In today’s Gospel, God begins the “Christ event” with Mary, a simple Jewish girl who is at the very bottom of her people’s social ladder; the God who created all things makes the fulfillment of his promise dependent upon one of the most dispossessed and powerless of his creatures. Yet God exalts her humility, her simplicity, her trust in his love and mercy. God’s “favor” belongs the poor, the rejected, the abandoned and the forgotten among us today.
2) Nothing is Impossible for God! Mrs. Marie Norton of Elmira, New York, died in the fall of 1951, admired and praised by all who had known her. Before she had any children, she was afflicted with cancer, and physicians advised her against becoming pregnant. But Marie decided to ignore advice and leave matters in God’s hands. She went ahead and brought ten children into the world, and they were healthy children. When her brother-in-law lost his wife, she took his children in, too. It was no easy chore to keep house for such a brood, but she did it and was also her own cook and laundress. Had Marie’s malady vanished? By no means. For thirty-five years she was under treatment for malignancies and submitted to as much radium therapy as her body could tolerate. Forty-two times she went under the surgeon’s knife. After Marie’s death her son-in-law’s mother wrote a letter to the paper in praise of Mrs. Norton. “As I observed her giving, besides services, joy and sunshine … to us all, it has left me with a new reverence, a feeling that I have witnessed something this sick world needs today… an assurance that God does hear and answer those who love and trust Him.” Yes, He hears and He gives us of Himself: the supreme Christmas gift is His beloved Son. “… For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke, 1:37. Gospel of the day). (Father Robert F. McNamara). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
“Terrific!” said the man, “I just signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins and this’ll be great press.”
To the second man the nurse said, “Congratulations to you too. You are the father of healthy triplets!”
“Fantastic!” he said. “I’m the vice-president of 3-M Company. This’ll be great P.R.!”
At that point the third man turned ashen and ran for the door. “What’s wrong, sir? Where are you going?” called the nurse. As he jumped into his car, the man shouted, “I’m dashing to my office to resign. I’m the president of 7-UP!”
That’s exactly what Mary was feeling as she listened to the angel spell out what God wanted of her: “Virgin birth?! Are you crazy? Who’s going to believe that? I’ll be stoned to death as soon as the neighbors see I’m pregnant! Dear God, what are you asking of me?” (Msgr. Dennis Clarke) Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
3) Again, a Catholic president in the U. S.? When my Baptist friend was a young teenager, President Kennedy ran for office. There was near hysteria in some places about the dangers of having a papist in office taking orders from the Vatican. Not long after the election, a little elderly lady was at the post office to buy stamps. The clerk said, “What denomination?” She adamantly said, “Baptist, but I didn’t think it would come.
7) Discerning vocation. The young man is discerning his possible vocation, so he asks a friend which order he should join. His friend answered, “How about maybe either the Dominicans or the Jesuits? Both orders are filled with good and holy men.” “Yeah,” the discerner answered, “but, what exactly are they? What’s the difference?” “Well,” said the friend, “the Jesuits were founded in response to the threat of Protestantism. The Dominicans were formed to combat the Albigensian heresy.” “Okay, but which one is better? “the discerner demanded. “Well, I really couldn’t say” said the friend, “but how many Albigensians ya got living in your neighborhood?”
