The Nativity of the Lord: At the Mass During the Day

Today’s readings

A few years back, there was a great commercial out that has three senior ladies talking.  One of them, the hostess, has taped all kinds of photographs to her living room wall and says that it’s a really quick way to share these memories with her friends.  Just like her car insurance: it only took 15 minutes to get a quote.  One of her friends said she was able to do that in half the time, so the hostess says, “I unfriend you.”  Her former friend says, “That’s not how this works; that’s not how any of this works!”

I thought of that commercial because I think that, often, many people don’t get how God works.  They either think that he’s a capricious policeman who’s always looking for some kind of way to catch them in a trivial sin so that he can send them to the place downstairs, or they think he’s a friend who overlooks all their faults and doesn’t mind if they never give him a second thought.  Both positions are not how God works!

And if you asked a lot of people why Christmas is so important, if they have any religious answer at all, they might tell you that probably God finally found the right answer after so many years of failure.  That all along, from the time of Adam and Eve, people had been doing whatever they wanted, and so God was at his wit’s end and finally just sent his only begotten Son down here to straighten things out.  But that’s not how God works!

The truth is, as we see in today’s Gospel, that God had always intended to save the world by sending his own Son who was with him in the beginning.  The Word – God’s Son – was with him in the beginning and everything that has ever been made has been made through him.  Not only that, but in the fullness of time, the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.  The Greek here says literally that he “pitched his tent” among us.  That was the plan – from the beginning – for God’s own Son to become flesh so that we could become like God.  It’s a marvelous exchange!

And when he became flesh, he lived as one of the people in that time.  He walked among them and had all the same concerns they did.  He was like us in all things but sin.  When the appointed hour came, he took on our sins and was crucified for our salvation.  He died like we do, but so that sin and death would no longer be able to hold us bound to the earth, he rose from the dead and attained eternal life.  Now we can do that, too, one day, if we believe in God’s Word and live the way he taught us.

Jesus became one of us, pitching his tent among us, so that he could gather us all up and bring us back to heaven with him, to the kingdom of God for which we were created, in the beginning.  That was always the plan.  But sin and death keeping us from friendship with God is obliterated by the saving act of Jesus.  Sin and death no longer have the final word, because that’s not how this works.  That’s not how any of this works!

The Nativity of the Lord: At the Mass During the Night

Today’s readings

It’s all about the zeal of the Lord of Hosts!

Because when you think about it, God doesn’t have to care about our welfare or our salvation.  He’s God, he’s not in need of anyone or anything, because he is all-sufficient.  He doesn’t need our love, he doesn’t need our praise, he doesn’t need our contrition … honestly, he doesn’t need us period.

But because God is who he is, because he is Goodness in all its perfection, because he is Love beyond all telling, because he is Truth in its purest form, because he is Beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen, because he is our God, he cannot not care about us.  He cannot not want us to come to salvation.  And so he pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

He created us in love, and even though he doesn’t need us, he still loves us, and can’t do anything but that.  Throughout time, we’ve disappointed him, and when he forgave us – which he didn’t have to do – we disappointed him again.  That’s been the story of us as a people, and also our own personal stories, if we’re honest.  How many times have we all sinned, and after being forgiven, go back and sin again?  Honestly, if we were God, we’d throw up our hands and walk away.  But, thank God, we’re not God, and our God isn’t like that.  As often as we turn away and come back, he reaches out to us with the love of the father for his prodigal son.  Our God pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

When our need for a Savior was great, when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, after Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel had made God’s desire for reconciliation known, our Lord Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desired to consecrate the world by his most loving presence.  Being conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, he was born in Bethlehem of Judah and was made man.  As a man, he walked among the people of his time and lived as one of us, in all things but sin.  At the appointed hour, he took on our sins and was nailed to a cross.  He died to pay the price for all of us, in order to redeem us and bring us back to friendship with the Father.  Because of this, the power of death and sin to keep us from God has been canceled out, and we have the possibility of eternal life.  Our God pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

