Introduction: Describing the humble beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, today’s Scripture readings teach us that Christ has brought us from darkness of sin into the Light (4:16) by calling us to repentance (4:17) and the acceptance of God’s rule.
Scripture lessons: The first reading contains the prophetic reference to Christ as the Light that dispels darkness. Matthew wanted his readers to recognize that the Light Isaiah spoke of had finally appeared with the coming of Jesus.
The second reading advises the Corinthians to live as children of the Light, avoiding divisions and rivalries, because several factions had arisen among the Corinthian Christians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle.
In today's Gospel passage (Mt 4:12-23), Matthew explains that what had been prophesied by Isaiah had been fulfilled through the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus. By his ministry of inviting people to the Kingdom of God through repentance, Jesus brought Light to peoples living in darkness, thus fulfilling God’s original promise. In addition, the Gospel describes the call of the first disciples (4:18-22), and Jesus' own teaching and healing ministry, inviting people to repent of their sins and accept the Good News of God’s rule (Kingdom of God), which he was preaching. Ordinary fishermen with no formal training in Mosaic Law were chosen to preach the Good News. They were to be very effective instruments in the hands of Jesus to continue His mission
Life message: 1) We need to appreciate our call to be Christ’s disciples: Every one of us is called by God, both individually and collectively. The call is both a privilege and responsibility. The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church and of each individual Christian. Our response to the call begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. That response is strengthened through the years by the Eucharist and Reconciliation and is made manifest in Matrimony or Holy Orders. We are healed and consoled in the Anointing which also prepares us for death. As we respond to Christ’s call we gain spiritual strength through our personal and family prayers, our Sacramental life and our faithful study of the Bible and Church’s teachings.
2) We need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom: When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are sent forth to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to defend the Catholic faith. Each Christian has received a unique call to preach the Good News of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation through his or her daily life. This call challenges us to rebuild our lives, homes and communities in the justice and peace that Jesus proclaims. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask the Lord Jesus to give us the strength and perseverance to answer his calling, so that we may faithfully serve the Lord, doing his Divine will as best as we can by cooperating with his grace.
OT III [A] (Jan 22/2017): Is 8:23--9:3; I Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23
Anecdote: 1: Light and darkness: Terry Anderson, a journalist for the Associated Press, was seized and held hostage in Lebanon for seven years; blindfolded almost all of that time, Anderson described his experience in this way, “Deepest darkness, fumblings, uncertainties are frightening. More frightening is the darkness of the mind, when outside light makes no impression and inner lights go dim. . .” [Den of Lions, Crown Publishers, Inc. (New York: 1993).] In November of 1965, a power failure plunged seven northeastern U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, into a darkness which lasted for more than thirteen hours. About thirty million people living in eighty thousand square miles of territory were affected. In 1977, another, less severe, power failure darkened New York City for fifty-two minutes. Losses due to accidents and looting were in excess of one billion dollars. In the Holy Scriptures, light and darkness serve as symbols for good and evil. In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the One sent to remove the darkness of sin from the world. Through Isaiah, God promises that His people will see an end to the darkness of oppression and separation. Today’s Gospel shows us how the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus.
2: Remain in politics and exert a Christian influence there: Those of you who saw the remarkable film Amazing Grace remember the story of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who, after his conversion to Christianity, became England’s greatest anti-slavery advocate. It was through his tireless efforts that England eventually outlawed slavery, paving the way for the end of the slave-trade in the Western world. But William Wilberforce almost missed his calling. After his conversion, Wilberforce considered leaving politics for the ministry. He wasn’t sure how a Christian could live out his faith in “the world.” Fortunately, Wilberforce turned to a man named John Newton for guidance. Newton, of course, was the author of the much-loved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a former slave trader who had renounced the trade after his conversion. Newton convinced Wilberforce that God had called him to remain in politics to exert a Christian influence there. It was John Newton who gave William Wilberforce the wake-up call that kept him championing the cause of freedom for Britain’s slaves. Four men, fishermen by trade, were toiling at the nets beside the Sea of Galilee when they received a wake-up call from Jesus. And their whole world was turned upside down.
3: Delivery Room suspense: Three men were pacing nervously outside the delivery room at a hospital when the head nurse came out beaming. To the first she said, "Congratulations, sir, you are the father of twins." "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!" (Msgr. Dennis Clarke). John the Baptist and Jesus surprised the self-righteous Jews by their call to repentance. Today’s Gospel, from the fourth chapter of Matthew, offers us Christians an equally surprising and shocking announcement by Jesus: “Repent; the Kingdom of God is near.”
Introduction: Today’s Scripture readings tell us that Christ has brought us into the Light (4:16), by calling us to repentance (4:17).
The first reading contains the prophetic reference to Christ as the Light that dispels darkness. Matthew wanted his readers to recognize that the Light Isaiah spoke of had finally appeared with the coming of Jesus.
The second reading advises the Corinthians to live as children of the Light, avoiding divisions and rivalries, because several factions had arisen among the Corinthians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle.
Today's Gospel reading (Mt. 4:12-23) makes us realize that what had been prophesied by Isaiah was fulfilled through Jesus. In his ministry of calling the disciples and reforming lives, Jesus also brought Light to peoples in darkness, restoring and fulfilling God’s original promise. In addition, the Gospel describes the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and Jesus' teaching and healing ministry, inviting people to repent of their sins and accept the Good News of God’s rule which he preached. Thus, the Gospel describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
First Reading (Is 8: 23- 9:3): At the time of Isaiah the prophet, Israel was split into a northern kingdom called Israel, with the city of Samaria as its capital, and a southern kingdom known as Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. The people in the region around Galilee were overcome by gloom when their enemy, Assyria, conquered them and began among them the process of enculturation and paganization. The Assyrians forced intermarriage in the northern tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. The descendants of these intermarriages became the despised Samaritans of Jesus' day. But Isaiah declares that God’s power is greater than the powers of darkness and assures them that “a great light” will lead them into “abundant joy.” Jesus is “the great light” who leads us all out of the land of gloom. By His death and Resurrection, He has assured us that darkness can never have the last word. In his prophetic mind, Isaiah sees this as if it has already happened: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light…" The Light he is talking about is the Light of God, which scatters the darkness of ignorance and sin. No wonder Matthew quoted this very passage from the great prophet when he described the time Jesus went to the area around the Sea of Galilee and "began to preach"! Matthew wanted his readers to recognize that the Light Isaiah spoke of had finally appeared with the coming of Jesus. Although the Judean Jews considered the Samaritan women unclean from the womb and their men godless blasphemers, Jesus came to them as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, bringing them light and salvation.
Second Reading (I Cor 1: 10-13, 17): Since Corinth was a wild and woolly place, Saint Paul needed to wield his authority there quite severely. Throughout this letter, he was very concerned with preserving the unity of the Christian community. Several factions had arisen among his Corinthians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle. Paul wanted the Christians to rise above these immature rivalries and to follow the humility and obedience of Jesus Who had emptied Himself for them all. Paul argued that people who live in the Light must avoid divisions and rivalries. Christ cannot be divided, nor can His message be changed to suit its hearers. So Paul urged his readers to heal all divisions in their community so they would bear united witness to the Lord. They needed to keep their focus on Jesus Christ.
Exegesis: The center of Jesus’ public life. After John was arrested, Jesus chose Galilee as the base for his teaching, preaching and healing mission. That choice fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1-2). Nazareth and Capernaum of Galilee were in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali. It would seem that Jesus' trip to Capernaum was made, not just as a missionary trip, but to establish Capernaum as his home base. Capernaum by the sea was a small agricultural and fishing village of Galilee on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Galilee was a small region with a large, mixed Jewish and Gentile population. Major trade routes passed through it. Hence, the Galileans were more open than the residents of Judea to new ideas. In addition, the western shore of the sea was occupied by many small but prosperous cities and towns. This provided Jesus with the chance to minister to many people within a reasonable walking distance.
Light in darkness: Matthew tells us that the people to whom Jesus brought his ministry had been sitting in darkness, but that Jesus' coming had brought them a great Light. The area was called the "Galilee of the Gentiles" because there was a large population of Hellenistic pagans mixed in with the Jews who had only recently begun to resettle a land devastated by earlier wars. As a Jew in Roman-controlled territory, Jesus had located Himself among the marginalized, with the poor not the wealthy, with the rural peasants not the urban elite, with the ruled not the rulers, with the powerless and exploited not the powerful and with those who resisted Imperial demands rather than with those who enforced them. Thus, He established His ministry among the apparently small and insignificant places and people who, nevertheless, were central for God's purposes. We, too, need to introduce Christ’s Light into the darkness of prejudice, war, abuse, social injustice, hunger, poverty, ignorance, greed, anger, vengeance and apathy.
Invitation to repentance: Jesus used exactly the same words John the Baptist had used: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near." “To repent” means that we make a complete change of direction in our lives. Jesus knew what repentance, or change of direction, meant, because he had just made a big change in his own life. Repentance, properly understood, is an "I can't" experience rather than an "I can" experience. If repentance is promising God, "I can do better," then we are trying to keep ourselves in control of our lives. When we come before God confessing, "I can't do better," then we are dying to self. We are giving up control of our lives. We are throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God. We are inviting God to do for us what we can't do for ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us. "Repent" is in the present tense -- "Keep on repenting!" "Continually be repentant!" Repentance is the ongoing lifestyle of the people in the kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven is the theme of Jesus’ preaching. Matthew consistently uses the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" instead of "Kingdom of God." The terms are synonymous. Many Jews in those days preferred the use of "Kingdom of Heaven," because of scruples about using God's Name. We probably shouldn't interpret the "Kingdom of Heaven" as a place -- such as the place we go when we die – but rather as God's ruling power that emanates from Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is the place where God rules. What should be our response to the coming of Heaven's rule? Surprisingly, it is not worship or praise, but repentance. Perhaps this is the big problem with the coming of the Kingdom or the coming of Jesus at Christmas or on Palm Sunday -- we want to celebrate and praise, rather than repent. In telling us that the Kingdom has come near, Jesus is telling us that we can dwell in this Kingdom, provided we repent or turn away from the idols that crowd our lives in order to let God reign in our lives.