19- Additional anecdotes:
1) From Anthony de Mello, a story on Emmanuel: “Excuse me,” said a small river fish that happened to reach the ocean to a larger fish he saw there, “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?” “The ocean,” said the older fish “is the thing you are in now.” “Oh, this? But this is only salty water. What I’m seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere. Today’s Gospel introduces God as Emmanuel, one living with us. Our Christmas celebration should enable us to experience this God within us and all around us. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
2) “My search is over.” I like the story about a professor who sat at his desk one evening working on the next day’s lectures. His housekeeper had laid that day’s mail and papers on his desk, and he began to shuffle through them, discarding most to the wastebasket. He then noticed a magazine, which was not even addressed to him but had been delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article titled “The Needs of the Congo Mission.” Casually he began to read when he was suddenly consumed by these words: “The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one – one on whom, already, the Master’s eyes have been cast – that he or she shall be called to this place to help us.” Professor Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: “My search is over.” He gave himself to the Congo. That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer’s mailbox. By chance he noticed the title. It leaped out at him. Chance? Nope. It was one of God’s surprises. This morning we focus on one of the greatest surprises that ever there was, the surprise that took place when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to a young teenager, Mary. Gabriel piled one surprise upon another. Mary and Joseph’s Christmas tree had more astonishing surprises than any couple on earth had ever experienced. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
3) “What will we do with this baby Jesus?” Wade Burton tells about a man who was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at a lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies’ restroom carrying a tiny baby. She asked the man, “Will you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the restroom.” He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd. The man couldn’t believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but could not see her. What should he do? Put the baby down and run? When calmness settled in he went to the Traveler’s Aid booth, and they soon found the real mother. The woman who had left him holding the baby was not the baby’s mother. She had taken the child, perhaps to satisfy a motherly urge to hold a child. The man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he to do with a baby? In a way each of us is in the same situation as this gentleman. We are left with the question, “What will we do with the Baby?” Have we really come to terms with the fact that this Baby is not simply extraordinarily gifted, but that he is himself a gift from the heart of God? Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
4) “Didn’t you get my E-mail?” As a little girl climbed up into Santa’s lap, Santa asked the usual, “And what would you like for Christmas?” The little girl just stared at Santa with her mouth open and horrified look on her face for a minute, and then she gasped: “Didn’t you get my E-mail?” That had to have been the same sort of horrified look that Mary must have had on her face when the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and spoke to her about God’s purpose for her life. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
5) “You shall name him Jesus.” Some names are unfortunate. I heard about a man who joined the Navy. His name was Tonsillitis Jackson. The Navy couldn’t believe it, so they did a check on him, and discovered that indeed his name really was Tonsillitis Jackson. What’s more, he had brothers and sisters who were named: Meningitis, Appendicitis, Peritonitis, and Laryngitis. A sense of identity, a sense of destiny, comes with the conferring of a name. And that is the kind of name that was given to Jesus as we read in today’s Gospel. It conferred upon him a destiny, a vocation that he was to fulfill for us. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
6) “Do not be afraid!” It’s an obvious understatement to say we live in a day of great fear. The language of “terror” has become the motivating mantra of our day. I did a Google search for the word “fear,” and I came up with a fascinating site called “The Phobia List”—pages of phobias, A to Z. Everything from Alliumphobia—the fear of garlic and Lachanophobia—the fear of vegetables to Zemmiphobia—the fear of the great mole rat. It even lists Ecclesiophobia—the fear of church and, get this, Homilophobia—the fear of sermons! You can even get a poster of the “Phobia List” which will cover your entire wall. We all have our own phobia lists, and the list can be as fresh as the morning papers: Daily bad news from the auto industry, uncertainty about the present and future course of Covid 19 and its economic repercussions, about the state of the economy or personal security. A questionable course in Iraq, Afghanistan … wherever, with no clear sense of how long all this will go on, when or how it will end. Fear of bird flu or bad weather or a bitter diagnosis from the family doctor. Add to that, fear-mongering TV preachers and politicians who use talk of terror for political gain until the fear of terror becomes its own terror. And add to that, panic-driven newscasters who can’t even give the weather without fear-filled, bated breath. It all leads to what Jane Spencer in the Wall Street Journal refers to as the “fear system” of our day. Into that maze of fear, we have the audacity to read the word of the angel to Mary: “Do not be afraid!” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