We gather this night not to wish each other happy holidays or season’s greetings, but instead to revel in the zeal that our God has for our souls.  We who are so much less than him, and so unworthy of his love, nonetheless have his love and are intimately known to him, better than we even know ourselves.  In God’s zeal for us, he reaches out to us when we fall, walks with us when we suffer, and brings us back to him when we wander away.  There is nowhere we can go, no place we can run, no depth to which we can fall, that is beyond the reach of God’s zealous love for us.  And that’s why this night, when we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, is such an amazing and holy night for us.  If not for this night, the night of our salvation on Easter would never come to pass.  This night we celebrate not just the birth of a baby, but the birth of God’s intimate presence in the world from the moment of his birth until time is no more.

It’s no wonder the angels sang that night: they knew what the world had yet to behold.  They knew that God’s zeal had obliterated the chasm between the world and its maker.  They knew that the sadness of death was coming to an end.  They knew that the power of sin had been smashed to bits.  They new the light of God’s Radiant Dawn had burst forth upon the earth.  They knew that in this moment, the sad melody of sin had given way to a chorus of God’s glory.  They knew that the dirge of death had dwindled to the peace that God pours forth on those whom he favors.

That moment, all those years ago, changed everything.  Nothing would be the same.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this!

The Nativity of the Lord: At the Vigil Mass

Today’s readings
Children/Family Mass

In a town called Nazareth in Galilee, a long time ago, Mary lived with her parents, Joachim and Ann.  Mary was only a young girl, maybe 14 years old.  She came from a quiet little area of the world, and just looking at them, you’d have to say nothing about her family was very special.  She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, because that was when people got married in those days, but she wasn’t married yet.

She was busy doing her chores one day, when she was surprised by the appearance of an angel named Gabriel.  As you can imagine, the appearing of an angel can be a little frightening, but Gabriel reassured her and told her that the Lord was with her.  He told her not to be afraid, because God wanted her to be the mother of his Son Jesus.  Jesus would become great and would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever.  Mary was confused how she could have a baby, because she was not married, but the angel reassured her that all things are possible with God.  She was amazed, but she had faith, and said to the angel, “Let it happen as you have said.”

Mary sang a hymn proclaiming how great God was, and went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also going to have a baby, even though she was very old.  When she got there, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary helped Elizabeth for three months and returned home.

Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph, and when he heard that Mary was pregnant, he was upset.  He was going to break off the engagement, but he had a visit from the angel too.  He came to be with her and took her into the city of David for the census (a time that the king wanted to count everyone in his kingdom).

They had a terrible time finding a place to stay during the journey, since so many people were traveling to take part in the census.  Eventually, it became urgent: on the way, Mary gave birth to her baby, and had Jesus in a manger where the animals stayed.  Many people came to visit Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and gave the baby gifts and said wonderful things about him, things Mary would never forget.  She kept all of this very close to her in her heart.

Mary and Joseph raised Jesus and watched him become a strong, healthy, and smart young man.  One time, when the family went to Jerusalem for a visit to the holy temple, Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus.  They were on the way home when they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them or any of their friends or family.  They were so upset and frightened!  Returning to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, talking about their faith, with all of the rabbis and teachers.  He was only twelve years old!

Eventually Joseph died, and Mary stayed near Jesus.  She watched him start his ministry, the whole reason God had sent him to earth in the first place.  He called his disciples and taught all the people.  He cured the sick and fed many hungry people.  He worked many miracles and always talked about how good God was, and how much God loved people, and how they should all turn back to God and turn away from the bad things they had been doing.  Mary watched as he did all these wonderful things, and she saw how faithful he was to God’s work.

But Mary also began to see that Jesus wasn’t making everybody happy.  She saw that when he cured people on the Sabbath day, the day of rest, the leaders of the temple became angry.  She saw that when Jesus told them to take care of the poor and the hungry and the homeless instead of worrying about what day it was, the religious leaders wanted to kill him.  Mary watched as eventually they did take hold of Jesus, carried him off for a trial before Pilate the governor, and nailed him to the cross.

