a law that would have required him to divorce Mary publicly. He resolved to divorce Mary quietly in order that he might not cause her unnecessary pain. In doing so, he serves as a model of Christ-like compassion. He also demonstrates a balance between the Law of Torah and the Law of Love. While Luke tells the story of the Archangel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), Matthew tells us only that the Child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The Divine intervention through the angel: Luke tells us of Mary’s obedience (Luke 1:38), and Matthew tells us of Joseph’s obedience. This is the first of three occasions on which an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. In each instance, the angel calls Joseph to action, and Joseph obeys. He is told not to be afraid of his fiancée’s pregnancy, nor of the opinion of his neighbors, nor even of the requirement of the Torah that Mary be punished. He is not to hesitate, but is to wed Mary. “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Mary’s role is to bear a Son, and Joseph’s role is to name Him. By naming Him, Joseph makes Jesus his Son and brings Him into the house of David.
Jesus the Savior as the fulfillment of prophecy: The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means “YHWH is salvation.” Just as the first Joshua (successor of Moses), saved the Israelites from their enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus) will save them from their sins. The Jews, however, did not expect a Messiah Who would save them from their sins, but one who would deliver them from their political oppressors. Matthew stresses the fact that the birth of Jesus as Savior is the fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah (7:14): “’Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.'” The fulfillment of the prophecy is important to Matthew’s first audience, Jewish converts, which is why Matthew mentions the fulfillment of eleven prophetic statements about Jesus in his Gospel. The context of the verse taken from Isaiah is the dilemma of King Ahaz in the eighth century BC. Jerusalem was under siege, and it appeared that both the city and the nation might be destroyed. Isaiah’s prophecy was that a boy-child would be born and that, by the time he reached maturity, the threat from the enemy would have passed. We do not know that boy’s identity, but the city and nation were both spared.
Emmanuel born of a Virgin: The NRSV correctly translates ho parthenos as “the virgin” rather than “a virgin.” In other words, the original uses the definite article. Isaiah referred to a young woman (almah), but Matthew’s ho parthenos clearly refers to a virgin. That is why the Church has always taught Mary’s perpetual virginity. “‘They shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.'” In Hebrew, El is a short form of Elohim, a name for God. Immanu-El, therefore, means “God with us,” a meaning which Matthew spells out for non-Hebrew readers. Emmanuel is not a second name by which friends and neighbors will know Jesus. “Jesus” is Our Lord’s true name, and Emmanuel describes his role. Thus, Matthew begins his Gospel with the promise that Jesus’ role-name means “God-with-us.” He will end his Gospel with Jesus’ own promise that He will be with us “always, to the end of the age” (28:20).
Life messages: 1) We need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons. During the Christmas season we, like the Magi, must give our most precious gift, our lives, to Jesus. We will learn to discover Him in the most unlikely places and in the most distasteful people –- in those who live in suffering or in distress, in poverty or in fear. The message of Christmas is that we can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places –- in the streets, in the slums, in the asylums, in the orphanages, in the nursing homes –- starting in our own homes, workplaces and town. We need to look for Him in people that we might otherwise ignore: the homeless, the sick, the addicts, the unpleasant people, the rebels, or the people of different culture and lifestyle from us. True Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God among the poor, the homeless and the disadvantaged, with a message of hope and liberation for these sufferers in our world. It is about our responsibility to be part of that liberating process. It is about working to remove from our world the shameful blot of poverty, discrimination and exploitation that is the lot of too many in our environment of prosperity. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas – the joy of the Savior.
2) We need to allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2019 and every day of the New Year 2020. How should we prepare for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives? As a first step, John the Baptist urges us to repent daily of our sins and to renew our lives by leveling the hills of pride and selfishness, by filling up the valleys of impurity, and by straightening the crooked paths of hatred. Our second step in preparing for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives is to cultivate the spirit of sacrifice and humility. It was by sacrifice that the shepherds of Bethlehem and the Magi were able to find the Savior. They were humble enough to see God in the Child in the manger. We, too, can experience Jesus by sharing Him with others, just as God shared His Son with us. Let us remember that the angels wished peace on earth only to those able to receive that peace, those who possessed the good will and largeness of heart to share Jesus our Savior with others in love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
1) A 4-year-old boy was asked to give the blessing before Christmas dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes– even the Cool Whip. Then he paused, and everyone waited–and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, “If I thank God for the broccoli, won’t He know that I’m lying?”
2) Mrs. Oppenheimer decided to get away from the often inclement weather of New York and spend Christmas in the Deep South. Being unfamiliar with that part of the world she wandered into a “restricted” hotel and said “Hi. I’m Mrs. Oppenheimer and I’d like a room for the next week.” “I’m very sorry,’ said the manager, “but all our rooms are taken.” Just as he said these words a customer came to the desk and unexpectedly checked out. “How lucky!” responded Mrs. Oppenheimer, “Now you have a room for me.” “Look, I’m very sorry,” said the manager, “but this is a restricted hotel. Jews are not allowed here.” “Jewish! Whaddya mean Jewish? I am a Catholic.” “That takes some believing,” said the manager. “Tell me, Who was the Son of God?” “Jesus.” she replied “Where was he born?” “In a stable in Bethlehem….. simply because some schmuck like you wouldn’t rent a room to a Jew.”
3) A family celebrated Christmas every year with a birthday party for Jesus. An extra chair of honor at the table became the family’s reminder of Jesus’ presence. A cake with candles, along with the singing of “Happy Birthday” expressed the family’s joy in Jesus’ presence. One year on Christmas afternoon a visitor to the home asked the five-year-old girl, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” After a moment’s hesitation, she answered, “No, but it’s not my birthday, It’s Jesus’ birthday!”