7) “You are pregnant”: In January of 2002, a hospital in London, England, mistakenly sent letters to over 30 unsuspecting patients informing them that they were pregnant. The hospital’s computer system, which normally is used to send form letters telling people that their operations have been postponed, was in the hands of a clerical worker who hit the wrong key. And so, instead of informing patients about a rescheduled procedure, the computer sent identical form letters telling the recipients that they were “great with child.” Among the recipients of the letters were six elderly men. (“Hospital Tells Elderly Men They’re Pregnant,” Reuters, London, (Jan. 10). Can you imagine the surprise of those six men? “Your doctor at Such-and-Such hospital is pleased to inform you that you are expecting a baby!” Quite a shock, to say the least! Some of the women were probably surprised as well. “How can it be?” some of them may have asked. “That’s not possible! I think I’m going to be sick!” There was possibly some high anxiety in the homes of some women patients who received this letter. Don’t you think Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced troubling thoughts when the angel of the Lord first appeared to her? Mary was a virgin engaged to be married. She had never been with a man – even the man she was to wed. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
8) “Favored by God with stress points?”: Years ago a psychologist named Thomas Holmes developed a scale for measuring stress. He assigned numerical values to events that cause stress such as the loss of job, moving to a new city, a new relationship. Dr. Holmes even included Christmas on his stress list. He decided that just a normal Christmas was worth a hefty 14 stress points. Some of you understand. You’re up to 15 or 20 stress points right now. A writer by the name of Bridget Kuhns took Dr. Holmes’ scale and applied it to Mary. Holmes calculated that any pregnancy earns 40 points: an unwanted pregnancy, add 20 more. A change in living conditions (Mary stayed three months with Elizabeth), earns 25 more. Marriage to Joseph: 50 points. A change in financial status: 38 points. Surely there must have been words between them when she discovered that he had not made reservations at the inn: score 35 points for an argument with a spouse. And then the birth – 39 points: 16 for a change in sleeping habits; 15 for a change in eating habits. Not to mention all those uninvited guests: shepherds and angels coming and going and wise men from the East. Psychologist Thomas Holmes says that people get sick when they reach 200 points on his stress scale. Ms. Kuhns calculates that Mary’s ordeal earned her a record 424 points. http://home.gci.net/~stjohn1/sermons/2001/dec23.01.htm. — This, of course, does not even include the flight to Egypt. Or even more important, the experience of watching her beloved son die as a common criminal on a cross. Is this what it means to be favored of God? Evidently being favored of God does not protect you from life’s bumps and bruises. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
9) “$500 for information on the missing cat.” Remember the story about the guy who hated his wife’s cat? He just hated that cat with a vengeance, but his wife loved the cat. One day, the cat disappeared. His wife was grief-stricken, so the man put an ad in the newspaper: “$500 for information on the missing cat.” His friend saw the ad and said to him: “Wow! $500 for word on the cat that you hated…that’s pretty risky, isn’t it?” With a sly, knowing twinkle in his eye, the man responded: “It’s not so risky when you know what you know.” We know the end of the story. Life is not so scary when you know what you know. We know God keeps his promises and sends a Savior. We know Jesus comes and his name is called Emmanuel, meaning “God with Us.”). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
10) “He’s out moose-hunting.” There was a story years ago in the Canadian version of the Reader’s Digest of a large moose that wandered into a residential area in Calgary, Canada. The moose ended up on the lawn of a lady named Lorna Cade. A Fish and Wildlife officer was dispatched to try to coax the magnificent animal back into the wild. After two hours of absolutely no progress, the officer finally shot the moose with a tranquilizer dart. The moose bolted down a lane and eventually collapsed on another nearby lawn. The reporters who had been following this event interviewed the lady at the house where the moose collapsed. They asked her what she thought about the moose which had passed out on her lawn. “I’m surprised,” she answered, “but not as surprised as my husband will be. He’s out moose-hunting.” — Her husband had gone out looking for moose and a large moose had come to him. That is the message of Christmas. While humanity spends its time seeking after God, God comes to us in the Baby of Bethlehem. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
11) Remember Humphrey, the humpback whale? Humphrey became a national celebrity in 1985 when he made his way into the San Francisco Bay and headed up the Sacramento River into fresh water which, of course, could have been fatal for him. Each evening a large local television audience would tune in for the latest update on Humphrey’s plight. Then national media coverage began and the whole country watched the ensuing story. None of the traditional herding techniques were working and the world held its breath as Humphrey appeared to be dying. His skin was graying and he was becoming more and more listless. As a last-ditch effort, Dr. Bernie Krause, who had recorded the sounds humpback whales made while feeding suggested using them as a possible way to lure Humphrey out. No one knew if this would work, but it was their last shot at saving him. A speaker was lowered over the side of a boat, the sounds of other humpback whales were played, and