At the foot of the cross, Mary stood sorrowful, knowing what a wonderful gift she and the whole world had been given in Jesus.  But Jesus took care of Mary even then, and entrusted her to the care of his friend John.  After Jesus died on the cross, Mary along with some of the other women in the group were the first ones to see that Jesus rose from the dead!  Mary stayed with the other disciples and prayed with them that the whole world would come to know the message of Jesus.  Her sorrow turned to joy as she watched the community grow and live the things Jesus had taught them.

Those disciples were the ones who passed the faith on to us.  Because of the courage of the disciples and especially of Mary, we today can believe in Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life from him.  Because of the faith of Mary, we can live forever with God and never have to be afraid of death or be mastered by sin.  All of this happened because Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

It is good for us to hear Mary’s story, because she lived her life following Jesus.  We’re supposed to do that too.  Mary got to see Jesus face-to-face, even hold him in her arms.  We might not be able to do that, but Jesus is close to all of us as long as we let him in.  Just like they made a place for Jesus to be born in a manger, we need to make a manger for Jesus in our own hearts so that he can be born in us and always be with us.

It’s very important that we all hear that just as God sent an angel to Mary, he sends angels to us all the time.  Those angels tell us, too, that we should not be afraid because God loves us and cares for us and wants to do great things with us, just like he did with Mary.  All he needs for us to do is to say, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

The Nativity of Our Lord: Mass During the Night and During the Day

Today’s readings: Mass During the Night | Mass During the Day

We settle for mediocrity way too easily sometimes, I think. All of the “stuff” that we have to have or get to give at this time of year is an example of that. The latest gadgets will be out of date very soon, and the hard-to-get toys will all be forgotten or broken shortly after the new year. The things we think will make us happy are not happiness givers after all, and then we are left with a sense of want for something else, which also will leave us unfulfilled. But tonight/today we celebrate that that does not have to be our enduring reality. We are given, in this celebration, the gift that won’t ever go out of date, or be broken or useless. Today we are given the great gift of the Incarnation of our Lord.

The Incarnation is a great and holy mystery that tells us that God loved us so much, he couldn’t bear to live without us. When we had gone our own way and wandered far away from him, he pursued us to bring us back. He went so far as to become one of us: the Great and Almighty One, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than all the heavenly hosts, this God of ours took on our frail human flesh to walk among us and touch us and bring us back to himself. He so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross. And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

This, brothers and sisters, is truly a great and wonderful feast! It’s no wonder the angels sang on that glorious night! If it weren’t for the Incarnation – Jesus’ taking on our mortal flesh – there could never be a Good Friday or an Easter, there could never be salvation, never be hope for us. But there is. That’s the good news that we celebrate tonight (today) and every day of our lives.

Knowing God’s love in this way is the whole reason the Church exists. That people would not know God’s love and not experience his friendship was so unthinkable to the early followers of Jesus that they went forth everywhere preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace.

So we come to this holy place tonight, gathered together to gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger. The message of this peaceful scene is that God wants to save the world. He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day, and live forever with him in the kingdom. But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we could never really return to him on our own. We were – and are – too bogged down in mediocrity, too caught up in things that are not God, and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness. So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history in a decisive way.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere. John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows – like us in all things but sin. He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence. He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother. The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people. Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us. That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life. What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more. So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses. But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own. Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing. That was always the plan God had for us.

That’s our story. It’s really important that we don’t forget it, and even more important that we tell it to everyone we can. It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th. Our story is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people. The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s love in the world. That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something far less. The great gift of God’s love shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that story and not accept what others want to make us. If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us. We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord tonight (today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all. Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and please see one of us, to point you in the right direction. Please don’t walk away from this glorious celebration without knowing that God did it for you – for all of us, sure – but specifically for you.