The call of the Apostles: Matthew's account of this call is very brief. Jesus called two pairs of brothers Andrew and Peter, and Zebedee’s sons, James and John, whom he had apparently never seen before. He invited them to become his disciples, and they responded immediately, leaving their nets, their boats, and their father to follow Jesus. Usually rabbinical students sought out their teachers and attached themselves to them. However, Jesus, as rabbi, took the initiative and called what were probably less-than-ideal candidates to be his students. The disciples were simple working people with no great background. In Cicero's ranking of occupations (De Off 1.150-51), owners of cultivated land appear first and fishermen last. What Jesus needed, then, were ordinary folk who would give Him themselves. What Christ needs today is not our ability, but our availability. What Jesus taught His disciples was not a course of study, but a way of life to follow. Hence, He offered these men the opportunity to observe him from close at hand on a daily basis. Given the relatively small size of Lower Galilee and close proximity of the Galilean places named in the Gospel, there is no need to assume that those who followed Jesus never returned home again.
Fishers of men: In the ancient world, fishing was a metaphor for two distinct activities: judgment and teaching. Fishing for people meant bringing them to justice by dragging them out of their hiding places and setting them before the judge. Fishing as teaching people meant leading them from ignorance to wisdom. Both cases involved a radical change of environment, a break with a former way of life and an entrance upon a new way of life. We are the fish dragged out of the water in the nets to die so that God may give us a resurrection, a new life, a new family, a new future, all under God's control, all within the Kingdom of Heaven which has come near in Jesus. We have very little control over our own lives, but as fish caught in the net of God's love, we can trust that we are under God's control. We have to believe that being captured by God's love, being commanded by Him to repent, die to self and obey Him, and being raised to a new life by God, is not only right for us, but is a message we need to share with the entire world.
Jesus’ teaching ministry: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people." For Matthew, Jesus' teaching was of much greater significance than His miracles. Indeed, His teaching took precedence even over preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus taught in their synagogues. There was only one Temple, located in Jerusalem, but every village of any size had a synagogue where people gathered to worship and to learn. Teaching was at the heart of synagogue life. The service consisted of prayers, readings from the Scriptures, and an address. The ruler of the synagogue could invite any qualified man to give the address. The synagogue, then, was the natural place for Jesus to begin His teaching ministry. The last two verses (24-25), of this chapter, not included in this lesson, emphasize Jesus' healing ministry and the effect it had on people. Great crowds came from near and far to follow Jesus. The activities of Jesus are summarized in the last verse of our text: teaching, preaching, and healing -- perhaps in simpler terms: words and deeds. Our words and deeds need to be addressed, not just to Church people or to our parishioners, but to all with whom we have contact.
Life message: 1) We need to appreciate our call to be Christ’s disciples: Every one of us is called by God, both individually and collectively. The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church. Our own unique vocation and relationship with the risen Lord is never separated from the Body of the universal Church. Be we monk, priest, married or single lay person, male or female, we are all called, and in this call we become what God wants us to be. Our response to the call begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. That response is strengthened through the years by the Eucharist and Reconciliation and made manifest in Matrimony or Holy Orders. We are healed and consoled in the Anointing which also prepares us for death. In addition, God is relentless in calling us back to Himself when we stray from Him. Let us make personal efforts, then, to see the Light of Christ and to grow in holiness by learning the truths that are revealed through the Holy Catholic Church and its Sacraments. Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the Truth and the Light, so that they may rejoice with us in the mystical Body of Christ, the present, developing form of the Kingdom of God.
2) God sends us to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom: "Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people" (Mt. 4:23). Equally today, the Word of God, the promoting of the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, heals all kinds of ills. The Word of God transforms hearts so that victims may forgive those who have harmed them, those who have physically abused them, those who have sexually abused them, and those who have psychologically abused them. When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are sent forth to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to defend the Catholic faith. Like Peter, James and John, we are asked by Jesus to take on the work of discipleship; we are asked to leave our “fishing nets” -- our own needs and wants -- to follow the example of love and servanthood given to us by Jesus; we are asked to rebuild our lives, homes and cities in the justice and peace that Jesus proclaims. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask the Lord Jesus to give us the strength and perseverance to answer His calling so that we may faithfully serve the Lord according to His Divine Will.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Teaching ministry: A pastor told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17." The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17. Every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, "Mark has only 16 chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying."
Website of the Week
Searching the Scriptures : http://www.searchingthescriptures.net/
(Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (stjohngrandbay.org) and published by CBCI
Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany ((επιφάνεια), means appearance or manifestation. Multiple revelations of Jesus as God are celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, while in the Eastern Church, the feast is the commemoration of the Baptism of Christ where the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’identity as Son of God. Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah, and at Cana he revealed his Divinity by transforming water into wine.
Scripture lessons: Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring him their hearts. The adoration of the Magi fulfills the oracle of Isaiah (first reading), prophesying that the nations of the world would travel to the Holy City following a brilliant light and would bring gold and incense to contribute to the worship of God. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) includes a verse about kings coming from foreign lands to pay homage to a just king in Israel. Paul's letter to the Church of Ephesus (today’s second reading), expresses God’s secret plan in clear terms: "the Gentiles are…copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel."Today’s Gospel reminds us that if God permitted the Magi –foreigners and pagans –to recognize and give Jesus proper respect as the King of Jews, we should know that there is nothing in our sinful lives that would keep God from bringing us to Jesus. There were three groups of people who reacted to the Epiphany of Christ’s birth. The first group, headed by King Herod the Great, tried to eliminate him, the second group, priests and scribes, ignored him and the third group, represented by the shepherds and the Magi, came to adore him.
Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group: a) by worshiping Jesus at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration; b) by giving a new direction to our lives , choosing (as the Magi chose another route to return to their homes), a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior; c) by becoming stars leading others to Jesus as the star led the Magi to Jesus -- removing the darkness of the evil around us and radiating Jesus’ love through selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care. (2) Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of the Epiphany: (a) our gift of friendship with God in the form of wholehearted love and devotion; (b) our gift of friendship with others by leading them to Jesus through our exemplary lives of Christian charity in action; (c) our gift of reconciliation with God by daily asking His pardon and forgiveness for our sins and giving unconditional forgiveness to our offenders; and (d) our gift of peace by seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, leading a Sacramental life and meditation daily on the Word of God.
Anecdote: # 1: “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” This sense of suspense and surprise prompted us to watch the seven episodes of the Star War movies. The same desire for epiphany with the thrill and suspense awaiting them prompted adults to watch James Bond films and encouraged the great explorers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus to make risky and adventurous journeys. It is the same curiosity which led the magi to follow the star of Bethlehem. An element of suspense marked every moment in the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit of God was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the same curiosity as explorers and movie fans do, so that we may discover the “epiphany” or manifestation or Self- revelation of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere.
#2: History of Epiphany: Next to Easter, Epiphany is the oldest season of the Church year. In Asia Minor and Egypt, Epiphany was observed as early as the second century. The Festival of the Epiphany fell (and still falls), on January 6. It was observed as a unitive festival -- both the birth and Baptism of Jesus were celebrated at this time. January 6 was chosen as Epiphany Day because it was the winter solstice, a pagan festival celebrating the birthday of the sun god. In 331 AD the solstice was moved to December 25, but January 6 continued to be observed. Christians substituted Epiphany for the solstice. The emphasis was upon the re-birth of light. In keeping with this time, the First Lesson for Epiphany Day is appropriate: "Arise, shine; for your light has come." The unitive Festival of Epiphany was divided when December 25 was chosen as the birthday of Jesus. The Church in the East continued to celebrate Epiphany in terms of the Baptism of Jesus while the Western church associated Epiphany with the visit of the Magi. For the East the Baptism of Jesus was more vital because of the Gnostic heresy claiming that only at his baptism did Jesus become the Son of God. On the other hand, to associate Epiphany with the Magi is appropriate, for the Magi might not have gotten to Bethlehem until a year after Jesus' birth. By this time the holy family was in a house rather than in a stable. If this was the case, then the Magi could not have been a part of the manger scene popularly portrayed in today's Christmas scenes and plays. The Vatican II lectionary and calendar combine the two by placing the visit of the Magi on Epiphany Day and the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany 1 (The First Sunday after the Epiphany).
# 3: Adventurers:When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s Gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided over by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of Faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star but the secret of the whole universe – the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the Child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).
Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany (epiphanos), which means appearance or manifestation or showing forth, is used to describe Jesus’first appearance to the Gentiles. Originally the word Epiphany referred to the visit of a king to the people of his provinces. "Epiphany" refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of Jesus as His Son to all mankind. Epiphany is an older celebration than the feast of Christmas, having originated in the East in the late second century. In Italy and Spain, the gifts traditionally associated with the Christmas season are exchanged today, on the feast of the Epiphany. Among Italians, it is believed that the gifts are brought by the old woman, Befana (from Epiphany), whereas Spanish custom attributes the gifts to the Kings or Magi. In the Western Church,the feast commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. In the Eastern Church, the feast also commemorates the Baptism of Christ. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from the Jewish Scriptures. Later, God the Father revealed Jesus' identity to Israel at his Baptism in the Jordan. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah. Finally Jesus revealed himself as a miracle worker at the wedding of Cana, thus revealing his Divinity. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.