everyone stood quietly while the eerie songs reverberated through the hull. Suddenly, Humphrey emerged from the water at the bow of the ship right where the speaker was playing, and gazed at the startled crew. The Captain quickly started down the river with Humphrey following close behind. As they approached the San Francisco Bay, and the water gained in salinity, Humphrey was visibly excited and began diving deeply to everyone’s delight and amazement. It was like the climax to a Hollywood film. The air was filled with helicopters and the river banks were lined with thousands of spectators all cheering Humphrey on to freedom. Don’t you think that’s interesting? They failed using various methods to lure Humphrey to turn around. Nothing worked until he heard the recorded sounds of other humpback whales. I guess it takes a whale to talk to whales! — Now imagine God’s dilemma. God sought to communicate His love and His purpose for humanity through the Law and through the Prophets, through Scripture, and through the worship of the Hebrew people in the Temple of Jerusalem. But still the people did not get it. We did not know how much God loves us and that God’s ultimate plan was for us to love one another. So God did the only thing left. God became one of us in the Baby in the manger. God came to us when, intellectually, we could not reach up to Him. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
13) “Somewhere, somehow, set things right.” On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a moving photograph of a mother and her little girl being taken to a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The girl, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, the mother can do to stop this tragedy. In her helplessness, she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hand over her little girl’s eyes so that at least she will not have to see the horror which faces her. When people see this picture in the museum, they do not move quickly or easily to the next one. You can feel their emotion, almost hear their cries, “O God, don’t let that be all there is. Somewhere, somehow, set things right.” — Luke’s word to us this day is that God hears those prayers, and that it is into just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that the power of God is born. It is there that God invests His treasure, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things — setting things right. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
14)”Have you found him?” Here is another Anthony de Mello story. The young hermit (sannyasi) came to the master in hermit robes and asked. “For years I have been seeking God. I have sought him everywhere that he is said to be: on mountain peaks, the vastness of the desert, the silence of the cloister, and the dwellings of the poor.” “Have you found him?” the master asked. “No. I have not. Have you?” What could the master say? The evening sun was sending shafts of golden light into the room. Hundreds of sparrows were twittering on a nearby banyan tree. In the distance one could hear the sound of highway traffic. A mosquito droned a warning that it was going to strike…And yet this man could sit there and say he had not found God. After a while the young hermit left, disappointed, to search elsewhere. Since God can be found everywhere, we must continually look for Him and especially, perhaps in the most difficult places. That is why in the first reading today; God tells David that He cannot be contained in a man-made Temple. As we prepare to celebrate the reality of Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel, (God-With-Us), let us be prepared to recognize the God whose presence can be known and experienced in the distressing problems of life. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
15) Partners in God’s great work of salvation. A priest tells a story from the 1940s that illustrates this truth particularly well. He was attending the funeral of the pastor of Holy Trinity, then a national German parish, in Boston. In the vestibule he had met a gray-haired layman and they got to conversing. The layman said to him: “This dead pastor converted me, and yet I never got closer to him than any of the pews are to the pulpit. “During the First World War, I was a government agent. Remember how we were taught then to hate everything German? Even on the restaurant menus, sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage. “Anyway, I could speak German and I was assigned to listen to the sermons here every Sunday morning. Somebody was afraid that this pastor might be subtly sabotaging our war effort by taking sly shots at patriotism. “I never heard one word that was unpatriotic. “But Sunday after Sunday I heard a brief, clear, attractive presentation of some point of Catholic doctrine. “I became more and more interested in the Catholic Church and I decided to investigate further. “So I went to another rectory (I could not go to this pastor, because I was practically ‘casing’ him) and took a series of instructions. “I was baptized and have been a Catholic ever since. “The man we are burying today never knew what I have told you, but when I read about his death in the newspaper, I thought I should come to say thanks. He doesn’t need it, but it makes me feel better.” So often, that’s how God works: if we just faithfully fulfill His will for us each day, He makes us partners in His great work of salvation. (“Ten Responsible Minutes” by Joseph Manton, C.SS.R, p49/E- Priest.) Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