If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive tonight and your encounter with Christ tonight leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others. That’s our job as Christians, every one of us pointing the way to Christ in our own way, in our own place, so that everyone we meet knows what wondrous joys await those who live in Christ. The gift we have been given absolutely must be shared, and it is part of our baptismal commitment to Christ to share it.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything. When we all rediscover Christ, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us. When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

The Nativity of the Lord: Children’s Vigil Mass

Today’s readings
#christmasnd

Once upon a time, there was an old shepherd named Elias. He had been a shepherd for his whole life long, just like his father, and his father’s father. Being a shepherd was hard and lonely work. He took care of a large group of sheep and did his best to protect them from wolves and to keep them together. He would lead them by day from pasture to pasture, allowing them to graze, and bring them safely to market where they would give their wool for people to use.

Nights could be very lonely and sometimes scary. There was no one else to talk to, and he did his best to keep the sheep safe. Sometimes, if he listened hard enough, he could imagine the wind talking to him as it blew through the trees. That made him feel like he wasn’t so alone.

One night, as he was nearing the place where he and the sheep would spend the night, he saw a bright light up in the distance. He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on so he moved toward it. When he got close enough, he got the sheep settled down for the night and he went to check out the light and make sure there was nothing to worry about.

Other shepherds had done the same thing, and they all arrived to see the angel of the Lord, surrounded by the bright light of God’s glory. It was frightening to see, and Elias and the others just stood there, awe-struck, not knowing what to think.

Then the angel spoke to them. He said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Then the sky grew really bright as hundreds of angels joined in and began to sing: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests!”

When the angels left, Elias and the other shepherds decided to travel the short distance to Bethlehem, the city of David, and to search out the Savior that the angel talked about. Bethlehem was a pretty small village, and so it didn’t take much looking to find the baby.

He was in a manger – a feed-trough for animals. His parents looked like ordinary people, but Elias knew that this baby was special, and that the family was holy. The angel was right: there was joy and peace here, it was a special feeling that Elias knew could only come from God’s blessing.

Elias never forgot that night. He went about taking care of his sheep, but whenever he was in town, he would try to find out about the baby he saw that night. He found out the boy’s name was Jesus, and he would often hear of wonderful things that Jesus said and did. When he was very old, Elias heard that people had turned against Jesus and they nailed him to a cross. But he also heard that three days later, he rose from the dead, and all of his friends were now starting to go out and tell the Good News about him.

Elias knew that Jesus was special from that very first night he saw him. He knew that Jesus had come to change everything. And he was right. Got changed everything then, and he continues to change everything now, if we let him. Jesus didn’t just get born two thousand years ago; Jesus is born right here, right now for us, if we would just make a little space, a little manger for him in our hearts.  Just as Elias didn’t know exactly what God had in store for Jesus, we don’t know what God has in store for any of us in the year ahead.  But we do know this: God sent Jesus so that He could be here among us, and he is here among us now, leading us back to him, telling us that we are his special children, and loving us all with love beyond anything we can imagine.

Things were hard for Elias and the other shepherds, and for Jesus and his family, and sometimes things will be hard for us too.  But all along the way, there are angels, guiding us to where God wants us, watching over us, shining the light, and helping us to find the Good News.  Today, God brings us here to worship, so that like those shepherds, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings
#adventnd #christmasnd #advent #christmas

What has captured my imagination as I’ve prayed this Advent is how we have been given this wonderful gift. This gift eclipses anything we’ll ever be given, anything we will ever earn, anything that will ever cross our meandering path in life. Today, the readings call that gift Emmanuel – God with us. I think sometimes we forget how wonderful this is. That the infinite all-powerful awesome God, who is not in need of anything or anyone for His self-worth, that He would choose to come to earth and take the flesh of his creatures, this is a truth too wonderful to even imagine. But not only that, this God took on our imperfections so completely that he paid the price for our many sins, both individually and as a society. He died the death we deserve for our waywardness, and then he rose from the dead in the Resurrection that assures us access to eternal life, if we will but love and follow him. No gift on earth is like this one!

The most important thing that we can know about this Gift is that it isn’t just for us. It is for us, but never only for us. We are meant to share it. Because we have been loved by God who is Love itself, with a love so complete and sacrificial and permanent, then we have to be willing to love that way too. The people God puts in our lives: our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors – all of them deserve to be loved in this same way too, and it’s up to us to be conduits of that love to others.