Today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 60:1-6, is chosen partly because it mentions non-Jews bringing gifts in homage to the God of Israel. Here the Prophet Isaiah, consoling the people in exile, speaks of the restoration of the New Jerusalemfrom which the glory of Yahweh becomes visible even to the pagan nations. Thus, the prophet in this passage celebrates the Divine Light emanating from Jerusalem and foresees all the nations acknowledging that Light, enjoying that Light and walking by that Light. As a sign of gratitude for the priceless lessons of Faith offered by Jerusalem, the nations will bring wealth by land and sea, especially gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice.Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) declares that all the kings of the earth will pay homage to and serve the God of Israel and His Messiah. Thus, these two readings express hope for a time when “the people of God”will embrace all nations. As the privileged recipient of a Divine “epiphany”, Saint Paul reveals God’s “secret plan”–that the Gentiles also have a part with the Jews in Divine blessings. Hence, in the second reading, St. Paul affirms the mystery of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Paul explains that this plan includes both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus implemented this Divine plan by extending membership in his Church, making it available to all peoples. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become “coheirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Hence, there are no second-class members of Jesus’ Body, the Church. Paul claims that he was commissioned by Christ to make this mystery known to the world.Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. Since the Magi came with joy in their hearts to visit the Christ Child, God allowed them to see wondrous things. At the same time, today’s Gospel hints at different reactions to the news of Jesus’birth, foreshadowing his passion and death, as well as the risen Jesus’mandate to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).
Exegesis:The Magi and the star: The Magi werenot Kings, buta caste of Persian priestswho served Kings, using their skills in interpreting dreams and watching movements of stars. The sixth century Italian tradition, that there were three Magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may actually have been Persian priests or Babylonian astronomers or Nabataean spice-traders. Eventually, however, they were pictured as representatives of different peoples and races. The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve Kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel. Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky at the births of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Likewise, in the Book of Numbers (24: 17), the prophet Balaam speaks of "a star that shall come out of Jacob." Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events. Thus, the brightness of the Light to which kings were drawn was made visible in the star they followed. They were led by God’s power to Christ and brought gifts to him and his family—to Mary and Joseph—as Isaiah and the psalmist foresaw.
The gifts:Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future, gold representing his kingship as well as divinity, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming. Gold was a gift for Kings, accepting baby Jesus as the king of the Jews. Gold is also a symbol of Divinity and is mentioned throughout the Bible. Pagan idols were often made from gold and the Ark of the Covenant was overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:10-17). The gift of gold to the Christ Child was symbolic of His Divinity—God in flesh.Frankincenseis highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God (Exodus 30:34). Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ Child was symbolic of his willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving himself up, analogous to a burnt offering.Myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex. 30:23) Myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial. It was a fitting “gift” for Jesus who was born to die. It was also sometimes mingled with wine to form an article of drink. Matthew 27:34 refers to it as “gall.” Such a drink was given to our Savior when he was about to be crucified, as a stupefying potion (Mark 15:23). Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price when He gave his life on the cross for all who would believe in him.In addition, myrrh was used an oriental remedy for intestinal worms in infants, a useful gift for a new baby. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. “Laden with gold and spices, the journey of the magi evokes those journeys made to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba and the ‘kings of the earth’ (see 1 Kings 10:2,25; 2 Chronicles 9:24).Interestingly, the only other places where frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together are in songs about Solomon (see Song of Songs 3:6, 4:6,14)”(Dr. Scott Hahn). Perhaps Joseph sold the gifts to finance the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt and Mary kept myrrh in her medicine chest. The gifts might have been God’s way of providing for the journey that lay ahead.
The triple reactions: The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the Magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration: a) a group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus; b) another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus; c) the members of a third group -- shepherds and the magi -- adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.
A) The destructive group: King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. Herod, in today’s Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. Their answer says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise - one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Micah 5:1-3) (Dr. Hann). Later, the scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus because he had criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. In the United States alone, one and a half million innocent, unborn children are aborted annually.
B) The group that ignored Christ: The scribes, the Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’birth. They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.” Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus -- even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today, many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society. They ignore Jesus' teachings in their private lives.
C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts: This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, were following the star that Balaam predicted would rise along with the ruler’s staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17). The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature. “Like the Magi, every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of Sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God Who speaks to us,who always speaks to us.” (Pope Francis)
Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group. a) Let us worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings to do good for our fellow men. b) Let us plot a better course for our lives as the Magi did, choosing for ourselves a better way of life in the New Year by abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior and sharing our love with others in acts of charity. c) Let us become stars, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. We can remove or lessen the darkness of the evil around us by being, if not like stars, at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.
(2) Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany. (a) The first gift might be friendship with God. After all, the whole point of Christmas is that God’s Son became one of us to redeem us and call us friends. God wants our friendship in the form of wholehearted love and devotion. (b) A second gift might be friendship with others. This kind of friendship can be costly. The price it exacts is vulnerability and openness to others. The Good News, however, is that, in offering friendship to others, we will receive back many blessings. (c) A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation. This gift repairs damaged relationships. It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience. (d) The fourth gift of this season is the gift of peace: seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, the Sacramental life and daily meditation on the Word of God. It is out of humble gratitude that we give Him from the heart our gifts of worship, prayer, singing, possessions, talents and time.
As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them! Like the Magi offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we offer what we have, from the heart, in response to what that Child has given to us - Himself.
Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’sA Christmas Carol, which begins, “In the bleak midwinter.”The carolsums up, in its last stanza, the nature of "giving to the Christ Child.”
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.
If I were a wise man, I could do my part.
What I can I give Him? Give Him my heart!”
(Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (stjohngrandbay.org) and published by CBCI)
Introduction: Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year? I pray that the Lord Jesus and His mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings. Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a very appropriate way to begin a new year, reminding us to rely on the powerful intercession of our Heavenly Mother. The Church observes this day also as the World Day of Peace and invites us to pray specially for lasting peace in the world throughout the New Year.
Scripture lessons:Today’s first reading gives us the beautiful Divine blessing from the book of Numbers for our New Year. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Galatians and us that God’s Son has become one of us through Mary and that it was through Him that we have become the children of God. Today’s Gospel describes how the shepherds spread to all their neighbors the Good News surrounding the birth of Jesus which the angel had revealed to them. The Gospel also tells us how Mary treasured "all these things" in her heart, and it reports that on the day of His Circumcision, the Child was given the name Jesus that had been chosen by God Himself.
Traditional belief and Church doctrine: We honor Mary primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on human flesh and became man, as stated in the Bible. The angel said to Mary: “You are going to be the mother of a Son, and you will call Him Jesus, and He will be called the Son of the Most High." After the angel had appeared to her and told her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth. At Mary's greeting, Elizabeth said, "Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me?” [Lk 1:43]. Hence, the Council of Ephesus affirmed in AD 431 that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), and in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Divine Motherhood of Mary as a dogma, an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.
Life messages: 1) Let us strive to be pure and holy like our Heavenly Mother. All mothers want their children to inherit or acquire their good qualities. Hence, let us honor Mary, our Heavenly Mother, by practicing her virtues of Faith, obedience, purity and humble service. 2) Let us make the New Year meaningful by having every day a) some noble thing to dream, b) something good to do, and c) someone to love, the first person being Jesus. 3) Let us sanctify every day of the New Year: a) by offering all the activities of the day for God’s glory every morning, thus transforming them into prayers; b) by asking for the anointing and strengthening of the Holy Spirit to do good to others and to avoid evil; c) by remaining faithful to our family prayer and Bible reading at night; d) by asking God’s pardon and forgiveness for our sins committed during the day; and e) by seeking God’s special protection during our sleep. Before we sleep, let us say, “Good night, Lord. Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."
FEAST OF THE B.V. MARY, MOTHER OF GOD, JANUARY 1, 2017
Nm 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
Anecdote: # 1: # Deciding to jump: A boy asked his father, "Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hangs over a pool, and one frog decided to jump off into the pool, how many frogs would be left on the limb?"
The dad replied, "Two."
"No," the son replied. “Here is the question again: There are three frogs and one decided to jump, how many are left?"
The dad said, "Oh, I get the point! If one decided to jump, the others would too. So there are none left."
The boy said, "No dad, the answer is three. The frog only DECIDED to jump."
Does that sound like our last year’s resolutions? Great inspiration and great resolutions, but oftentimes we only decide, and months later we are still on the same limb of doing nothing.
# 2: Smiling child and his mother: There is a beautiful little story about a long, tedious train journey, made one Christmas day by some elderly residents of a nursing home who were on their way to a vacation spot. At one station, a young mother with a small child entered the train. The child smiled at all the grim faces around him and began moving from one lap to another talking, shouting with joy and chatting with everyone. Instantly, the grim and silent atmosphere in the train was changed to one of joy and happiness. Today we remember with joy and gratitude how Mary and her Divine Son Jesus transformed a hopeless, joyless and sinful world into a place of joy and happiness.
# 3: Is it possible to have a birth without a mother? Monsignor Arthur Tonne tells the story of a Catholic pastor in a small Alabama city of mostly Southern Baptist Christians who decided to put up a Christmas crib in the town square. The priest with some of his prominent parishioners approached some rich people and businesses for donation. When they went to see the rich editor of the local newspaper the priest explained the project: “Many people, especially the children will be inspired to see Jesus, Mary and Joseph and animals right here in the center of the town.”The editor agreed to help on condition that Mary must be left out. Otherwise, it would be promoting your Catholic denomination. The priest said: “Tell you what. Tell me how you can show a birth without a mother, and I will agree to leave Mary out.”The editor had no answer and the Mother was with her Child in the town square.
4) “There’s a real big difference between her son and me”: A shoeshine boy was plying his trade in New York’s Grand Central Station. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth, again and again, across a man’s shoes. “Sonny,” said the man curiously, “what’s the hardware around your neck?” It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,” the boy replied. “Why her medal?” said the man. “She’s no different from your mother.” “Could be,” said the boy, “but there’s a real big difference between her son and me.” The boy’s devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, invites me to ask: What role does Mary play in my life? How might she play an even bigger role? (Mark Link in Vision 2000).