16) Reminders that God is in charge: One eloquent reminder is from the life of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, who died in 1888. He began a ministry for poor boys and orphans that taught them a trade during the day and gave them school and Faith instructions in the evening. Every day he would spend time with the many boys in his school, and every morning he would hear confessions before breakfast. It was a common occurrence for the saint to point out in the confessional sins that the boys had forgotten or were afraid to confess. One day in 1848 St John was celebrating Mass in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation. The small church was filled with 360 boys and young men. When the time came for Holy Communion, he went to the tabernacle to remove the Hosts. To his great surprise he discovered that only 8 Hosts were reserved there – not nearly enough for the large congregation. Many people present, including Giuseppe Buzzetti [boot-SEHT-ee], who would later become one of the first Salesian priests and who was the altar server during that Mass, saw John Bosco’s predicament and wondered what would happen. The saint removed the 8 Hosts from the tabernacle and began distributing Holy Communion. As the young Giuseppe followed the priest with the paten, he was amazed to watch as the ciborium continued to fill up with Hosts, miraculously allowing for everyone present to receive Holy Communion. God sends miracles like these every once in a while to boost our confidence, to remind us that nothing is impossible for him.(therealpresence.org]E- Priest). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
17) God’s House, God’s Housemaid: Three stonecutters were involved in building work. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “I’m breaking stones!” The second answered, “I’m earning a living!” The third exclaimed, “I’m building a house for God!” Like the third stone-cutter, in today’s first reading King David desires to build God’s House. But, let’s ask: who really builds whose house? And ultimately, who is God’s perfect housemaid? The symbol of “house” is significant in the first reading. Since he is living in a palace while the Ark of the Covenant rests in a tent, David tells Prophet Nathan of his desire to build God a House. However, God asks, seemingly sarcastically: “Are you the man to build Me a House?” The Bible says that it was David’s son, Solomon – not David – who was chosen to build God’s House (see I King 5:2-5). Yet, reminding David of all the blessings he received, God promises, “The Lord will make you a House.” (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
18)“Joy to the World”: In the prologue to his book Joy, William Schutz tells how the birth of his son Ethan inspired him to write the book. Ethan begins his life by giving joy to his parents. The joy continues as Ethan sees, touches, tastes and hears things for the first time. But something happens to Ethan as it does to all of us. Somehow his joy diminishes with growth, never to return fully. Schutz wrote his book to help readers recapture some of this joy. Like Ethan, Jesus, too, begins his life by giving joy. Even before he is born his very presence brings joy to people. –Even when we cannot achieve our full human potential in some of those areas Schutz outlines, we can still experience a profound interior joy because Jesus is in our midst. The power of his presence enables us to endure any difficulty, transcend any trial or overcome any obstacle. His presence can bring peace where there is anxiety, sharing where there is selfishness and dreams where there is despair. Isaac Watts was right when he composed a Christmas carol entitled “Joy to the World!” Indeed, there is real joy in the world at Christmas time because the Lord is come. He is Emmanuel, God with us! (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
19) “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” A Persian legend runs that a certain king needed a faithful servant, and two men were candidates for the office. He took both at fixed wages, and his first order was to fill a basket with water from a neighboring well, saying that he would come in the evening and see their work. After putting in one or two bucketful’s, one man said, “What is the good of doing this useless work? As soon as we put the water inside the bucket with several holes, it runs out. The other answered, “But we have our wages, haven’t we? Our master may have his plans.” “I am not going to do such fool’s work,” replied the other. Throwing down his bucket, he went away. The other man continued until he had drained the well. Looking down into it, he saw something shining—a diamond ring. “Now I see the use of pouring water into a basket with holes,” he cried. “If the bucket had brought up the ring before the well was emptied, it would have been found in the basket. Our work was not useless.” — Christians must believe that their divine Master knows what is best, and obey his commands, and in due time they will know and understand. Mary understood this and obeyed God in all humility, starting in the Annunciation. (Fr. Lakra).
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Chuck Swindoll writes, "surprises come in many forms and guises: some good, some borderline amazing, some awful, some tragic, some hilarious. But there's one thing we can usually say -- surprises aren't boring." Surprises are woven through the very fabric of all our lives. They await each one of us at unexpected and unpredictable junctures.
I like the story about a professor who sat at his desk one evening working on the next day's lectures. His housekeeper had laid that days mail and papers at his desk and he began to shuffle through them discarding most to the wastebasket. He then noticed a magazine, which was not even addressed to him but delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article titled "The Needs of the Congo Mission".
Casually he began to read when he was suddenly consumed by these words: "The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one - one on whom, already, the Master's eyes have been cast - that he or she shall be called to this place to help us." Professor Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: "My search is over." He gave himself to the Congo.
