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 the Lord (Vigil Mass): Joseph’s Story

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 engaged to a young woman named Mary but was not yet living with her.  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 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 would come to save all God’s people from their sins and would be called Emmanuel – a name which means that God is here among us.

So Joseph decided to do what the angel told him.  Even though his friends thought he was crazy, he took Mary as his wife.  And about that time, an 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 for Mary to have her child came.

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 three 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.

That 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 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 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 the shepherds and astrologers, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, remembering that the birth of Jesus was foretold to Mary through the messenger of God, the archangel Gabriel. We celebrate it deliberately on this day, the 25th of March, exactly nine months before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas Day.

This is an important celebration of our faith, because if Mary hadn’t been so cooperative, well, salvation history may have been affected rather poorly. But she said yes, even though she could never have known how this would all turn out. Her fiat, her faith-filled “yes” resounds through the ages to ring in the final chapter of God’s saving grace poured out on the world. We too are called on, time and again, to make our own fiat, our own leap of faith, saying “yes” to God’s plan for our lives. We don’t get the big picture either before we have to make that decision, we are called to cooperate with God and trust that he will provide the grace to bless our efforts. The Psalmist’s prayer is ours too, today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

Those words, spoken by St. Elizabeth to Mary, summarize what is so important about celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s faith, to me, is remarkable. She could never have known where doing the Lord’s will would take her. An unplanned pregnancy, watching opposition toward her son grow, seeing him die on the cross. How could she have said yes to all of that? But she didn’t have to say yes to that, she had to say yes to God, to God in whose promises she trusted with all her heart.

This humble girl, with great faith, was raised on this day to the heights of heaven that we can yet hope for. Just like Mary, a lot of us have to live lives that are imperfect in some ways. There are those among us who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.

What the Assumption means for us is that as Mary has gone to exaltation before us, so we can hope for exaltation on that Great Day. We too are called to believe that what is spoken to us by the Lord will be fulfilled.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Annunciation of the Lord

Today's readings [display_podcast]

davinciannunciation

Fear keeps us from doing all sorts of things the Lord wants for us. If we would truly let go of our fear and cling to our God, just imagine what he could do in us and through us. Ahaz was King of Israel, a mighty commander, but yet was so afraid of God and what God might do that he refused to ask for a sign. He would prefer to cut himself off from God rather than give himself over to the amazing power of God's presence in his life. Because of that perhaps, he never lived to see the greatness of God's glory.

But that did not disrupt the promise. In the fullness of time, God's messenger came to a young woman named Mary and proposed to accomplish in her life the sign that Ahaz was too afraid to ask for. She too was initially afraid, pondering what sort of greeting this was. She was also confused, not knowing how what the angel proclaimed could possibly take place in her life.

The difference, though, was that she heeded the initial words of the angel that have resounded through Salvation history ever since: "Be not afraid." And, thanks be to God, Mary abandoned her fear and instead sang her fiat, her great "yes" to God's plan for her, and for all of us. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." These words are reminiscent of what the Psalmist sings today: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will."

And we know what happened from there. Mary certainly wasn't confident that any of that could be accomplished through her own efforts, but she absolutely knew that God could do whatever he undertook. Nothing would be impossible for God, and she trusted in that, and because of that, we have the great hope of our salvation. We owe so much to Mary's cooperation with God's plan for our salvation.

And so the promise comes to us. We have the great sign that Ahaz was afraid of but Mary rejoiced in. We too are told that God can accomplish much in our own lives, if we would abandon our fears and cling to the hope of God's presence in our lives. Can we too be the handmaids of the Lord? Are we bold enough to say, "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will?" All we have to remember is the first thing the angel said to Mary: "Be not afraid."