5) Chivalrous sensibility: In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that no subject in our Faith needs to be approached more delicately than this, and one of the reasons he cited was that Catholics have a natural affection for Mary, and when Mary is attacked, Lewis says that Catholics respond with that “chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother or his beloved is at stake.” Lewis says that Catholics feel this way about Mary “very naturally,” but there is one person who feels that way about Mary even more naturally than we do: her literal Son according to the flesh — Jesus Christ. (http://jimmyakin.com/the-key-to-understanding-mary) As the obedient, infinitely Holy, Son of God, the Lord Jesus was a very firm believer in the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. Now, what most people don’t know about that commandment is that in Hebrew it literally reads, “Glorify your father and mother.” This means that, since Christ took God’s commandments very seriously, he would glorify his mother Mary, and for us to talk about his mother in a cavalier, irreverent manner is to impugn the glory which Christ himself has given her. As a result, if we were to talk about Mary in an impious manner then we would be offending not only Mary but also Christ by denying his mother the glory that he himself gave her. (Jimmy Akins of Catholic Answers).
Introduction: Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year? I pray that the Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings. Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a very appropriate way to begin a new year. This celebration reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is also our Heavenly Mother. Hence, our ideal motto for the New Year 2017 should be “Through Mary to Jesus!" This is an occasion to renew our devotion to Mary, who is also Mother of the Church because she is our spiritual mother — and we are the Church. In 1970, Pope Paul VI instituted the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In his encyclical on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Marialis Cultus, he wrote, "This celebration, assigned to Jan. 1 in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the holy Mother …through whom we were found worthy …to receive the Author of life.”The solemnity shows the relationship of Jesus to Mary. It’s a perfect example of how we should venerate Mary under all of her titles and is a good foundation for our understanding of Mary’s place in Christology. The Church puts the feast of this solemnity on the first day of the New Year to emphasize the importance of Mary’s role in the life of Christ and of the Church. We commemorate the various saints on different days of the year, but Mary is the most prominent of them all. She has a special role and mission given to her by God. As Mother of our Redeemer and of the redeemed, she reigns as Queen at the side of Christ the King. She is a powerful intercessor for all of our needs here on earth. In celebrating her special feast day, we acknowledge this great gift for the Church and world; we call on her to be actively involved in our daily life; we imitate her virtuous life as a great inspiration; and we cooperate with all the graces we get through her. The Church observes this day also as the World Day of Peace and invites us to pray specially for peace in the world. Inspired by Pope St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Pope Paul VI instituted this feast in 1967.
In the first reading, taken from the book of Numbers, God gives Moses and Aaron the formula they should use while conferring the Divine blessing upon the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” In the second reading, Paul reminds the Galatians that God’s Son has become one of us through Mary and that it was through Him that they have become the children of God. Today’s Gospel describes how the shepherds spread to all their neighbors the Good News surrounding the birth of Jesus, which the angel had revealed to them. Further, Luke tells us how Mary treasured, "all these things" in her heart. The Gospel also recounts that on the day of His Circumcision, the Child was given the name Jesus that was chosen by God Himself.
Traditional belief: This is a very ancient feast, which used to be celebrated on October 11th. Today’s feast answers the question, “Why do Catholics honor Mary?”Non-Christians sometimes believe that we Catholics worship Mary as a goddess who gave birth to our God. Non-Catholic Christians argue that there is no Biblical basis for honoring Mary and that Catholics worship her and make her equal to God. They fail to understand why we honor Mary and name Churches and institutions after her. They do not understand what we mean by calling her the Mother of God. The truth is that we Catholics do not worship Mary as we worship, adore, God. We honor her, respect her, love her and seek her intercession, praying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners." We do not, ever, equate her with God nor replace God with her. Rather, we honor her, primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the Mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on our flesh and became Man.
Biblical basis: We learn the great truth that Mary is the Mother of God from St. Luke’s Gospel, in the message given by the angel to Mary: “You are going to be the mother of a Son and you will call Him Jesus, and He will be called the Son of the Most High." Once she said yes, the Holy Spirit created in her womb the human nature that God the Son would assume. Since motherhood is of the person and not of the nature alone, and since Mary is the mother of Jesus, true God and true Man, then she is rightly called the Mother of God. After the angel had appeared to her and told her that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth. At Mary's greeting Elizabeth said, "Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me?” [Lk 1:43]. The Holy Scriptures teach us that Jesus was both God and man. John writes: "The Word became flesh and lived among us" [Jn 1:14]. St. Paul refers to this event when he writes to the Galatians, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman,”and as, "eternally begotten of the Father." So Bible teaches that Mary was the mother of the God-Man Jesus, not in the sense that she gave birth to Jesus as God, but in the sense that the Baby she bore had the nature of God and the nature of Man.
The doctrine of the Church: Based on these references in the New Testament and on the traditional belief of the early Church, the Council of Ephesus affirmed in AD 431 that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), because "according to the flesh" she gave birth to Jesus, Who was truly God as well as truly man from the first moment of His conception by Mary. The Council defined Mary as the Mother of God both to honor her and to safeguard the dogma that Jesus Christ is not just truly God but also truly man.The Nestorians – followers of Nestorius, the 5th-century archbishop of Constantinople – taught that Christ was two in one: the man Jesus and the Divine Son of God. This view was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), which insisted that Jesus is one Person with two natures, Divine and human. The most emphatic way they could say this was to affirm that Mary was not just the mother of the man Jesus, but that she was the mother of God. This was to say that Christ was one person, not two. The word used was Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”). The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), continued the use of this term, and it has become orthodox Christian teaching. Note that it is more a statement about Christ than about Mary – or rather, equally so. Icons of the Theotokos are common now in the West.Twenty years later, in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Divine Motherhood of Mary as a Dogma, an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. Since Jesus is God, and Mary is his mother, she is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Messiah and the Mother of Christ, our Divine Savior. We also learn from the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Tradition that God filled the mother of His only Son with all celestial graces, freed her at the moment of her conception from original sin through the future (prevenient) merits of the death of Jesus, allowed her to play an active role in the redemptive work of Jesus, and finally took her to Heaven, body and soul, after her death. As He was dying on the cross, Jesus gave us the precious gift of His own mother to be our Heavenly Mother.
The historical Mary, the mother of Jesus.(Based on a piece that appeared in America, Dec. 2005): Mary’s real name was Miriam. She spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent. Like the other women of her time, she was probably an illiterate, hard-working and healthy village girl, who labored in the field and in the kitchen. She knew her Hebrew prayers and understood some words and expressions in Greek and Latin, as these were used in Galilee by the Roman soldiers and the Greek merchants and pilgrims. She might have been fair-skinned, dark haired and dark eyed. At the time of the Annunciation, she was probably thirteen or fourteen. Joseph might have been a young man or a widower with children. In villages like Nazareth, four or five related families lived in adjacent houses around an inner courtyard. Mary gave birth to Jesus, probably in 4 BC, and she was younger than fifty and a widow when her son Jesus was crucified. After remaining in Nazareth for a few years, sharing the bitter experiences of the early Christian community, she might have moved to Ephesus along with John and died there. Jesus’brothers and sisters mentioned in the Gospel were either children of Mary’s sisters or the children of Joseph’s brothers or even children of Joseph by an earlier marriage. Mary can easily identify herself with the poor and the oppressed and their hardships and aspirations, as she was part of that peasant community which was forced to pay taxes to the Romans, to Herod the King and to the Temple (tithes).
Perhaps this reading is in the Lectionary for today because the feast coincides with the civil New Year in many countries, and the blessing formula is a nice way to begin a new year. One of the liturgical acts of the priests in the Temple of Jerusalem was to bless the people after the daily sacrifices and on other solemn occasions. The blessing was a reward for the people’s keeping of the Covenant, and a guarantee that the blessing promised to all nations through Abraham would be fulfilled one day. The words of this blessing given by God to Moses (the blessing of Aaron), are recorded in the verses of the book of Numbers which we read today at Mass. This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. In ancient times, blessings and curses were thought to have almost a physical effect: they caused what they said. (The blessing of Jacob by Isaac is an example of this.) For us, the blessing is a prayer; we pray that the Lord will bless us, keep us, and make His face shine on us throughout the year. A key phrase in the formula: "The Lord let His face shine upon you," underlines a change in mankind's understanding of God.Many ancient peoples believed that it was possible to see the face of God, but dangerous, often fatal, to do so. Ancient Israel shared this conviction for a long time (see Ex 33:11, Dt 34:10, and Gn 32:31). But here the Lord God's words encourage the people to expect to see the face of God shining (smiling, perhaps?) on them. At least, that's the gift the priests ask that those whom they bless may receive. This is a God still awesome to those who obey and worship Him, but less dreadful than previously believed. That's God's mercy in action. “These words of blessing will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before all creatures.” (Pope Francis-2015).
Second Reading, Galatians 4:4-17: Some among the Christians in Galatia were teaching that Christians still had to keep the Jewish law, even to the point of being circumcised, in order to be saved. Saint Paul argued forcefully that there should be no such requirement, because the coming of Christ had fulfilled the Old Law and annulled it. Christians are freed from the slavery of the Old Law for they have been made children of God. Salvation, Paul teaches, comes as an undeserved gift of God, which we accept by Faith in Christ. This passage is in the Lectionary today because it contains a rare Pauline reference to Jesus' birth of a woman. Paul does not mention Mary because here he is not concerned with the details, which are known to his converts. Since he had mentioned the Divinity of Christ earlier in his Epistle, what Paul is stressing here is the reality of the human nature of Christ, the Self-humiliation of the Son of God Who deigned to be born of a mother like any human child. Paul also speaks of our adoption as children of God. We must be free from the entanglements of this world. Our relationship with God is so close that we can call him "Abba", an intimate term for "Father" (perhaps better translated as "Daddy.")