That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer's mailbox. By chance he noticed the title. It leaped out at him. Chance? Nope. It was one of God's surprises.
This morning we focus on one of the greatest surprises that ever there was, the surprise that took place when an angel by the name of Gabriel appeared to a young teenager by the name of Mary. Gabriel piled one surprise upon another. Mary and Joseph's Christmas tree had more astonishing surprises than any couple on earth had ever experienced. Gabriel surprised Mary with the following:
3. "He will be called the Son of God."
Consider the Impossible
f impossibilities. Consider the impossibilities Mary faced in this story: She is a virgin and pregnant-she is having a child while she is a virgin. Impossible! No way! Won't happen! Joseph has to follow through on the marriage after he discovers Mary is pregnant. Impossible! Mary must avoid being stoned to death when the neighbors hear the news. Impossible!
The first artist unveiled his painting, and there was a beautiful, magnificent pastoral scene, with a farmer coming in after a hard day in the fields. His wife was cooking, his children were playing around the hearth, and all was at peace in this tranquil and beautiful farm.
We need a little Christmas right now, but the little Christmas that we need is the courage that comes as the favor of God. We must remember that the Christian community has done its best when it has gone against the wind. William L. Self, Have I Got News for You!
Anne Lamott, author of the wonderful book Traveling Mercies tells of how in her church babies get passed around the moment they're brought into the sanctuary - everyone takes care of everyone else's babies. Every baby instantly has more parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles than he ever knew.
What if the thing was a bomb? Fearing the worse, Margaret telephoned postal authorities. The bomb squad soon arrived with eight squad cars and an armored truck. They took the suspected bomb in the armored truck to a remote tip of Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River. There they wrapped detonating cord around the package and, as they say in the bomb business, "opened it remotely."
When the debris settled, all that was left intact was the factory warranty for the contents: a $450 stereo AM-FM receiver and tape deck. Now the only mystery is who is Edward Achorn and why did he send Michael and Margaret such a nice Christmas present?
We live in a cynical age -- an age of terrorists and corporate charlatans. Who can talk of angels and humble maidens and divine revelation in the same breath to such a generation? Yet, on such a foundation does our faith rest.
Etty Hillesum, died in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29. From An Interrupted Life, a compilation of her diaries and letters.
One week a Sunday school teacher had just finished telling her class the Christmas story, how Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and how Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. After telling the story the teacher asked, "Who do you think the most important woman in the Bible is?" Of course, the teacher was expecting one of the kids to say, "Mary." But instead, a little boy raised his hand and said, "Eve." So the teacher asked him why he thought Eve was the most important woman in the Bible. And the little boy replied. "Well, they named two days of the year after Eve. You know, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve."
Have a graced, gift-filled weekend!
All for you Daddy!
The story goes that some time ago, a man punished his 3-year old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy." He was embarrassed by his earlier over reaction, but his anger flared again when he found the box was empty. He yelled at her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside it?" The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy, it is not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Daddy." The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged for her forgiveness. It is told that the man kept that gold box by his bed for years and whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.
The Gospel focuses on Mary, who becomes the new ark of the covenant, the new tent of meeting, the new dwelling place of God. Mary is great not because of what she did for God but because of what she allowed God to do for her and in her life. “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you! Mary is highly favoured not because she deserves it, not because she has earned God’s favour but precisely because God has chosen her! God does not look at our capabilities but our availability! God does not need our talents, He needs us! Mary is human and so she is surprised by the announcement that she is going to be the mother of Jesus. She asks: “How is this possible? How can this be?” We too sometimes ask: How can this be possible? I have done nothing to deserve this. We are so used to being chosen for our talents and capabilities that we think we have to earn and merit what we get from God. The angel assures Mary that what will happen is the work of grace, in and through the Spirit. With God the impossible becomes possible! Mary’s response is a “Yes” to God’s plan. We see then a contrast between David’s (our) plan for the way God should dwell with his people and Mary’s openness to God’s plan to dwell in her life. We cannot give God anything unless we have first received from Him. Love is an exchange of giving and receiving. What is important is that we receive first what God has to offer and only then can we meaningfully give in return. Christmas is a time of gift-giving. Henri Nouwen once wrote: “When someone accepts a gift, he admits another into his world and is ready to give him a place in his own being… Ultimately a gift becomes a gift only when it is accepted.” Have we accepted His gift?