(“Scriptural Homilies” no.6-b by Fr. Tony (email@example.com)
Summary of Christmas Midnight homily on: Is 9:1-6; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Introduction: Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which occurred some 2,000 years ago. Looking through the telescope of Christ’s Resurrection, the New Testament authors, as well as the Fathers of the Church, reexamined foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, in the writings of the prophets, and they identified Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
Scripture readings: Following the death of the Assyrian monarch in the late 8th century B.C., the Lord God, through His prophet Isaiah, promises relief for both the northern and the southern kingdoms of Israel through a new king and his descendant in the line of David, in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the child Isaiah’s prophesy calls the “prince of peace” The second reading, taken from the “pastoral letter” of Paul to Titus, tells us that it is only by the saving power of God in Christ that we are enabled to live virtuously in the present with hope for the future. The Gospel for the midnight Mass tells us how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and how the news of His birth was first announced to shepherds by the angels. Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. If these shepherds were the ones in charge of the Temple sheep and lambs meant for daily sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, no wonder they were the first to see the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!
Life messages: We need to reserve a room for Jesus in our heart: Christmas asks us a tough question. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? There is no point in being sentimental about the doors slammed by the folk in Bethlehem, if there is no room in our own hearts for the same Jesus coming in the form of the needy. We need to reverence each human life, and to treat others respectfully as the living residences of the incarnate God. To neglect the old, to be contemptuous of the poor or to have no thought for the unemployed and the lonely, is to ignore those individuals with whom Christ has so closely identified Himself. Hence, we all need to examine ourselves daily on the doors we close to Jesus.
2) We need to experience Jesus as Emmanuel: The real meaning of Christmas actually is Emmanuel, God-with-us – God coming down to us; God seeking us out; God coming alongside us; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, and guidance — God dwelling within us. Each one of us has, deep down in our soul, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is, indeed, with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. So, let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT: Full text: Is 9:1-6; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Anecdote: 1) “Don’t go! You can have my room.” Nine-year-old Wally was in second grade when most children his age were fourth graders. He was big for his years, a clumsy fellow, a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling lad, a natural defender of the underdog, and he was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally wanted to be a shepherd. Instead, he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally’s size would lend extra force to the innkeeper’s refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals, Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. When the play opened, no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, “What do you want?” “We seek lodging,” Joseph replied. “Seek it elsewhere,” Wally said in a firm voice. “There’s no room in the inn.” “Please, good innkeeper,” Joseph pleaded, “this is my wife, Mary. She is with child and is very tired. She needs a place to rest.” There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally’s next line: “No! Be gone!” Wally remained silent. Then the forlorn couple turned and began to slowly move away. Seeing this, Wally’s brow creased with concern. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he called out, “Don’t go! You can have my room.” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
Introduction: The season of Advent is past, and the period of anticipation is complete. Now it is time to commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which occurred some 2,000 years ago. Looking through the telescope of Christ’s Resurrection, the New Testament authors, as well as the Fathers of the Church, reexamined the writings of the prophets to discover foreshadowings of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Today’s first reading is one of these, taken from one of the greatest of the prophets, Isaiah. The second reading, taken from the “pastoral letter” of Paul to Titus, tells us that it is only by the saving power of God in Christ that we are enabled to live virtuously in the present with hope for the future. The Gospel for the midnight Mass tells us how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and how the news of his birth was first announced to shepherds by the angels.
First reading, Isaiah 9:1-6: In the late eighth century BC, God’s people in the Promised Land had become divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. Assyria was the dominant power in the region, particularly oppressing the northern kingdom. In the eighth century BC, the source of the “darkness” was the Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-Pilesar III. But following the death of the Assyrian monarch, the prophet declares that in the darkness, light has shone! Hope for endless peace, justice, and righteousness has been kindled and burns brightly. Isaiah prophesies relief for both northern and southern kingdoms in the person of the new king who will come to the throne in the southern kingdom, Judah, and will see to the reunion of the north and south and the expulsion of the Assyrians from the north. The king whom Israel saw as fulfilling the prophecy is, interestingly, Hezekiah, the successor of King Ahaz. So “the people once in darkness” are the dwellers in Israel oppressed by Assyria. The “child/son born to us” was the new king in Jerusalem in Judah. Hezekiah inherited the throne of David whose glorious reign, roughly four centuries earlier, was still the source of national pride and hope. Some 2700 years later, we see Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God and Son of David, the Redeemer and Savior of the world, as the final fulfillment of the prophecy of this promised King.
Today’s passage in Isaiah 9 completes a prophecy begun in Isaiah 8:1. In spite of all the doom and gloom that surround Israel and the evil that darkness portends, there will eventually be light and restoration for Israel. The yoke and bar, (verse 4), represent enslavement and oppression. Those will be cast off vigorously as in the days of Gideon and the Midianites (Judges 8:10-12; Psalm 83:9-11). The prophecy concludes with the now-famous words: “For a child has been born for us, a son given for us…..” What follows is a description of the yet-to-be-realized Kingdom of Christ (verse 6). Notice the many titles given to the coming child: Wonderful Counselor — counsel, as in advice; Mighty God — an image of power and majesty; Everlasting Father — one Who will not diminish, expire, or fade away: an eternal relationship of nurture and trust; Prince of Peace — not war-like, but reconciling.
Second Reading, Titus 2:11-14: The books of Titus and 1st and 2nd Timothy are called “pastoral letters” because they are instructions to the pastors dealing with Church life and practices. This reading is an interesting choice for Christmas Midnight Mass because it focuses on the other coming of Jesus, at the end of time, and on the changes that we are called to make in our lives. It reminds us that we are enabled to live virtuously in the present with hope for the future by the saving power of God in Christ. The theological plainness and moral starkness of this letter make it a worthy counterpoint to the sentimentality that dominates Christmas.