The Gospel message: Today’s Gospel tells us that the first people who came to adore the Baby Jesus were the shepherds. They were taking care of their flocks of sheep when an angel appeared to them and communicated to them the Good News concerning the birth of the Son of God. The angel told them that they should not be afraid. And that is precisely the message that the solemnity we celebrate today brings us. Through this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Church tells us that we should not be afraid, that we should prepare ourselves for the beginning of the New Year by asking Our Lord and our Most Beloved Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, to come to our aid. We should ask her, not just today (although today is an especially important occasion for doing so), but always, to help us to live like people who have been renewed and are ready, with her aid, to identify ourselves more closely with the teachings of the Church and with the Commandments, so that we may follow Christ more closely. Today’s Gospel also mentions that Jesus was given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.” The rite of Circumcision unites Mary’s Child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham -- promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.
Life messages:1) Let us strive to be pure and holy like our Heavenly Mother. All mothers want their children to inherit or acquire their good qualities. Our Heavenly Mother is no exception. With Joseph, she succeeded in training the Child Jesus, so that He grew in holiness and in “favor before God and man.”Hence, our best way of celebrating this feast and honoring our Heavenly Mother would be to promise her that we will practice her virtues of Faith, obedience, purity and humble service. In this way, we will be trying to become the saintly sons and daughters of our Heavenly Mother, the Holy Mother of God.
2) We need our Heavenly Mother’s prayers to have a better physical life and spiritual life in the New Year: Let us ask for our Heavenly Mother’s help so that we may glorify God with a healthier physical and spiritual life and a better appreciation of life in a culture of death. We need a Super-Mother like Jesus’mother Mary to stop millions of pregnant women from killing their babies by abortion, and to encourage nations to enact and implement laws to stop homicides, suicides, “mercy”-killing and mass-murders by terrorist and fanatic groups.
3) We need to honor Mary as the mother of Jesus: “We honor Mary by actively participating in today’s Mass and in all the Marian feasts of the Church throughout the year. In these Masses and at other times, we give Mary hyperdulia, that is, highest honor, because of the gifts of grace God granted her and because of the way she responded to these gifts. We also honor her in all the forms of Marian prayer we say: The Rosary, the Angelus, the Regina Caeli, the Hail Holy Queen, the Memorare, and so on. These are prayers we should pray so often we have them memorized. We can honor Mary by cultivating an interior life like hers. Mary meditated on, that is, thought about and prayed over, the events of her life in relation to God’s plan of salvation. We are participants in God’s plan of salvation, too. We are God’s instruments and fellow workers in God’s kingdom. Everything that happens to us has a good meaning, and it is up to us to try to discover and appreciate it. Her words at the wedding feast of Cana reveal her basic orientation, which we can apply to ourselves: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ We can honor Mary by praying for her intercession.” (DHO).
4) Three ways to make the New Year meaningful (William Barclay): a) something to dream, b) something to do, and c) someone to love. “I have a dream’”said Martin Luther King. We should all have a noble plan of action (dream a noble dream), for every day in the New Year. We need to remember the proverb: “Cherish your yesterdays, dream your tomorrows, but live your today." It has been truly said that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. We must not be barren fig trees, nor barren branches in God’s vineyard. We must be always engaged, doing good for others and loving the men and women we encounter in daily life, for they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This becomes easier when we make God the center of our life and realize His presence in all the people around us. Let us light a candle instead of blaming the darkness around us. Just as the moon borrows the sun’s light to illuminate the earth, we must radiate the Light of God shining within us. Let’s pray the prayer of Dag Hammarskjold: “Lord, for all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!”
4) A resolution for the New Year: We might resolve to start every morning with a short prayer: “Good morning, Lord. Thank You for extending my life for one more day. Please grant me a special anointing of Your Holy Spirit so that I may do Your holy will today and avoid everything evil.”We are advised to transform our daily work into prayer by offering it to God early in the morning. Besides the family prayer and Bible reading, we might also resolve to say a short prayer, every evening, the last thing we do before we go to sleep: “Thank You Lord for helping me to do Your will today. Forgive me, Lord, for saying ‘no’to Your grace several times today. I am really sorry for all my sins of the day. Please pardon me.”And, as we close our eyes, we might say: “Good night, Lord. Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."
Have a Happy New Year, overflowing with a "Yes" to God our Father, to the Lord Jesus our Brother and to the Holy Spirit our Advocate and our Guide in every good deed His grace suggests! O, our God and our Hope, glory to You!
(Prepared by Fr. Tony Kadavil (syjohngrandbay.org) and published by CBCI)
Christmas: (Lk 2:1-14): Why do we celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing?
1:First, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sending us a Savior :God undertook the Incarnation of Jesus as God-Man to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindu Scriptures describe ten incarnations of God “to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.” But the Christian Scriptures teach only one Incarnation, and its purpose is given in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that every one who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.”We celebrate the Incarnation of God as a baby today as Good News because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin by his suffering, death and Resurrection, and he atoned for our sins. So every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior every day, to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. This Christmas also challenges us to accept Jesus in the manger as our saving God and personal Savior and to surrender our lives to him, allowing him to rule our hearts and lives every day in the New Year.
# 2:Second, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sharing His love with us: Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “Good News”that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God. He demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our Heavenly Father loves us, forgives us, provides for us and rewards us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross to atone for our sins and to make us children of God. Each Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty, and every time we do that, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this question, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?”(Alexander Pope). Hence, let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives, not only during Christmas, but every day, so that he may radiate the light of his presence from within us as sharing and selfless love, expressed in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.
# 3:Third, Christmas is the Feast of the Emmanuel (God living with us and
within us):Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is a God who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as the “Emmanuel”announced by the angel to Mary. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Bible, in the praying community and in each believer as the Holy Spirit transforms us into “Temples of the Holy Spirit.”Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to those around us by loving them as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give, or receive, today. (Fr. Tony) 2016
CHRISTMAS- GOD’S SHARING LOVE AS AN EMMANUEL & SAVIOR
Homily starter1)“Abnormal” birth: After explaining childbirth, the biologyteacher asked her 3rd graders to write an essay on "childbirth" in their families. Susan went home and asked her mother how she was born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “A big white swan brought you darling, and left you on our doorstep.”Continuing her research she asked grandma how she got her mother as a child. Being in the middle of something, her grandma similarly deflected the question by saying, “A fairy brought your mom as a little baby, and I found her in our garden in an open box”. Then the girl went and asked her great-grandmother how she got her grandma as a baby. “I picked her from a box I found in the gooseberry bush," said the surprised great-grandma. With this information, the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, "I am very sad to find out that there was not even a single natural birth in our family for three generations... All our children were extraterrestrials." (Rev. Fairchild). Today the words of Isaiah tell us of another non-normal birth. It’s a non-normal birth, never before, nor after, seen or experienced, because it is the birth of God as man –Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, as our Savior.
# 2: Christmas questions answered: 1) Is Christmasthe greatest feast celebrated in the Church? The answer is no. Easter is feast No. 1, Pentecost No. 2 and Christmas is No. 3. The Roman Church started its celebration only after Christianity was recognized as the state religion. 2) Was Jesus born on December 25th? The answer is no. Many Fathers of the Church thought that Jesus was born on January 4th, in 4 B.C. before the death of King Herod the Great. Some Bible scholars fix it in the month of September during the Feast of the Tabernacles when people travelled and when the sheep were in the field at night. December 25th was fixed by Pope Julius in A.D. 353 as a part of baptizing or Christianizing pagan feasts so that the converted pagans might celebrate the birthday of Jesus on Dec 25th instead of celebrating the birthday the Sun-god during winter solstice and the converted Roman soldiers might celebrate Christmas instead the birthday of Mitra, the Roman god-of-virility. It was Emperor Julianus who declared Christmas as a national holiday in the 6th century. Most of the present day Christmas decorations like the Christmas tree and Christmas lights are also remnants of the pagan celebrations. It was St. Francis of Assisi who first introduced the manger or Christmas crib in the 13th century. 3) Where did the name Christmas originate? In medieval times the celebration of Christmas took the form of a special Mass celebrated at midnight on the eve of Christ's birth. Since this was the only time in the Catholic Church year when a Midnight Mass was allowed, it soon became known in Middle English as Christes Masse (Christ's Mass), from which is derived Christmas.
# 3: The first Christmas crib:It was St Francis of Assisi who assembled the first crib in a cave on an Italian hillside. It was in 1293 that the first crèche was erected in the woods of Greccio near Assisi, on Christmas Eve. The crib was ready, hay was brought, the ox and the donkey were led to the spot. Greccio became a new Bethlehem The aim of St. Francis was to make the Christmas story come alive for the people of the locality. His idea was to show them how close it was to them and their lives. And it seems that he succeeded. On Christmas Eve the friars and the people assembled with candles and torches around the crib. Francis spoke to the people, who were mostly farmers and shepherds, about God’s Son coming among us to teach us that we too are children of God, and that as such we have an eternal destiny. The shepherds and farmers got the messages: God had time for simple folks like them. At the end of the vigil they all returned to their homes, full of peace and joy, feeling very close to God and to one another.(http://www.catholicdoors.com/misc/christmascrib.htm).
Introduction: We celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing for three reasons. 1) It is the birthday of our God Who became man and Savior to save us from our sins. 2) It is the birthday of our God Who came to share His love with us and 3) It is the anniversary of the day when Almighty God came to live with us as Emmanuel.