What you did to the least
Tolstoy once told the story about an old cobbler, Martin, who dreamt that Christ was going to visit him. All day he waited and watched but nothing extraordinary seemed to be happening. While he waited he gave hospitality to one person who was cold, to another who needed reconciliation, to another who needed clothing. At the end of the day, he was disappointed that Christ had not come. That night he had another dream, and all those to whom he gave hospitality returned and a voice said, “Martin, do you not know me? I am Jesus. What you did to the least of these you did to me.
Receiving graciously is also a gift!
They tell of a man in a small town in South Dakota who tried to give some money back to the Social Security Administration, but could not. At age 65 the man retired from his work as a farm labourer and moved into town. His retirement house was extremely modest, sparsely furnished, and simply kept. Most could not manage on his meagre minimum security cheque. At the end of the first month of collecting on Social security, this humble man went to the bank with five dollars in cash and told the teller he wanted to return some money because the government had given him more than he needed. With that request he “blew everybody in the bank away.” They explained to him that he couldn’t do that, that the government could give out social security funds, but that there was no set-up programme for taking any of it back! There was no category for people who wanted to give any of their social security back to the government. Application: To receive something graciously from another is as much a gift as giving.
Praying my way
Some years ago I was sitting by the bed of an elderly lady who was very troubled because she couldn’t pray. I invited her to talk to me about it. She spoke at great length about how she kept falling asleep, how she was disappointed at not being able to complete a rosary, and how her mind wandered all over the place when she watched the mass on television, which was the only way of sharing in Eucharist within her limit at that time. I continued to encourage her to speak, as she told me how important prayer had always been in her life, and how it had sustained her throughout each day. She spoke of how good God had been to her, and how she felt ungrateful now through her inability to give him proper time and attention in her day. After listening for some time, I made a suggestion to her. I told her that what she said was beautiful and was, indeed, a prayer. I stood up from the chair, and I asked her to imagine that Jesus was now sitting in the chair. As I left the room, I asked her to keep talking to him just as she has spoken to me. Each day I called after that, I always had a smile, as she told how she spoke quietly to the chair even during her waking hours of the night, and how she was certain that Jesus was there.
God’s House, God’s Housemaid
God breaks into our lives!
Yesterday I watched a huge flight of geese winging their way south through one of those panoramic sunsets that colour the entire sky for a few moments. I saw them as I leaned against the lion statue in front of the Chicago Art Institute, where I was watching the Christmas shoppers hurry along Michigan Avenue. When I lowered my gaze, I noticed that a bag lady, standing a few feet away, had also been watching the geese. Our eyes met and we smiled –silently acknowledging the fact that we had shared a marvelous sight, a symbol of the mystery of the struggle to survive. I overheard the lady talking to herself as she shuffled away. Her words “God spoils me” were startling. Was the lady, this street derelict, being facetious? No. I believe the sight of the geese has shattered, however briefly, the harsh reality of her struggle. I realized later that moments such as this one sustained her; it was the way she survived the indignity of the street. Her smile was real. The sight of the geese was her Christmas present. It was proof God existed. It was all she needed. I envy her.
Fred Lloyd Cochran in ‘Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul’
Joy to the World
In the prologue to his book Joy, William Schutz tells how the birth of his son Ethan inspired him to write the book. Ethan begins his life by giving joy to his parents. The joy continues as Ethan sees, touches, tastes and hears things for the first time. But something happens to Ethan as it does to all of us. Somehow his joy diminishes with growth, never to return fully. Schutz wrote his book to help readers recapture some of this joy. Like Ethan, Jesus too begins his life by giving joy. Even before he is born his very presence brings joy to people. -Even when we cannot achieve our full human potential in some of those areas Schutz outlines, we can still experience a profound interior joy because Jesus is in our midst. The power of his presence enables us to endure any difficulty, transcend any trial or overcome any obstacle. His presence can bring peace where there is anxiety, sharing where there is selfishness and dreams where there is despair. Isaac Watts was right when he composed a Christmas carol entitled “Joy to the World!” Indeed, there is real joy in the world at Christmas time because the Lord is come. He is Emmanuel, God with us!
May we discover the joy of welcoming Jesus into our lives!!