Exegesis: The origin of the Christmas celebration: Many scholars believe that Christmas came to be placed on December 25th in order to counteract a pagan celebration called the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, a feast established by the Roman Emperor, Aurelian, in AD 274. Since December 25th was near the date of the winter solstice (the year’s shortest day, after which the days begin to lengthen again, showing the victory of the sun over darkness), it was chosen as the date of rejoicing. When Christianity was approved as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Church chose this day to celebrate the birth of the true Sun – the Son of God Who conquers the power of darkness. Another theory gives Biblical support for celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. It claims that the Annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah occurred during the feast of Yom Kippur, around September 25th, placing the birth of John after nine months on June 25th. Since the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the Annunciation event and the conception of Jesus took place around March 25th, leading to Jesus’ birth after nine months, around December 25th.
The Christmas event: While Matthew places the birth of Jesus against the background of Herod’s reign, Luke places it against the background of the Roman Empire. It is generally accepted that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. Luke begins by making a subtle contrast between Caesar Augustus who failed as an inaugurator of peace, and Jesus the Savior and bringer of peace. Both Tertullian and Justin Martyr (c. 165) state that in their time the records of the 4 B.C. census still existed along with those of 28 B.C., 8 B.C. and 14 A.D. In the Roman Empire, a census was taken periodically with the double object of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were subject to compulsory military service. Another hidden aim was to find out the true descendants of King David who had a claim to the throne as the king of the Jews. Luke’s purpose in mentioning the census was to provide God’s reason for, and means of, getting Mary and Joseph the roughly eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, wherein the promised heir of David was to be born, as prophesied by Micah (5:1). Bethlehem was commonly thought of as the city of David because of David’s birth and childhood there. Since travelers brought their own food, the innkeeper provided only fodder for the animals and a fire for cooking along with a spot to sleep within his walls. A manger is a feeding trough (food box), and it symbolizes the sacrificial meal that Jesus becomes, which provides sustenance for the whole world. Father Raymond Brown in his masterful book on the Infancy Narratives says that these stories are theologumena, not so much literal history as stories with a theological point – the other gratuitous and revolutionary impact of Jesus’ birth, life, and death. The important thing to remember is that they are stories of God’s love and Jesus’ role in history and that’s what counts, not historical details.
The first visitors: Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. If these shepherds were the ones in charge of the Temple sheep and lambs which were meant for daily sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, no wonder they were the first to see the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! Shepherding was a lonely, dirty job, and shepherds found it difficult to follow all the obligatory religious customs. Hence, they were scorned as non-observant Jews. So Baby Jesus selected these marginalized people to share His love at the beginning of his earthly ministry. The shepherds expressed their joy and gratitude by “making known what had been told them” (v. 17). Just as very ordinary people would later become witnesses to the Resurrection, very ordinary shepherds became witnesses to the Incarnation. Other than the angels, they were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ birth. Once we have been privileged to experience God’s presence, we, too, have the responsibility and the privilege of sharing that experience with other people – of spreading the word – of proclaiming the Gospel.
Good News of great joy: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” Perhaps because Luke was a Gentile convert, he establishes at the beginning of this Gospel that Jesus is for all the people — not just for the people of Israel: “… a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (v. 11). The Romans thought of Augustus as savior. However, Augustus’ peace was fragile. After his death, other men would assume power — men like Nero and Caligula whose names would be synonymous with treachery and cruelty. The angels introduced a different kind of Savior — a Savior who would continue His saving work throughout human history. The Savior of the First Century is also the Savior of the Twenty-first Century. The Savior of Israel is also the Savior of the World.
Glory to God and peace on earth: The angels welcomed Jesus’ birth singing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (v. 14). Later, the crowds would welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38). That peace is the shalom of God – life experienced in all its fullness, richness, and completeness, in accord with the will of God. The angelic song conveys the message that true peace on earth is available only to those able to receive it, that is with the good will to do the will of God, and thus to give Him glory.
Christmas is not just one day, but a season which lasts for twelve days, concluding on Epiphany (Twelfth Night). The extension of the feast should remind us to continue to share our joy at the comings of the Messiah – the first some 2000 years ago, the last at our death or at the Parousia, the “Second coming,” for which we all pray (Eucharistic acclamation – “We proclaim Your Death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection, until You come again”), and all those occurring between the two, as we live our daily lives. As we celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God this Christmas, we might make a conscious effort both to remember that Jesus is always with us in our hearts and in the Eucharist and to share our joy in His presence with others.
Life messages: 1) We need to reserve a room for Jesus in our heart: Christmas asks us a tough question. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? There is no point in being sentimental about the doors slammed by the folk in Bethlehem, if there is no room in our own hearts for the same Jesus coming in the form of the needy. We need to reverence each human life and to treat others respectfully as the living residences of the incarnate God. To neglect the old, to be contemptuous of the poor or to have no thought for the unemployed and the lonely is to ignore those individuals with whom Christ has so closely identified Himself. Hence, we all need to examine ourselves daily on the doors we close to Jesus.
2) We need to experience Jesus the Emmanuel: The real meaning of Christmas actually is Emmanuel, God-with-us – God coming down to us; God seeking us out; God coming alongside us; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance; God dwelling within us. Each one of us has, deep down in our souls, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
JOKES OF THE WEEK
1) A few days before Christmas, two young brothers were spending the night at their grandparent’s house. When it was time to go to bed, anxious to do the right thing, they both knelt down to say their prayers.
Suddenly, the younger one began to do so in a very loud voice. “Dear Lord, please ask Santa Claus to bring me a play-station, a mountain-bike and a telescope.”
His older brother leaned over and nudged his brother and said, “Why are you shouting your prayers? God isn’t deaf.”
“I know,” he replied. “But Grandma is!”