So we have to be on the lookout for ways to do that. Think about it: those of us who are here all the time could well, and often do, get our noses out of joint at this time of year. We put in all the effort to get here every week, so maybe the lack of parking and the packed seats inconvenience us to the point of irritation. But what if it didn’t?

What if, instead, we used this as an opportunity to put the discipleship we’ve been learning about all year long into practice? What if we chose to see Jesus in all of them, to be aware of Emmanuel – God with us – in such a way that we did everything we could to make their first time with us, or their first time in a long time, a memorable one? What if we as a parish decided that a loving relationship with our God was so glorious, so important, that we didn’t want anyone to go without one? What if, as a community, we decided there is nothing we won’t do to make those who visit us on Christmas irresistibly attracted to our community, so that when they’re here they think, “Those people at Notre Dame know something I don’t, and I have to find out what it is”? Well, that’s what I’d like us to try and do this Christmas.

I liken it to the whole way Jesus came into the world. We all know the story, don’t we? The whole world was on the move, headed to their native places to be counted for the census, and there wasn’t an inn anywhere that would take Mary and Joseph, and the coming Christ Child in. But one innkeeper made some room out back and gave the newborn King the best he could offer. We absolutely know that Christ is in our brothers and sisters, so how on earth can we turn them away? As Saint Benedict teaches his monks, “Let all guests be received as Christ.”

And so I’m going to make some suggestions for things that we can all do to make people feel welcome, to help them to know that there is a joy here in our community that has to be shared. First, make some room. I know we all want to get here first for a good parking spot. But if you can walk here, would you consider doing that, just to make a spot for a visitor? I can remember when my family would try to get to Mass as soon as possible to stake out a good seat, and I’d see so many people with coats over whole sections of a pew like they were lawn chairs on parking spaces in the city! We all want to have room, but if you can move in a little and let some other folks sit with you, would you consider being a bit uncomfortable so that someone can be welcome?

Lots of times people will come here and won’t know where they’re going. We all want to get to Mass on time, but if you see someone looking puzzled, would you consider taking a moment to ask if you could help them? If they’re looking for the bathroom, would you go out of your way just this once to walk them there so they don’t get lost in the crowds coming in on a busy day? Again, as intent as we are to get to our seats, if you notice someone coming in who needs some help walking, could you offer them your arm, or hold the door open?

We all like to see our friends and the people we know at Mass. It’s a comfort to us. So it might take a little concerted effort, but would you consider smiling at someone you’ve never seen before, perhaps introducing yourself and telling them what you like about Notre Dame? Because it just takes a tiny little gesture, or a little inconvenience for us, to make a huge difference. What if every person who walked through the door on Christmas Eve or Christmas had a life-changing experience because of the way that we treated them? We can do that, and I really think that we should. Would you all be willing to do a little something extra to make someone know God’s love in an awesome way? I’m counting on all of you to do that. If every Guest is received as Christ, then as Saint Benedict also said, we will all go together one day to eternal life!

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Today’s readings
Mass for the school children.
#adventnd #advent #Christmas

I can’t believe it but Christmas is only just nine days away now! I know everyone is so busy writing letters to Santa, being good so they don’t get on the “naughty” list, wrapping Christmas presents for their parents, and baking cookies for Father Pat! But before we do all that, our Church asks us to take a minute and remember what it is that we’re about to celebrate.

And what we’re about to celebrate is pretty special. God loved the world so very much that he sent his own Son to live among us and bring us closer to him, and to take upon himself the punishment for all our many sins. God would rather die than live without us, and so he did. But death doesn’t have any power over us because Jesus rose from the dead. And all of this wonderful mystery begins in just nine days, or at least that day a couple of thousand years ago.

And we know the story: An angel came to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because she was faithful, she said “yes” to God’s plan for her, and because she said “yes,” our world and our lives have been different – better, more hopeful – ever since! Jesus grew to be a man who was both mighty in his power to save us, and a wise prophet who helped us to learn about God and his kingdom.