First of all,Christmas is the feast of God’s sending us a Savior.Jesus, the Incarnation of God as man, came to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindu Scriptures in India describe ten incarnations of God. The purpose of these incarnations is stated in their Holy Scripture, BagavathGeetha or Song of God.“God incarnates to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large scale erosion of moral values.”(“Dharma samstaphanarthesambhavamiyugeyuge.”). But the Christian Scriptures teach that there was only one Incarnation of God, for the purpose is stated in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that every one who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”We celebrate that Incarnation today as Good News because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus atoned for our sins and liberated us from slavery to sin by His suffering, death and Resurrection. Every Christmas reminds us that we still need this Savior to be reborn in our hearts and to live there, for we need Him every day to free us from our evil habits, addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. Hence, Christmas challenges us to accept Jesus our as our Lord our God and our personal Savior and to surrender our sinful lives to Him, allowing Him to rule our lives.
Second, Christmas is the feast of God’s sharing His love with us. Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “Good News”that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God who wants to save us through His Son Jesus and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God. Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God, our Heavenly Father, loves us, forgives us, and provides for us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Christmas reminds us that we have to allow this God of unconditional love to be reborn in us and to start living in us: Let us accept the challenge given by the famous poet, Alexander Pope, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world, and He is not born in my heart?”Let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives today and every day and to radiate his light around usas sharing and selfless love, compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.
Third, Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel, i.e., God living with us and within us.Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is God-with-us, Emmanuel, Who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as announced by the angel to Mary. The Christmas story tells us that there is a way out of our sinfulness and hopelessness, because God is with us. We are not alone. There is a mighty God within us to strengthen us in our weaknesses and temptations. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Holy Bible, in the praying community and in each believer, with the Holy Spirit Who is transforming us daily into the "Temples of the Holy Spirit.”Hence, each Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to others around us by loving others as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give to, or receive from, others.
Christmas: Four Lectionary-based homilies. L/16
Synopsis: Christmas Vigil: Is 62:1-5, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25, Mt 1:1-25 /1:18-25
Introduction: TheScripture lessons for today focus on the first Christmas, or the birthday of Jesus, which we celebrate today in all its solemnity. We are celebrating the fulfillment of the prophecies about our merciful God Who sent His own Son to save a sinful world.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies how the God of Israel will honor the desolate and forsaken Jerusalem and land of Israel by espousing her as a man marries a virgin and makes her fertile. Yahweh will do this by sending His long-awaited Messiah into Israel to possess it rule over it. The Messiah will vindicate Israel and save it. The Lord God wished to inspire the hopeless Israelites, returned from the Babylonian exile, to plant crops and make their desolate land fertile and prosperous so that she might be able to hold up her head again among the other nations. In the second reading, St. Paul recounts the history of God’s mercy to Israel, His chosen people. God showed His mercy to Israel by fulfilling the prophecy about His long-awaited Messiah, sending His Son as the Savior and the descendant of David. The Gospel (Matthew 1: 1-24), first recounts the genealogy of Jesus (vv 1-17), tracing his descent from Abraham through David (as foretold by the prophet), then describes his birth in Bethlehem as our Savior (vv 18-25), through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel also shows how God resolved the doubts of Joseph by sending His angel, first to reassure Joseph, then to instruct him to name the child Jesus. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yehosua, which means “Yahweh is salvation.”Just as the first Joshua (successor of Moses) saved the Israelites from their enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus) would save them from their sins.
Life messages: 1) We need allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2016 and every day of the New Year 2017. Let us show the good will and generosity of sharing with others Jesus, our Savior reborn in our hearts, by love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service.
2) We need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons. The message of Christmas is that we can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places – in the streets, in slums, in asylums, in orphanages, in nursing homes –starting in our own homes, workplaces and town. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas –the joy of the Savior.L/16
CHRISTMAS VIGIL: Is 62:1-5, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25, Mt 1:1-25 / 18-25
Anecdote:1)Consider Christmas Again: When Pope Julius I authorized December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today? In 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi used a nearby cave to set up a manger filled with straw, and his friend, Vellita, brought in an ox and a donkey, just like those at Bethlehem, nobody thought how that novel idea was going to evolve through the centuries. When Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in America in 1832, who would have ever thought that the decorations would become as elaborate as they are today? There is an unproved legend that Martin Luther is responsible for the origin of the Christmas tree. This story says that one Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through the snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a small fir tree and shared the story with his children. He decorated the Christmas tree with small candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ's birth.In 2016, having walked through Advent again in the midst of all the excitement, elaborate decorations and expensive commercialization which surround Christmas today, we are given another opportunity to pause, to consider again the event of Christmas and the Person Whose birth we celebrate.
Introduction: TheScripture lessons for today focus on the first Christmas. In the first reading, Isaiah shows us the vindication of Israel by the Lord God. This vindication has found its fulfillment for all of us in the coming of Jesus as our Savior. In the second reading, St. Paul recounts the history of God’s mercy to Israel, His chosen people. That mercy has culminated in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah for whom the Jews have been waiting for centuries. The Gospel provides the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his descent from David, and recounts the story of his birth in Bethlehem as our Savior.
The first reading, Isaiah: 62: 1-5. After their exile in Babylon, the Jews returned to Judah where they had a difficult time restoring their old institutions, their economy, their capital Jerusalem and their Temple on Mount Zion. They were quite discouraged when the prophet Isaiah received this prophecy from God to restore their fallen spirits (Chapters 56-66.) Just as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, so Isaiah looked forward to God’s breaking the silence of many years. In today’s text, Isaiah uses imagery describing the conversion of Israel from gloom to joy. Isaiah compares the dispirited Jewish people to a woman who had thought she would never marry. But she suddenly has found a suitor! It’s Israel, the land of the Jews that the Lord proposes to marry, and, by extension, to make fertile. The prophet's goal has been to inspire the hopeless people to plant crops and thus allow Him to make their desolate land fertile. Now, he says, Israel will be able to hold up her head again among the other nations, who will see her vindication.
Second Reading, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25: This reading is taken from the account of Paul’s first missionary journey, a journey which began in Syria and which took him to Antioch in Pisidia. This is the first of the several speeches of St. Paul in which he tells the Jews that the Christian Church is the logical development of Judaism. When St. Paul delivered this speech, the Jews had 1800 years of history behind them. Paul takes advantage of their knowledge to show that the coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of all history.
Exegesis:The genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17): While Paul presents Jesus as a descendent of David in our second reading, Matthew traces Jesus’genealogy from Abraham. This genealogy not only shows Jesus’human ancestry, but also indicates that salvation history has reached its climax with the birth of the Son of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. Though we often skip over these lists of names, the Gospel writers took great pains to compile the genealogies and to make several theological points in the process. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a line of ancestors whom Matthew arranges into three groups: 14 Patriarchs, 14 Kings and 14 Princes. The three groups are based on the three stages of Jewish history: i) the rise of Israel to a great kingdom by the time of David, ii) the fall of the nation by the time of Babylonian exile and iii) the resurrection of the nation after the exile. Strangely enough, the list includes a number of disreputable characters, including three women of bad reputation: Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba. Perhaps the Lord God included these women in His Son's human genealogy to emphasize God's grace, to give us all hope and to show us that Jesus is sent to save sinners. Thus, God's powerful work of salvation comes to us under the appearance of weakness. From the beginning, Matthew's account challenges our human expectations as to how God will fulfill our hopes for endless peace, justice, and righteousness. Luke's account shows us another example of this kind of challenge. The royal child, heir to King David's throne and bearer of wonderful titles, is born in poverty. He is laid in a manger because there is no room in the inn.
The three-step marriage: Engagement, betrothal and marriage proper were the three stages of the Jewish marriage ceremony. The engagement was often made through the parents when the prospective bride and groom were only children. The betrothal was the ratification of the engagement into which a couple had previously (been) entered. It made the young man and woman husband and wife, legally married, but without cohabitation and conjugal rights for one year. The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal. It was during the betrothal period that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus. The essence of Matthew's story is that, in the birth of Jesus, the Spirit of God is seen operating in the world as He has never done before.
Joseph the “father”of Jesus (Mt. 1: 18-25): While Luke's Gospel emphasizes the role of Mary, Matthew brings Joseph to the forefront. Joseph is important to Matthew's Gospel, because Jesus came from David’s lineage through Joseph (1:1-17). The Davidic descent of Jesus is shown as both legal and natural. In other words, Jesus is descendant of Abraham and David not only by physical descent but also by God's supernatural action. The Davidic descent of Jesus is transferred not through natural paternity but through legal paternity. Matthew carefully constructs v 18 to avoid saying that Jesus was the son of Joseph. As Mary’s legal husband, Joseph became the legal father of Jesus. Later, by naming the child, Joseph acknowledged the child as his own.The legal father was on par with the biological father as regards rights and duties. Since it was common practice for couples to marry within their clan, probably Mary also belonged to the house of David. Several early Church fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin and Tertullian, testify to this belief, basing their testimony on an unbroken oral tradition. Joseph is presented as a righteous man (v 19), who chose to obey God’s command rather than to observe rigidly a law that would have required him to divorce Mary publicly. He resolved to divorce Mary quietly in order that he might not cause her unnecessary pain. In doing so, he serves as a model of Christ-like compassion. He also demonstrates a balance between the Law of Torah and the Law of Love. While Luke tells the story of the angel's appearance to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), Matthew tells us only that the Child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The Divine intervention through the angel: Luke tells us of Mary's obedience (Luke 1:38), and Matthew tells us of Joseph's obedience. This is the first of three occasions on which an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. In each instance, the angel calls Joseph to action, and Joseph obeys. He is told not to be afraid of his fiancée's pregnancy, nor of the opinion of his neighbors, nor even of the requirement of the Torah that Mary be punished. He is not to hesitate, but is to wed Mary. "She will bear a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Mary's role is to bear a son, and Joseph's role is to name Him. By naming him, Joseph makes Jesus his son and brings him into the house of David.