2) The 3 stages of man:
He believes in Santa Claus.
He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.
He becomes Santa Claus.
3) A friend was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands. He noticed a young man who showed up in the Church for Christmas and Easter as Poinsettias and Easter Lilies do. He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside. Pastor said, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” My friend said, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” Pastor questioned, “How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.” (L-19)
(“Scriptural Homilies” no.6-c by Fr. Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary of the homily for Christmas Dawn Holy Mass (Lk 2:15-20)
Introduction: The main theme of this Mass at dawn is an invitation to savor, by a life of sharing love, the lasting peace and celestial joy brought by the Divine Savior. St. John gives the main reason for our Christmas joy in his Gospel (3:16): “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life.” God showed His love for sinful man by sharing His love with us in His Son, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus, in turn, saved us by His suffering, death and Resurrection.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah shows the Jews that their God as a saving God Who will extend His redemption to His holy city. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Titus that God saves us through His Son Jesus, not because we have deserved it by our good deeds, but because of His mercy. Jesus continues His saving mission by allowing us to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to become God’s children and heirs of eternal life. Describing the response of the shepherds to the angelic message, today’s Gospel invites us to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and to bear witness to Him through our lives, by sharing love with others.
Life messages: 1) We need to be Christ-bearers and Christ-givers: Since it is Jesus Who gives real meaning to our celebrations, Jesus must be reborn in us each time we celebrate Christmas. Hence, let us leave “room in the inn” of our hearts for Jesus to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, if He is not born in my heart?” So let us pray for the grace of Jesus’ birth in each one of us today, bringing us love, mercy, kindness, and compassion to give away. Let us help all those around us to experience the newborn Savior – Jesus within us – as sharing love, in the form of compassionate words, unconditional love and forgiveness, selfless service, merciful deeds, and overflowing generosity.
2) We need to listen to God speaking to us every day and to respond promptly, as the shepherds did: There isn’t one of us in this Church this morning who hasn’t had God speak to him or her in some personal way. It may not have happened as dramatically as it did to these shepherds, but God has indeed spoken to our soul and spirit. Too often, however, we have chosen not to listen. Have we ever had an argument with a member of our family, heard that inner voice deep down within us telling us to stop, and we knew we should stop? Have we ever had that same inner sense of knowing we needed to do something or to avoid doing something? That was the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, the Spirit sent to us by the Father at the request of Jesus our Savior. Whether or not we chose to listen in those cases really isn’t the point. The point is that God has indeed spoken to us, and He continues to speak to us right now. How are we going to respond? Will we respond as Mary did, as the shepherds did and as the magi did? Or not? (L-19)
MASS AT DAWN: Is 62:11-12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20 (L-19)
(The theme: The joy and peace of the Savior through sharing love)
Anecdote: #1) Sharing the sorrow of chemotherapy: An 11-year-old boy with cancer lost all the hair on his head as a result of chemotherapy. When the time came for him to return to school, he and his parents experimented with hats, wigs, and bandanas to try to conceal his baldness. They finally settled on a baseball cap, but the boy still feared the taunts he would receive for looking “different.” Mustering up courage, he went to school wearing his cap – and discovered to his great surprise that all of his friends had shaved their heads to share their solidarity with their friend. It was their way of expressing their love and sympathy. No wonder God became man to express His love for mankind!( http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Introduction: The main theme of this Mass at dawn is an invitation to savor, by a life of sharing love, the lasting peace and celestial joy brought by the Divine Savior. St. John gives the main reason for our Christmas joy in his Gospel (3:16): “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life.” God shows His love for sinful man by sharing His love with us in the form of Jesus in Bethlehem. Jesus, in turn, saves us by His suffering, death and Resurrection. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah shows the Jews their God as a saving God Who will extend His redemption to His holy city. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Titus that God saves us through His Son Jesus, not because we have deserved it by our good deeds, but because of His mercy. Jesus continues His saving mission by allowing us to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to become God’s children and heirs of everlasting life. Describing the response of the shepherds to the angelic message, today’s Gospel invites us to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus, our Lord and Savior and to bear witness to Him through our lives, by sharing love with others.
First reading, Isaiah 62:11-12: Around 600 BC, the Babylonians took the Jews out of the Promised Land and kept them in exile (the Babylonian Captivity), for about 70 years. When Cyrus, a new Persian emperor, conquered Babylon, he sent the Jews home. This reading is set in that troubled period, when Judah was trying to put herself back together after returning from Exile. Daughter Zion means (the people of) the city Jerusalem. This was Judah’s capital, in the center of which stands Mount Zion where the Temple had been built. The gist of this short passage is that the people should keep up their spirits because soon they and their city will enjoy prosperity and international renown again, and their city will frequently be visited by tourists instead of remaining a ghost city. In other words, God’s own people will experience the saving and providing love of their God.
Second Reading, Titus 3:4-7: This passage is classic Pauline teaching, showing us that God saves us by incorporating us into Christ which is the real cause of Christian, and Christmas, joy. Among the congregation served by the early bishop Titus were Christians who believed they had to practice the laws of Judaism and to impose those laws on pagan converts to Christ. Paul reminds them that God saved us “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy.” In other words, law-driven righteous deeds don’t win our salvation; God gives it to us freely. We accept that gift by taking the bath of rebirth, Baptism, during which the Spirit is richly poured out on us. This, not our observance of laws, makes us justified (right with God) and gives us a starting place for living the Christian life from which our good works will flow; it is that “justification” which gives us the hope of eternal life.