And this reminds us of the two stories we heard in our readings today. Isaiah was a prophet who pleaded with the people to change their lives. He saw they were doing all sorts of things that made them think they were right with God, but they were really only doing it for show. They still ruined the Sabbath day by leaving worship and going back to all the evil things they were doing, especially taking advantage of the poor. So Isaiah was pleading with them to worship rightly and live what they believed. That would eventually prepare them for the coming of a Messiah, an anointed one who would lead the people to God’s promise.

John the Baptist was also a prophet and led the people to repentance so that they could recognize God and be open to the gift God was giving them in Jesus. Just like Jesus, he was blessed by God and led by the Holy Spirit. All that he did and said prepared the people for the coming of Jesus, the Anointed One who would lead us all to God’s promise.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist of the New Testament. The fact that their stories are so similar to the stories about what Jesus came to do tells us that God has been preparing his people all along to be saved. He was getting them ready to recognize the way that Jesus was born among us.

And so, when we look on our mangers and see Jesus laying in there, we know that he came for a very specific reason. God sent him to be one of us, because it is only by being one of us that God could really save us. Jesus took on a body, just like all of us, and he experienced the same kinds of pain and sadness that we all experience from time to time. He even went so far as to die, just like we all do at some point in our lives, so that he could know what it was to be just like us. When we look at the wood of the manger, we know that one day, Jesus will die on the wood of the Cross. When we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we know that we will eventually remember his death and celebrate his Resurrection.

So today, we take a minute in all our busy Christmas preparations and shopping and wrapping and cookie making (I like chocolate, by the way…) – we take a minute and pause, and think about baby Jesus, and know that by becoming one of us, everything was changed, everything was better. We thank God for loving us so much that he became one of us and gave us a gift better than anything we could ever ask for, better than any of the brightly-wrapped gifts we will receive in nine days, the gift of eternal life with God forever one day.

The Nativity of the Lord: Vigil Mass

Today’s readings

Once, a very long time ago, there was a man named Joseph. He was a well-respected and hard-working man, from the family of the great king David. But since Israel hadn’t been a great nation in a long time, he wasn’t respected for being a great king himself. Instead, people respected him for his carpentry work and for the fact that he was faithful and just.

He was to be married to a young woman named Mary – their marriage was probably arranged by their families. They would come together to be man and wife when the time was right. One day, she came to him with an unbelievable story about being pregnant, with a child given to her by the Holy Spirit. Joseph didn’t know what to think. He clearly knew he was not the father of the baby, and so he decided not to marry the young woman, but instead to let her go quietly, so she would not be embarrassed.

The night he decided to do this, Joseph had a dream. In the dream, an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and that God wanted him to do just that. The angel told him that the baby was very special, that he would come to save all God’s people from their sins and would be called Emmanuel – a name that means that God is here among us.

So Joseph did what the angel told him. He took Mary as his wife. And about that time, a proclamation came from the government that said that everyone had to go and be registered as a citizen. They had to go to the city where they were from to do that. So Joseph made plans to travel with Mary from Galilee where they were living, to Nazareth, which was where Joseph was from. The way was long and dangerous and, along the way, the time came for Mary to have her baby.

They looked desperately for some inn or any house to take them in, but every place was full because so many people were traveling. Eventually, they at least found a shelter: a rickety little shack for farm animals, and they went in there. That’s when Mary had her baby. She was scared, and Joseph had never delivered a baby before. But the child was beautiful, and Joseph held him while Mary slept, exhausted from travelling and giving birth. They placed the baby in the manger, a feed-trough for the animals, and they named him Jesus.

Later, they had visits from shepherds and from astrologers from the east, who came to worship the child, because they had seen visions too. Mary and Joseph were amazed at all that was happening, and the wonderful visits they were receiving.

One night, Joseph had another visit from an angel in his dreams. The angel told him that people were planning to harm the new baby. So, at the angel’s instruction, Joseph got up from bed, took Mary and Jesus, and fled to the land of Egypt so that they would be out of harm’s way. They stayed there until the angel told Joseph that those who wanted to harm Jesus were dead, and it was okay to go back to their own town now.

