The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Readings: Is 52:7-10; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18

UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN

Recognizing Jesus

One of my favorite Christmas stories is about the old shoe cobbler who dreamed one Christmas Eve that Jesus would come to visit him the next day. The dream was so real that he was convinced it would come true.

So the next morning he got up and went out and cut green boughs and decorated his little cobbler shop and got all ready for Jesus to come and visit. He was so sure that Jesus was going to come that he just sat down and waited for Him.

The hours passed and Jesus didn’t come. But an old man came. He came inside for a moment to get warm out of the winter cold. As the cobbler talked with him he noticed the holes in the old man’s shoes, so he reached up on the shelf and got him a new pair of shoes. He made sure they fit and that his socks were dry and sent him on his way.

Still he waited. But Jesus didn’t come. An old woman came. A woman who hadn’t had a decent meal in two days. They sat and visited for a while, and then he prepared some food for her to eat. He gave her a nourishing meal and sent her on her way.

Then he sat down again to wait for Jesus. But Jesus still didn’t come.

Then he heard a little boy crying out in front of his shop. He went out and talked with the boy, and discovered that the boy had been separated from his parents and didn’t know how to get home. So he put on his coat, took the boy by the hand and led him home.

When he came back to his little shoe shop it was almost dark and the streets were emptied of people. And then in a moment of despair he lifted his voice to heaven and said, “Oh Lord Jesus, why didn’t you come?”

And then in a moment of silence he seemed to hear a voice saying, “Oh shoe cobbler, lift up your heart. I kept my word. Three times I knocked at your friendly door. Three times my shadow fell across your floor. I was the man with the bruised feet. I was the woman you gave to eat. I was the boy on the homeless street.”

Jesus had come. The cobbler just didn’t realize it.

Some Christmas Reminders

* May the Christmas GIFTS remind us of God’s greatest gift, His only Son.

* May the Christmas CANDLES remind us of Him who is the “Light of the world.”

* May the Christmas TREES remind us of another tree upon which he died.

* May the Christmas CHEER remind us of Him who said, “Be of good cheer.”

* May the Christmas FEAST remind us of Him who is “the Bread of Life.”

* May the Christmas BELLS remind us of the glorious proclamation of His birth.

* May the Christmas CAROLS remind us of the Son the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”

* May the Christmas SEASON remind us in every way of Jesus Christ our King!

The Christmas Problem

Once upon a Christmas Eve, a man sat in reflective silence before the fireplace, pondering the meaning of Christmas. “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of man? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.” Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer climes of the Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked. “If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.

Some Gifts to Give

Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone, “I love you.” Give something away–anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.

Today, we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Lord’s Birth which is popularly known as Christmas. But what is Christmas anyway?

The word Christmas comes from the words Cristes maesse or “Christ’s Mass” Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Savior of all humankind especially for us Christian Catholics. Most historians peg the first Christmas celebration to Rome in 336 A.D. Christmas is both a holiday and a holyday. For us Catholics, it’s an important day in our liturgical calendar of the Church since the Lord became incarnate. For us Catholics too, it’s one of the big holy feast days celebrated WORLDWIDE. Other holy days could be New Year’ day, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints and All Souls Day and the Immaculate Conception. It is such a big deal since as Christians, we follow Jesus and the birth of Jesus is important to us.

We give each other gifts during Christmas, what is the reason? We give Christmas gift because of a tradition that seems begin with the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus. As stated in the gospel of St. Matthew: “On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh.”

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

In a dramatic day of July in the year 587 B.C. the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar opened a breach in the walls of Jerusalem and entered into the city. They burned the temple, the royal palace, and the houses. They took all bodied men as prisoners and deported them to Babylon. They left alive in the country just a few of the poorest as tenants and farmers (2 K 25:8-12).

In Babylon, the first years were hard, painful and sad. The lyrics of the exile’s famous song is its melancholy echo: “By the streams of Babylon, we sat and wept as we remembered Zion” (Ps 137:1). A disturbing question was added to the bitterness, humiliation of the defeat, the pain of the loss of loved ones, nostalgia for the land: why has the Lord abandoned us in the hands of our enemies?

They unanimously concluded that the dull and foolish rulers who have governed them were primarily responsible for the disaster. They did not listen to the prophets and led them to ruin. But we too are guilty. We become ensnared and we make too many iniquities. Who now can free us from slavery? Will the Lord be always angry with us? Has he repudiated his bride Israel forever?

The Lord’s answer was immediate: “Who could abandon his first beloved?—says your God—For a brief moment I have abandoned you, but with great tenderness, I will gather my people…. Though the mountains may depart and the hills be moved, but never will my love depart from you” (Is 54:6-10).

In fact, one day the Lord “has not forgotten his love or his faithfulness to Israel” (Ps 98:3) and decided to free his people. It is at this point of the story that our reading is inserted.