Exegesis: The shepherds — the first visitors and the first missionaries: The orthodox Jews in Jesus’ time despised the shepherds because these men were quite unable to observe the ceremonial laws in all their details. In addition, shepherds had no spare time to take part in synagogue services nor to study Torah because shepherding was a full-time job. These shepherds with whom Jesus chose to share His love on Christmas day might have been the special shepherds in charge of the Temple sheep, which were set aside for the daily morning and evening sacrifice of unblemished lambs. If so, no wonder their shepherds were blessed with the unique privilege of seeing the divine Child – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”! They responded to this great privilege by bearing witness to God, by praising God and by spreading the news of the birth of a Savior. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel – God is with us – challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame fear to find Him, or like the Magi who traveled and searched for Him. We should have the generosity and good will to search for Him and find Him in unlikely places and persons. That is made possible for us only if we welcome Jesus of Bethlehem into our lives by allowing Him to be reborn in us. Then we will have the real experience of Christmas – and the joy of the Savior.
The angelic choir and their angelic message: Normally when a boy was born into a Jewish family, the local musicians congregated at the house to greet him with country music. Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angels sang the songs for Jesus that the earthly singers could not sing. The angel told the shepherds to rejoice because the Savior had come: “Don’t be afraid. I am here with Good News for you, which will bring great joy to all people. This very day in David’s town, your Savoir was born – Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). We rejoice today with those shepherds because we have a Savior who can free us from the bondage of sin. We have a Savior who liberates us from our slavery to impure, unjust and uncharitable thoughts, desires, and habits. We have a Savior Who can, and will, release us from our evil addictions, heal our physical and mental diseases, and free us from hatred, enmity, jealousy and bitterness.
Saviors and the Savior: History tells us that there has been no shortage of false liberators and pseudo-saviors, who have deceived generations of people all around the world. The Greek philosophers believed that education and knowledge would liberate the world. Later, rationalists like Voltaire and Rousseau taught that mere human reason, alone, provided an antidote for all human ills. Revolutionary movements, such as Communism, have offered mankind the dream of an earthly paradise. Today, many people advocate science as the solution for all human problems, while others turn to liquor, drugs, or other pleasures to escape their troubles. Our century has witnessed the uncontrolled use of sex as a false liberating instrument, and Eastern mystical experiences and modern psychological techniques as routes to peace of mind and heart. Despite the claims of these various panaceas, however, the true remedy for our ills, as every Christmas reminds us, is Jesus, our Divine Savior Who, alone, can give us both true liberation and lasting peace and joy.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” Christmas gives us the message of lasting peace, which we can possess only by sharing our blessings with others. This is the message contained in the celestial song of the angels, reported in Luke’s Gospel: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Christmas reminds us that God shared His love by giving us His Son. We respond to His love joyfully by using our health, wealth, talents and blessings for Him as He dwells in everyone we encounter. Just as Jesus shared His love with the poor shepherds and the humble Magi, we too are called to share our love with the less fortunate people around us. Sharing with love is the sign that one has the “good will” of which the angel spoke. The peace of Christmas is promised only to such large-hearted people, for only they are able to receive it.
Life messages: 1) We need to become Christ-bearers and Christ-givers: Since it is Jesus Who gives real meaning to our celebrations, Jesus must be reborn in us each time we celebrate Christmas. Hence, let us leave “room in the inn” of our hearts for Jesus to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, if He is not born in my heart?” So let us pray for the grace of Jesus’ birth in each one of us today, bringing us love, mercy, kindness, and compassion to give away. Let us help all those around us to experience the newborn Savior – Jesus within us – as sharing love in the form of compassionate words, unconditional forgiveness, selfless service, merciful deeds and overflowing generosity.
2) We need to listen to God speaking to us every day and to respond promptly, as the shepherds did: There isn’t one of us in this Church this morning who hasn’t had God speak to him or her in some personal way. It may not have happened as dramatically as it did to these shepherds, but God has indeed spoken to our soul and spirit. Too often, however, we have chosen not to listen. Have we ever had an argument with a member of our family, heard that voice deep down within us telling us to stop, and we knew we should stop? Have we ever had that same inner sense of knowing we needed to do something or to avoid doing something? That was the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, the Spirit sent to us by the Father at the request of Jesus our Savior. Whether or not we chose to listen in those cases really isn’t the point. The point is that God has indeed spoken to us, and He continues to speak to us right now. How are we going to respond? Will we respond as Mary did, as the shepherds did and as the magi did? Or not?
JOKE OF THE DAY
- A four-year-old girl went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas lights, displayed at various locations throughout the city. At one Church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautiful nativity scene. “Isn’t that beautiful?” said the little girl’s grandmother. “Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.” “Yes, Grandma,” replied the granddaughter. “It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn’t Baby Jesus ever going to grow up…? He’s the same size he was last year!”
- Some children were asked what love is. The responses were quite interesting and instructive for us adults. One said, “Love is when my mommy makes a cup of coffee for my daddy and takes a little taste before she gives it to him to make sure it tastes okay.” Another said, “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you’ve left him alone all day.” Another response was, “You really shouldn’t say, ’I love you’ unless you really mean it, but if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” One boy said, “When someone loves you, the way they call your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” And finally, seven-year-old Bobby said, “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
- Typical of last-minute Christmas shoppers, a mother was running furiously from store to store. Suddenly she became aware that the pudgy little hand of her three-year-old son was no longer clutched in hers. In a panic, she retraced her steps and found him standing with his little nose pressed flat against a frosty window. He was gazing at a manger scene. Hearing his mother’s near hysterical call, he turned and shouted with innocent glee, “Look Mommy! It’s Jesus – Baby Jesus in the hay!” With obvious indifference to his joy and wonder, she impatiently jerked him away saying, “We don’t have time for that!”