Joseph watched the child grow up, and was so proud to be his foster-father. He taught Jesus how to live and how to respect others, and all about the religious law, just like any father would do for his children. In his private moments, Joseph always wondered what would become of Jesus, wondered what God had in store for him. All he knew was that something wonderful was happening, and as hard as it was sometimes, he had been called to help it happen.

And God wants to continue to do wonderful things for us. Jesus wasn’t just born two thousand years ago; Jesus is born right here, right now for us, if we would just make a little space, a little shelter for him in our hearts. Just as Joseph didn’t know exactly what God had in store for Jesus, we don’t know what God has in store for any of us in the year ahead. But we do know this: God sent Jesus so that God could be here among us, and he is here among us now, leading us back to him, telling us that we are his special children, and loving us all with love beyond anything we can imagine.

Just like things were hard for Mary and Joseph as they travelled along, trying to find a place to stay, sometimes things for us will be hard too. But all along the way, there are angels, guiding us to where God wants us, watching over us, and helping us to find the Good News. Today, God brings us here to worship, so that like those shepherds and astrologers, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sadly, today is the last day of the Christmas Season. The rest of society may have tossed out the Christmas trees, and taken down the festive decorations, but not us. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Last Sunday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation. On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings. The first is the reading about the magi visiting the Christ Child. The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles. And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

As we heard last week, Epiphany means “manifestation.” In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way. The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs. The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine. And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.

Obviously, Jesus did not need Saint John the Baptist’s baptism, because it was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and Christ had no sins. So he chose to be baptized so that he could identify himself with us sinners through baptism. That being the case, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah that God sent his Word into the world to make things happen: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

So today we need to reflect on the end, the goal of all that we have celebrated in these Christmas days. What was God’s purpose in sending his Son to take on our sinful flesh and live among us? Well, we know the whole story, don’t we? God sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our world as a human being, born to a poor family as a tiny child. He did that because he created us good, and even though we acquired sinfulness along the way, our humanity was good enough to be redeemed. He would not have us die in our sins, so he sent his Son to take flesh and lead us to heaven, our true home. That’s worth celebrating for many days, and that’s why our Christmas season extends beyond the point where the stores haul on the Valentine’s day candy!

Christ is baptized today so that our own baptism can be the source of eternal life for all of us. His baptism sanctifies the waters of baptism forever, and to make the waters of baptism, with which we too were baptized, consecrated in holiness. Then we who have been sanctified in baptism must now go out and do what Jesus himself did: doing good and healing the broken and all who are possessed by evil spirits. It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it. Healing those oppressed by evil spirits might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.

On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body. Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We who have been baptized then are literally INSPIRED – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world. All we have to do is decide to do it.

Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas (St. Thomas Becket)

Today’s readings | St. Thomas Becket

The birth of Christ in our world ought to mean something to us: the birth of Christ ought to mean a change in our attitudes and our behaviors and even in the course of our lives.

Today is a commemoration of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who ultimately lost his life to the man who gave him that prestigious post. When King Henry began to usurp Church rights, Thomas Becket found himself in a bind. Would he be beholden to the king, or would he protect the Church on behalf of the King of Kings? While it was a struggle for Thomas, he ultimately knew that the he must take a stand, no matter what the cost.

In today’s first reading, St. John makes the point very clear. We cannot say we love God and yet defy his commandments. And we certainly cannot love God who is love itself, while at the same time refusing to love our brothers and sisters. Being Christian looks like something, and the world looks at us to see what it is. If the birth of Christ means something to us, we have to share that meaning with the world by loving, no matter what the cost.

Perhaps the one who knew this best was Mary herself. Simeon the prophet knew that he had seen the promise when he looked at the child Jesus. Then he clearly told his mother that this Savior would cost her some happiness in life. Because Jesus would be a contradictory sign in the world, her heart would be pierced with sorrow. But all of this was to make manifest God’s glory.

The birth of Christ in our world and into our lives this Christmas ought to mean something to us. A watching world should be able to look at us and see Christ. May this Christmas find us changing our hearts and minds so that we can be that Christ for all the world to see, no matter what the cost.