A prophet sent by God to preach the word of consolation to his people appears in Babylon. He is so convinced of the faithfulness of the Lord who speaks as if the exile had already ended. The future for him is already a reality. He sees the caravan of exiles heading to Jerusalem. A messenger precedes her; he runs as if he had wings on his feet because he wants to be the first to give the good news of the arrival of the deportees.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

One does not speak only with the tongue. A darkened face, a smile, a simple glance, a caress, a handshake, often communicate better than words what one has in mind and heart. A gift is loaded with messages, even when it is not accompanied by a card. Even silence can be a “word”. In the famous story of Elijah’s encounter with God at Horeb, after saying that God was not in the mighty wind, the earthquake, and fire, the sacred text continues: “After the fire, the murmur of a gentle breeze” (1 K 19:12). It was God who manifested himself in the silence….

He intervenes in the world only through his word. The reading tells us that he addresses people in many different ways.

In ancient times he spoke through creation. That creation speaks of God is completely normal because it originated from his word. In all events, in all the phenomena of nature, in the rising sun, in the rain that irrigates the fields, in the smooth turn and ordering of the stars, one can hear the message of God.

Whoever—perhaps distracted or entranced by the beauty of things—fails to capture this voice is called in biblical language “foolish.” Not evil or guilty, but “fool,” that is, unfortunate because, in his stupidity, he misses the meaning of everything that exists and happens. The author of the Book of Wisdom observes: “The natural helplessness of humans is seen in their ignorance of God. The experience of good things did not lead them to the knowledge of Him who is. They were interested in the works, but they did not recognize the author of them. If, charmed by such beauty, they took them for gods, let them know how far superior is their sovereign” (Wis 13:1,3).

Gospel: John 1:1-18

We spent a lot of time getting our homes in order in the lead up to Christmas, didn’t we? Especially if we were having guests or family over for Christmas, we may have spent hours cleaning, decorating, cooking, and reorganizing. We want our homes to be welcoming places for those who visit us.

What kind of home welcomed the Son of God? What kind of dwelling place did he find? Well, you know the story well. There was no room for him at the inn, so his first home was in a stable. Not long after that Herod want to annihilate him, so he and his parents made Egypt their home. Upon return, his home became Nazareth, and there he lived for the next thirty years. Then, when his public ministry began, he was a guest in all kinds of homes. He dined with religious elite and with the prominent Pharisees of the day. But he also entered the homes of sinners and outcasts, like Zacchaeus. He visited the homes of those who were sick and those who had already died, like Jairus’ daughter whom he raised to life. In the many homes where he was a guest, there were those who loved him dearly and welcomed him. But there were also those who plotted his death – indeed, he would soon make his home in the grave; he would become a guest in the tomb.

But the gospel for today speaks of another home that Christ entered. In 1:14 the evangelist John tells us: ‘The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’. ‘The Word’ here refers to Christ, God’s Son. And what is meant by ‘flesh’? Flesh stands for everything we are: our bodies, our souls, and our minds; but also our weakness, our mortality and our sin. And that’s where Christ has made his home. He has made his home in our flesh. The Son of God has become a resident in all that we humans are.

What kind of welcome did he receive to this home? Not a warm one, John tells us: ‘though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him’. He stands at the front door of his own home, his own children answer the door, and yet they tell him: We don’t know who you are – good bye’.

What kind of welcome does he receive in your home? Do you always feel at ease with Jesus at your kitchen table, or in the back seat of your car? Is he welcome in the conversations you share and the thoughts you think? Do you invite him to join in the gossip? Is your home, is your flesh, a fitting place for Christ?

Well let’s face it, often it isn’t. But that’s just the point! Christ was born in Bethlehem for no other reason that he could live in your life. The Word became flesh so that you can welcome him every day. Christ is always a guest in the home of sinners. He won’t politely ask to leave when we become embarrassingly entangled in sin. He doesn’t mutter excuses about needing to be elsewhere when our good Christian front falls to pieces. As long as you’re willing, he’ll stay. For the Word became flesh – and he still is.

But as long as he stays, your home will also change. And that’s because as well as entering your home, he also brings gifts. Not a box of toys or bowl of tossed salad, but something much better. Listen again to our verse: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. He comes with Christmas hampers full of grace and full of truth.

By his grace he accepts the state of our home – but with his truth he repairs and restores it. By grace he redeems us from the sins of our flesh – with his truth he renews us to serve him. His grace puts up with our ignorance and silliness – his truth enlightens our minds with the knowledge of God. By grace he dwells with sinners, and by his truth he sets us free from sin. This is the guest who enters our homes: the One who became flesh and dwelt among us.

And this is also what Christmas is all about. For these days will soon pass through Epiphany and then on to Lent and Easter and Pentecost. The baby in the manger will grow, he will suffer, he will die, he will rise and take his place in his eternal home, at the Father’s right hand. And there, brothers and sisters in Christ, he prepares a home for us. Not in fallen flesh, but in the new creation. For the one who wrote: ‘the Word became flesh’ also recorded Jesus’ promise: ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’.

May the Son of God, who prepares a home for us, dwell in our homes today and always. Amen.

KEEPING CHRISTMAS

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…

• to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;

• to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;

• to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

• to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

• to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

• to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

• to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;

• to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;

• to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

• to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;

• to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

• to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;

• to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

• to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—

• stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—

• and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem 2000 years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy, FORGIVENESS

To your opponent, TOLERANCE

To a friend, your HEART

To a customer, SERVICE

To all, CHARITY

To every child, a good EXAMPLE

Wishing all a happy and holy Christmas and New Year!

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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