Jesus the Savior as the fulfillment of prophecy: The name, Jesus, is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means “YHWH is salvation.” Just as the first Joshua (successor of Moses), saved the Israelites from their enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus), will save them from their sins. The Jews, however, did not expect a Messiah Who would save them from their sins, but one who would deliver them from their political oppressors. Matthew stresses the fact that the birth of Jesus as Savior is the fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah (7:14): “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'" The fulfillment of the prophecy is important to Matthew’s first audience, Jewish converts, which is why the evangelist mentions the fulfillment of eleven prophetic statements about Jesus in his Gospel. The context of the verse taken from Isaiah is the dilemma of King Ahaz in the eighth century BC. Jerusalem was under siege, and it appeared that both the city and the nation might be destroyed. Isaiah's prophecy was that a boy-child would be born and that, by the time he reached maturity, the threat from the enemy would have passed. We do not know that boy's identity, but the city and nation were both spared.
Emmanuel born of a virgin: The NRSV correctly translates ho parthenos as "the virgin" rather than "a virgin." In other words, the original uses the definite article. Isaiah referred to a young woman (almah), but Matthew's hoparthenos clearly refers to a virgin. That is why the Church has always taught Mary’s perpetual virginity. "'They shall name Him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'" In Hebrew, El is a short form of Elohim, a name for God. Immanu-El, therefore, means "God-with-us," a meaning which Matthew spells out for non-Hebrew readers. Emmanuel is not a second name by which friends and neighbors will know Jesus. "Jesus" is Our Lord's true name and Emmanuel describes his role. Thus, Matthew begins his Gospel with the promise that Jesus' role-name means "God-with-us." He will end his Gospel with Jesus’ promise that he will be with us "always, to the end of the age" (28:20).
Life messages:1) We need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons. During the Christmas season we, like the Magi, must give our most precious gift, our lives to Jesus. We will learn to discover Him in the most unlikely places and in the most distasteful people –in those who are suffering or in distress, poverty or fear. The message of Christmas is that we can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places –in the streets, in slums, in asylums, in orphanages, in nursing homes –starting in our own homes, workplaces and town. We need to look for Him in people that we might otherwise ignore: the homeless, the sick, the addict, the unpleasant person, the rebel, or the person of different culture and lifestyle from us. True Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God among the poor, the homeless and the disadvantaged with a message of hope and liberation for these sufferers in our world. It is about our responsibility to be part of that liberating process. It is about working to remove the shameful blot of poverty, discrimination and exploitation that is the lot of too many in our environment of prosperity. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas –the joy of the Savior.
2) We need to allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2016 and every day of the New Year 2017. How should we prepare for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives? As a first step, John the Baptist urges us to repent daily of our sins and to renew our lives by leveling the hills of pride and selfishness, by filling up the valleys of impurity, and by straightening the crooked paths of hatred. Our second step in preparing for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives is to cultivate the spirit of sacrifice and humility. It was by sacrifice that the shepherds of Bethlehem and the Magi were able to find the Savior. They were humble enough to see God in the Child in the manger. We too can experience Jesus by sharing Him with others, just as God shared His Son with us. Let us remember that the angels wished peace on earth only to those able to receive that peace, those who possessed the good will and largeness of heart to share Jesus our Savior with others in love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service.
Synopsis: Christmas Midnight Is 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Introduction: Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which occurred some 2,000 years ago. Looking through the telescope of Christ’s Resurrection, the New Testament authors, as well as the Fathers of the Church, reexamined foreshadowings of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, in the writings of the prophets and discovered that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.
Scripture readings: Following the death of the Assyrian monarch in the late 8th century B.C., the prophet Isaiah prophesies relief for both Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel through a new king and his descendant in the line of David, in the person of Jesus. He is the child Isaiah’s prophecy describes as the “prince of peace”The second reading, taken from the “pastoral letter” of Paul to Titus, tells us that it is only by the saving power of God in Christ that we are enabled to live virtuously in the present with hope for the future. The Gospel for the Midnight Mass tells us how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and how the news of his birth was first announced to shepherds by the angels. Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. If these shepherds were the ones in charge of the Temple sheep and lambs which were meant for daily sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, no wonder they were chosen to be the first to see the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!
Life messages:1)We need to reserve a room for Jesus in our heart: Christmas asks us a tough question. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? There is no point in being sentimental about the doors slammed by the folks in Bethlehem, if there is no room in our own hearts for the same Jesus coming in the form of the needy. We need to reverence each human life, and to treat others respectfully as the living residences of the Incarnate God. To neglect the old, to be contemptuous of the poor or to have no thought for the unemployed and the lonely, is to ignore those individuals with whom Christ has so closely identified Himself. Hence, we all need to examine ourselves daily on the doors we close to Jesus.
2)We need to experience Jesus the Emmanuel: The real meaning of Christmas actually is Emmanuel, God-with-us –God coming down to us; God coming alongside us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our souls, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS: Is 9:1-6; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Anecdotes:1) "Don't go! You can have my room." Nine-year-old Wally was in second grade when most children his age were fourth-graders. He was big for his years, a clumsy fellow, a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling lad, a natural defender of the underdog, and he was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally wanted to be a shepherd. Instead, he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally's size would lend extra force to the innkeeper's refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals, Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. When the play opened, no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, "What do you want?" "We seek lodging," Joseph replied. "Seek it elsewhere," Wally said in a firm voice. "There's no room in the inn." "Please, good innkeeper," Joseph pleaded, "this is my wife, Mary. She is with child and is very tired. She needs a place to rest." There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally's next line: "No! Be gone!" Wally remained silent. Then the forlorn couple turned and began to slowly move away. Seeing this, Wally's brow creased with concern. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he called out, "Don't go! You can have my room."
Introduction: The season of Advent is past and the period of anticipation is complete. Now it is time to commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which occurred some 2,000 years ago. Looking through the telescope of Christ’s Resurrection, the New Testament authors, as well as the Fathers of the Church, reexamined the writings of the prophets to discover foreshadowings of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Today’s first reading is one of these taken, from the greatest of the prophets, Isaiah. The second reading, taken from the “pastoral letter” of Paul to Titus, tells us that it is only by the saving power of God in Christ that we are enabled to live virtuously in the present with hope for the future. The Gospel for the Midnight Mass tells us how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and how the news of his birth was first announced to shepherds by the angels.
First reading, Isaiah 9:1-6 : In the late eighth century BC, God's people in the Promised Land had become divided into a Northern Kingdom, Israel, and a Southern Kingdom, Judah. Assyria was the dominant power in the region, particularly oppressing the Northern Kingdom. In the eighth century BC, the source of the “darkness”was the Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-Pilesar III. But following the death of the Assyrian monarch, the prophet declares that in the darkness, light has shone! Hope for endless peace, justice, and righteousness has been kindled and burns brightly. Isaiah prophesies relief for both Northern and Southern Kingdoms in the person of the new king who will come to the throne in the Southern Kingdom, Judah, and will see to the reunion of the North and South and the expulsion of the Assyrians from the North. The king whom Isaiah had in mind is, interestingly, Hezekiah, the successor of King Ahaz. So “the people once in darkness”are the dwellers in Israel oppressed by Assyria. The “child/son born to us”is the new King in Jerusalem in Judah. He inherits the throne of David whose glorious reign, roughly four centuries earlier, was still the source of national pride and hope. Some 2700 years later, we see Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God and Son of David, the Redeemer and Savior of the world, in this promised King.
Today's passage in Isaiah 9 completes a prophecy begun in Isaiah 8:1. In spite of all the doom and gloom that surround Israel, and the evil that darkness portends, there will eventually be light and restoration for Israel. The yoke and bar, spoken of in v 4, represent enslavement and oppression. Those will be cast off vigorously as in the days of Gideon and the Midianites (Judges 8:10-12; Psalm 83:9-11). The prophecy concludes with the now-famous words: "For a child has been born for us, a son given for us….." What follows is a description of the yet to be realized kingdom of Christ (v 6). Notice the many titles given to the coming child: Wonderful Counselor —counsel, as in advice; Mighty God—an image of power and majesty; Everlasting Father—one Who will not diminish, expire, or fade away: an eternal relationship of nurture and trust; Prince of Peace—not war-like, but reconciling.
Exegesis:The origin of the Christmas celebration: Many scholars believe thatChristmas came to be placed on December 25th in order to counteract a pagan celebration called the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, a feastestablished by the Roman Emperor, Aurelian, in AD 274. Since December 25th was near the date of the winter solstice (the year’s shortest day, after which the days begin to lengthen again, showing the victory of the sun over darkness), it was chosen as the date of rejoicing. When Christianity was approved as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Church chose this day to celebrate the birth of the true Sun–the Son of God Who conquers the power of darkness. Another theory gives Biblical support for celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. It claims that the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah occurred during the feast of Yom Kippur, around September 25th, placing the birth of John after nine months on June 25th. Since the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the Annunciation event and the conception of Jesus took place around March 25th leading to Jesus’birth after nine months, around December 25th.
The Christmas event: While Matthew places the birth of Jesus against the background of Herod's reign, Luke places it against the background of the Roman Empire.It is generally accepted that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. Luke begins by making a subtle contrast between Caesar Augustus who failed as an inaugurator of peace, and Jesus the Savior and bringer of peace. Both Tertullian and Justin Martyr (c. 165) state that in their time the records of the 4 B.C. census still existed along with those of 28 B.C., 8 B.C. and 14 A.D. In the Roman Empire, a census was taken periodically with the double object of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were liable for compulsory military service. Another hidden aim was to find out the true descendants of King David who had a claim to the throne as the king of the Jews. Luke’s purpose in mentioning the census was to provide God’s reason for, and means of, getting Mary and Joseph the roughly eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, wherein the promised heir of David was to be born, as prophesied by Micah (5:1). Bethlehem was commonly thought of as the city of David because of David's birth and childhood there.Since travelers brought their own food, the innkeeper provided only fodder for the animals and a fire for cooking along with a spot to sleep within his walls. A manger is a feeding trough (food box) and it symbolizes the sacrificial meal that Jesus becomes, which provides sustenance for the whole world. Father Raymond Brown in his masterful book on the Infancy Narratives says that these stories are theologumena, not so much literal history but stories with a theological point –the other gratuitous and revolutionary impact of Jesus’birth, life and death. The important thing to remember is that they are stories of God’s love and Jesus’role in history, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to reveal His Truth to us, and that’s what counts, not historical details.