(“Scriptural Homilies” no.6-d by Fr. Tony (email@example.com
Summary of the homily for Christmas Day Holy Mass (Jn 1:1-18)
Introduction: While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham and Luke’s genealogy to Adam, John’s genealogy goes back to God Himself. John travels to eternity to reveal to us the theology of Christmas. He presents the Creation story as the framework for announcing the Incarnation. Viewing Jesus’ birth from God’s perspective, he clarifies the truth that Incarnation of God to save mankind was the Divine intention from the very beginning, from the moment of Creation. While the synoptic Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas and Jesus’ infancy narratives, the selection from John’s Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—His wonderful Name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God.
Scripture lessons: The first reading gives us the assurance that, just as Yahweh restored His Chosen People to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus, the Savior, will restore mankind to the kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God, Who had conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets, has now sent His own Son so that He might demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection the real nature of our God. John’s Gospel gives us a profoundly philosophical and theological vision of Christ, the result of John’s years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God’s love. John presents Jesus as the “Word of God.” In Jewish thought, this phrase describes God taking action as in His act of creation of the world. The Greeks understood “logos” or the Word of God as an intermediary between God and humanity. In the Biblical Christian theology, the word Logos came to be equated with the Second Person of the Trinity. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, John leaves no doubt as to the reality of Jesus’ human nature. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He records later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas: Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) and “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14-16). John tells us that God pitched His tent among us, meaning that God makes his home with us, He accompanies us, He lives with us, He shares our joys and our struggles, He eats with us, He becomes a meal for us in the Eucharist. The God who “pitched His tent” among us in Bethlehem and continues to live with each of us in our home, our apartment, our religious community or our retirement home, continues to dwell within us. That is why we rejoice, celebrating Christmas. A student came to a rabbi and said, ‘In the olden days there were people who saw the face of God. Why don’t they anymore?’ The rabbi replied, ‘Because nowadays no one can stoop that low.’ God keeps company with us. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (Jn 1.14)
Life messages: 1) A day to remember and a day to wait for: Today, while we remember and celebrate God’s first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward, because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming. The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him. In addition to these two “comings,” the Church teaches us that Christ comes to us every day through the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Bible and the worshipping community. We are asked to inaugurate Christ’s kingdom in our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth to build His kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.
2) We need to remember that there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn’t room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us. There’s no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness. There’s no room for our human power and prestige. There’s no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin. There’s no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride. There’s no room for bitterness and greed. There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable beings who desperately need the gifts of love and grace which God so lavishly gives us through the Sacraments, through the Holy Bible and during our prayers.
CHRISTMAS DAY: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9 (L-19)
Anecdotes: 1) A vision test: Once there was a Rabbi who asked his disciples the following question: “How do you know when the darkness has been overcome, when the dawn has arrived?” One of the disciples answered, “When you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a cow and a deer, then you know dawn has arrived.” “Close,” the Rabbi responded, “but not quite.” Another disciple ventured a response, “When you can look into the distance and distinguish a peach blossom from an apple blossom, then you know that the darkness has been overcome.” “Not bad,” the Rabbi said, “not bad! But the correct answer is slightly different. When you can look on the face of any man or any woman and know immediately that this is God’s child and your brother or sister, then you know that the darkness has been overcome, that the Daystar has appeared.” This Christmas morning when we celebrate the victory of Light over darkness, the Gospel of John introduces Jesus as the true Light Who came from Heaven into our world of darkness to give us clear vision. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
2) God is Light and in him is no darkness at all: Eight-year-old Benny died of AIDS in 1987. CBS made a movie drama about the trauma called Moving Toward the Light. As Benny lies dying in his mother’s arms, he asks, “What will it be like?” His mother whispers softly in his ear, “You will see a light, Benny, far away — a beautiful, shining light at the end of a long tunnel. And your spirit will lift you out of your body and start to travel toward the light. And as you go, a veil will be lifted from your eyes, and suddenly, you will see everything … but most of all, you will feel a tremendous sense of love.” “Will it take long?” Benny asks. “No,” his mother answers, “not long at all. Like the twinkling of an eye.” Many families have been devastated by AIDS. Amid the darkness and despair an eight-year-old boy and his mother witnessed to the sustaining power of the light of God’s presence. They have touched the lives of a multitude of people. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. — 1 John 1:5 (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
3) Jesus pitched his tent among us: The custom of placing lighted candles in the windows at Christmas was brought to America by the Irish. When religion was suppressed throughout Ireland during the English persecution, the people had no Churches. Priests hid in the forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night. It was the dearest wish of every Irish family that at least once in their lifetime a priest would arrive at Christmas to celebrate Mass. For this grace they hoped and prayed all through the year. When Christmas came, they left their doors unlocked and placed burning candles in the windows, so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity could be welcomed and guided to their home through the dark night. Silently the priest would enter through the unlatched door and be received by the devout inhabitants with fervent prayers of gratitude and tears of happiness that their home was to become a Church for Christmas. To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people explained that they burned the candles and kept the doors unlocked so that Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to stay, would find their way to their home and be welcomed with open hearts. The candles in the windows have always remained a cherished practice of the Irish, although many of them have long since forgotten the earlier meaning. (William Barker in Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
Introduction: While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham, the father of God’s people, and Luke’s genealogy of Jesus’ ancestry goes all the way back to Adam, thus embracing the whole human race, John’s goes back to God Himself. John is the only Gospel writer who does not stop at Bethlehem to explain the “reason for the season.” John is more concerned with the WHY and WHO of Christmas than with the WHERE of Christmas. So he travels to eternity to reveal the Person of Jesus Christ. This is a great passage because it gives us the theology of Christmas. While the Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas, the selection from John’s Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—His wonderful name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God. He was present at creation; He is actually the One through Whom all things were made. The Prologue to the Gospel of John and the prologue to the Letter to the Hebrews in the second reading are superb affirmations of the Person of Jesus Christ, expressed in beautiful theological words and metaphors. The first reading gives us the assurance that just as Yahweh restored His chosen people to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus the Savior will restore mankind to the kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God Who conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets has sent His own Son so that He might demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection, the real nature of our God. John’s Gospel gives a profoundly theological vision of Christ, the result of John’s years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God’s love. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, he leaves no doubt as to the reality of Christ’s human nature. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He records later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas: Jesus said “I am the Light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) and “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14-16).
First reading, Isaiah 52:7-10: This prophetic passage dates from the return of the Jews to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. The setting is the desolate city, Jerusalem, awaiting the return of the exiles from Babylon. The city is personified; rhetorically, it is called “Zion,” after the hill in its midst where the Temple stood. Isaiah first imagines that the city can hear, even at a distance, the footsteps of her returning children. The returnees are pictured as singing exultantly, “Your God is King!” Then Jerusalem’s sentinels raise the cry of recognition and join in the praise of God. Finally, the joyful people declare that all the earth will recognize the hand of God at work in their restoration. This return to Jerusalem, like the Exodus from Egypt centuries earlier, was a type or a foreshadowing of the greater redemption that was to come through Jesus the Messiah. The re-possession of the land of Canaan for a few years and the restoring of Jerusalem and Judah were but pale shadows of the great restoration and the possession of our eternal promised land which were to be given by the Messiah in the days to come, not only to Israel but to all nations. “Today’s feast celebrates the Christ-event. In fact, the glad tidings of the Deutero-Isaiahan messenger were only fully actualized, only fully heard and made comprehensible in the event of Jesus Christ. In the event of the Incarnation, Yahweh truly returns and restores Jerusalem; in the event of the Nativity, Yahweh draws near to comfort and console his people. In the event of Christ-made-flesh, God’s message of salvation achieves its utmost clarity.” (Celebration).
Second Reading, Hebrews 1:1-6: The addressees of the Letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews who were beginning to feel the pain of separation from their fellow-Jews who had refused to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Christian Jews needed to be reminded that their relationship with Jesus more than filled the gaps in their religious lives caused by the loss of Temple ritual and the like, particularly as they were suffering the temptation to change back to the old Law and the Jewish religion because of persecution from Judaizers. In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul explains to them how superior the New Covenant is to the old. The letter begins with a comparison of how God formerly spoke to their ancestors and how God has now definitively spoken to them through Jesus. These six verses from the Letter’s first chapter were chosen for today’s reading because of the clear, definite and emphatic declaration of the Divinity of Christ and His equality with God, which they contain. Paul asserts that the Baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, lived and died in Palestine, rose on the third day from the grave and ascended to Heaven forty days later, was also God, equal to the Father in all things. This is a mystery beyond our human comprehension, yet it is a fact, stated by Christ Himself, believed and preached by the Apostles, and accepted by the Church for two thousand years. The whole reading is about the superiority of Jesus to everything and everyone else and God’s final Self-Revelation through Jesus as superior to the Old Testament Revelation of God. Specifically, the reading declares that Jesus is superior to angels. That Jesus is also, necessarily, superior to the institutions of Judaism, from which the Hebrew Christians were cut off and for which they were feeling nostalgic, is implied in the passage.
Exegesis: The prologue of John’s Gospel: From the time of the earliest lectionaries, the Prologue to John’s Gospel (Chapter 1) was the traditional assigned Gospel for Christmas Day because it is one of the most magnificent (and theologically profound) passages in the entire New Testament. For several centuries, this passage was familiar to Catholic parishioners as the “Last Gospel,” since it was directed to be read at the conclusion of each Mass, as the final thought that would accompany God’s people as they left the Church and returned to their homes and daily occupations. It has been taken as the litmus test of theological orthodoxy regarding the reality of Christ’s Incarnation, and lies behind some of the wording of the Nicene Creed. “John’s Gospel highlights the deity of Jesus Christ, without minimizing His humanity.” (Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh; online at www.bible.org). Many scholars believe that the Prologue is an insistent rebuttal of certain Gnostic ideas, which denied the reality (or the possibility) of a Divine Incarnation. This Gnostic idea was later condemned as a heresy, called Docetism, which taught that the physical reality of Jesus was merely an “appearance” or a “façade,” and not inherent in who and what Jesus was.
The paradox of the Incarnation: Against later theories that Christ was somehow merely a “super-creature,” or an exemplary human being who had simply been subsequently “adopted” by God, John wants to make clear that the Son—unlike every creature born in time—pre-existed all things, and was, in fact, an active part of the Divine creative process. John the Evangelist proclaims the Incarnation of God, the most fundamental truth of Christianity, in the immortal words of his Prologue, making the connection between Jesus Christ and the Logos of God. Unlike most Jewish genealogies, this one traces Jesus’ origins to the Eternal Divinity. Between the beautiful Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, there lies the great paradox of the Christian Faith, the paradox of the Incarnation, the entering of God into the human story, in human form. The Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18), can be divided into three sections: a) the Word’s relationship to the Creator and Creation (1:1-5), b) the Word’s relationship to John the Baptist (1:6-9) and c) the Word’s relationship to the world (1:10-18).
The theology of the Word made flesh: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” According to almost all interpreters, this is the climax of John’s poetic Prologue—the culmination of his gradual theological “crescendo,” and the “key” to everything else in the Gospel. It is such a simple phrase, and yet is contains within it the promise, hope and challenge of Christianity in a nutshell! Within thirty years of Jesus’ death, the Christian Faith had traveled all over Asia Minor and Greece and had arrived in Rome. By AD 60, there must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the Church for every Jew who had become a Christian. But Jewish ideas like the Messiah, the center of Jewish expectation, were completely strange to the Greeks. Hence, the very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to the Greek Christians. The problem which John faced was how to present Christianity to the Greek world around him in the Greek city of Ephesus where he lived. He found that, in both Greek and Jewish thought, there existed the concept of the “word.” For the Eastern peoples, words had an independent, power-filled existence. The Greek term for word is Logos which not only means word, but also reason. Hence, whenever the Greeks used Logos, the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds. That is why John introduces Jesus to the Greeks as the eternal, light-giving and creative power of God, or the Mind of God in poetical prose, in the very beginning of his Gospel. In his Prologue, John deals with the major themes like the pre-existence of the Word, God/Word and Father/Son as distinct Persons but, at the same time, one God; of Jesus as God, Life and Light; of the struggle between Light and darkness; of the power of the Light over darkness. According to John, the Word of God, Jesus, gives Life and Light. Thus, the Prologue of John’s Gospel summarizes how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. One of the Fathers of the Church (St. Irenaeus) once said, “Gloria Dei, homo vivens,” (“the glory of God is a person fully alive”). If that can be said of any of us, how much more must it be true of the Word made Flesh? Here in this prologue, the evangelist enunciates Christ’s superiority not only to everyone else as the One mediator between God and humanity but also to the Law.
John the Baptizer’s role: John the Baptizer’s coming renewed Israel’s prophetic tradition after four hundred years of silence. Since John’s ministry was so powerful, some people thought of him as the Messiah. Hence, John’s Gospel makes a number of references to John the Baptizer, always clearly establishing that he was subordinate to Jesus. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light (vv. 7-8). John’s mission was to bear testimony to the Light (Jesus) — to serve as a witness to the Light (v. 7). John died as a martyr because he showed the courage of his prophetic convictions by correcting Herod the king for his immoral life.
The Messiah rejected by his own people: “He came to what was His own, and His own people did not accept Him” (1:11). Jesus “came home” to Israel, where the people should have known Him. And it was the homefolk, “His own,” the Israelites, the Chosen People, who did not receive Him. God had prepared them for centuries to receive the Messiah into their midst, but they rejected him. This rejection of the Word by Jesus’ own people is restricted neither to the time of Jesus nor to that of the Fourth Gospel. Much of the world today is still in rebellion, “preferring darkness to Light, because its deeds are evil” (3:19-20). That is true of all of us at certain points in our lives, but we are not imprisoned in those moments. We can, as long as we are alive, turn to Him, repentant and believing, and become His own again. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God” (v. 12).
“The Word became Flesh and lived among us” (v. 14): The Word becoming flesh is the zenith of God’s Self-revelation. God Who spoke earlier through the prophets now speaks through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2), and lives among us. The Word Who dwelt with God now dwells with “us,” becoming a human being like us and thus bridging the great chasm between God’s world and our world. Verse 14 declares that the God Who once dwelt among them in the Tabernacle and the Temple, now chooses to dwell among them in the Person of Jesus. In the Old Testament, Moses was not allowed to see the face of God. Now, however, we are allowed to see Jesus’ glory — and His face. Thus, the Father is fully revealed to us, because, “Whoever has seen (the Son) has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). The other Gospels depict the glory of God coming upon Jesus at the Transfiguration. John does not relate this incident, both because he sees the glory of God in all Jesus says and does, and because the hour for Jesus to be glorified is the crucifixion.
“We have all received, grace upon grace.” (v. 16): The Word is full of grace and truth – attributes of God – attributes that the Word shares with God as the “Father’s only Son” (v. 15). It is from this One Who is “full of grace and truth” that we receive “grace upon grace.” In other words, we draw grace from the total resources of God, an inexhaustible storehouse. Regardless of our need for grace, the supply is greater. Let us imagine ourselves standing on the seashore, watching the waves roll in. They come every few seconds, and the supply never fails. That is how God’s grace comes to us. Let us at this Christmas time try to count just some of those “graces showered on us.” Verse 17 identifies the Word as Jesus: “The Law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The gift that is the Truth surpasses and perfects the former gift of the Law given through Moses. Note the contrasts between Moses and Jesus: We received the law through Moses, but we receive grace and truth through Jesus Christ (v. 17). John’s Prologue begins by declaring that that the Word was God (v. 1), and concludes (v.18), by proclaiming that the Son is God.
Life messages: 1) A day to remember and a day to wait for: Today, while we remember and celebrate God’s first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming. However, Christ is not going to return as a Child but as a Warrior, a Judge, a mighty Savior. The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him. So we are looking back and remembering the past coming of Jesus as our Savior, and looking forward and preparing for His future coming in glory as Judge to reward and punish. In addition to these two “comings,” the Church teaches us that Christ is here now, Christ is present, Christ comes to us today, and Christ comes to us every day. Christmas is actually a celebration intended to heighten our awareness of the fact that Christ has been born, Christ lives, and Christ is present now in our lives. Christmas reminds us, through the lives of the people in the Christmas narrative, of the importance of helping to bring the presence of Christ to the world around us and of being sensitive to that presence when the Lord comes to us in the least expected people, and in unexpected places and situations. We are asked to welcome Christ’s Kingdom into our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth with His grace to build His kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.
2) We need to remember that there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn’t room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us. There’s no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness. There’s no room for our human power and prestige. There’s no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin. There’s no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride. There’s no room for bitterness and greed. There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable beings who desperately need the gift of love and grace which God so powerfully desires to give.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
1) It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one. In desperation she called over a shop assistant and said “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?” “No” he replied, “They’re all dead”.
2) Just before Christmas, an honest politician, a generous lawyer and Santa Claus were riding in the elevator of a very posh hotel. Just before the doors opened they all noticed a $20 bill lying on the floor. Which one picked it up?
Santa of course, because the other two – an honest politician, a generous lawyer – don’t exist! 3) To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman” and–this is a real song–“Suzy Snowflake,” all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology. (Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 1991). L/19
[Prepared by: Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604 ]