The first visitors: Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. If these shepherds were the ones in charge of the Temple sheep and lambs which were meant for daily sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, no wonder they were chosen to be the first to see the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! Shepherding was a lonely, dirty job, and shepherds found it difficult to follow all the obligatory religious customs. Hence, they were scorned as non-observant Jews. So Baby Jesus selected these marginalized people to share His love at the beginning of his earthly ministry. The shepherds expressed their joy and gratitude by “making known what had been told them" (v 17). Just as very ordinary people later became witnesses to the Resurrection, very ordinary shepherds became witnesses to the Incarnation. Other than the angels, they were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth. Once we have been privileged to experience God's presence, we, too, have a responsibility to share that experience with other people -- to spread the word -- to proclaim the Gospel.
Good news of great joy:“But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Perhaps because Luke was a Gentile convert, he establishes at the beginning of this Gospel that Jesus is for all the people -- not just for the people of Israel: "... a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (v. 11). The Romans thought of Augustus as savior. However, Augustus' peace was fragile. After his death, other men would assume power -- men like Nero and Caligula, whose names would be synonymous with treachery and cruelty. The angels introduced a different kind of Savior -- a Savior who would continue His saving work throughout human history. The Savior of the First Century is also the Savior of the Twenty-first Century. The Savior of Israel is also the Savior of the World.
Glory to God and peace on earth:The angels welcomed Jesus' birth singing: "Glory to God in the highest heaven" (v 14). Later, the crowds would welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest Heaven!" (19:38). That peace is the shalom of God –life experienced in all its fullness, richness, and completeness in accord with the will of God. The angelic song conveys the message that true peace on earth is available only to those able to receive it, that is with the good will to do the will of God, and thus to give Him glory.
Christmas is not just one day but a season which lasts for twelve days, concluding on Epiphany (Twelfth Night). The extension of the feast should remind us to continue to share our joy at the comings of the Messiah –the first some 2000 years ago, the last at our death or at the Parousia, the “Second coming,”for which we all pray (Eucharistic acclamation –“We proclaim Your Death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection, until You come again”), and all those occurring between the two, as we live our daily lives. As we celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God this Christmas, we might make a conscious effort, both to remember that Jesus is always with us in our hearts and in the Eucharist, and to share our joy in His presence with others.
1) We need to reserve a room for Jesus in our heart: Christmas asks us a tough question. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? There is no point in being sentimental about the doors slammed by the folks in Bethlehem, if there is no room in our own hearts for the same Jesus coming in the form of the needy. We need to reverence each human life, and to treat others respectfully as the living residences of the Incarnate God. To neglect the old, to be contemptuous of the poor or to have no thought for the unemployed and the lonely, is to ignore those individuals with whom Christ has so closely identified Himself. Hence, we all need to examine ourselves daily on the doors we close to Jesus.
2) We need to experience Jesus the Emmanuel: The real meaning of Christmas actually is Emmanuel, God-with-us –God coming down to us; God coming alongside us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our soul, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Synopsis: Christmas Dawn Mass (Is 62:11-12; Ti 3: 4-7; Lk 2:15-20)
Introduction:The main theme of this Mass at Dawn is an invitation to enjoy, by a life of sharing love, the lasting peace and celestial joy brought by the Divine Savior. St. John gives the main reason for our Christmas joy in his Gospel (3:16): “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that every one who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God showed His love for sinful man by sharing His love with us in His Son, Incarnate as Jesus in Bethlehem, Who, in turn, saved us by His suffering, death and Resurrection.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah shows the Jews their God as a saving God Who will extend His redemption to His holy city. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Titus that God saves us through His Son Jesus, not because we have deserved it by our good deeds, but because of His mercy. Jesus continues His saving mission by allowing us to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to become God’s children and heirs of eternal life. Describing the response of the shepherds to the angelic message, today’s Gospel invites us to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and to bear witness to Him through our lives by sharing love with others.
Life messages: 1) We need to beChrist-bearers and Christ-givers: Since it is Jesus Who gives real meaning to our celebrations, Jesus must be reborn in us each time we celebrate Christmas. Hence, let us leave a “room in the inn”of our hearts for Jesus to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, if He is not born in my heart?” So let us pray for the grace of Jesus’birth in each one of us today, bringing us love, mercy, kindness and compassion to give away. Let us help all those around us to experience the newly-born Savior –Jesus within us - as sharing love in the form of compassionate words, unconditional love and forgiveness, selfless service, merciful deeds and overflowing generosity. 2) We need to listen to God speaking to us every day and respond promptly, as the shepherds did: There isn't one of us in this Church this morning who hasn't had God speak to him or her in some personal way. It may not have happened as dramatically as it did with these shepherds, but God has indeed spoken to our soul and spirit. Too often, however, we have chosen not to listen. Have we ever had an argument with a member of our family, and heard that inner voice deep down within us telling us to stop, and we knew we should stop? Have we ever had that same inner sense of knowing we needed to do something or to avoid doing something? That was the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, the Spirit sent to us by the Father at the request of Jesus our Savior. Whether or not we chose to listen in those cases really isn't the point. The point is that God has indeed spoken to us and He continues to speak to us right now. How are we going to respond? Will we respond as Mary did, as the shepherds did and as the magi did? Or not?L/16
CHRISTMAS MASS AT DAWN: Is 62: 11-12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20
(The theme: The joy and peace of the Savior through sharing love)
Anecdote: #1) Sharing the sorrow of chemotherapy: An 11-year-old boy with cancer lost all the hair on his head as a result of chemotherapy treatment. When the time came for him to return to school, he and his parents experimented with hats, wigs, and bandanas to try to conceal his baldness. They finally settled on a baseball cap, but the boy still feared the taunts he would receive for looking "different." Mustering up courage, he went to school wearing his cap - and discovered to his great surprise that all of his friends had shaved their heads to share their solidarity with their friend. It was their way of expressing their love and sympathy. No wonder God became man to express His love for mankind!
Introduction:The readings for this Mass at Dawn offer us an invitation to enjoy, by a life of sharing love, the lasting peace and celestial joy brought by the Divine Savior. St. John gives the main reason for our Christmas joy in his Gospel (3:16): “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that every one who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God showed His love for sinful man by sharing His love with us in the form of Jesus in Bethlehem. Jesus, in turn, saved us by His suffering, death and Resurrection. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah shows the Jews their God as a saving God Who will extend His redemption to His Holy City. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Titus that God saves us through His Son Jesus, not because we have deserved it by our good deeds, but because of His mercy. Jesus continues His saving mission by allowing us to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to become God’s children and heirs of eternal life. Describing the response of the shepherds to the angelic message, today’s Gospel invites us to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and to bear witness to Him through our lives, by sharing love with others.
First reading, Isaiah 62:11-12: Around 600 BC, the Babylonians took the Jews out of the Promised Land and kept them in exile (the Babylonian Captivity), for about 70 years. When Cyrus, a new Persian emperor, took over Babylon, he sent the Jews home. This reading is set in that troubled period, when Judah was trying to put itself back together after returning from Exile. Daughter Zion means (the people of) the city, Jerusalem. This was Judah's capital, in the center of which stands Mount Zion, the Temple awaited rebuilding. The gist of this short passage is that the people should keep up their spirits, because soon they and their city will enjoy prosperity and international renown again, and their city will frequently be visited by tourists, instead of remaining a ghost city. In other words, God’s own people are going to experience the saving and providing love of their God.
Second Reading, Titus 3:4-7:This passage is classic Pauline teaching, showing us that God saves us by incorporating us into Christ which is the real cause of Christian, and Christmas, joy. Among the congregation served by the early Bishop Titus were Christians who believed they had to practice the laws of Judaism and to impose those laws on pagan converts to Christ. Paul reminds them that God saved us "not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy." In other words, law-driven righteous deeds don't win our salvation; God gives it to us freely. We accept that gift by taking the bath of rebirth, Baptism, when the Spirit is richly poured out on us. This, not our observance of laws, makes us justified (right with God), and that “justification”gives us the hope of eternal life.
Exegesis: The shepherds, the first visitors and the first missionaries: The orthodox Jews in Jesus’time despised the shepherds because these men were quite unable to observe the ceremonial laws in all their details. In addition, shepherds had no spare time to take part in synagogue services nor to study Torah because shepherding was a full-time job. These shepherds with whom Jesus chose to share His love on Christmas day might have been the special shepherds in charge of the Temple sheep which were set aside for the daily morning and evening sacrifice of unblemished lambs. If so, no wonder their shepherds were blessed with the unique privilege of seeing the Divine Child –“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”! They responded to this great privilege by bearing witness to God, by praising God and by spreading the news of the birth of a Savior. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel–God is with us - challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame fear to find Him, or like the Magi who traveled and searched for Him. We should have the generosity and good will to search for Him and find Him in unlikely places and persons. That is made possible for us only if we welcome Jesus in Bethlehem into our lives by allowing Him to be reborn in us. Then we will have the real experience of Christmas –and the joy of the Savior.
The angelic choir and their angelic message: Normally, when a boy was born into a Jewish family, the local musicians congregated at the house to greet him with country music. Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angels sang the songs for Jesus that the earthly singers could not sing. The angels told the shepherds to rejoice because the Savior had come: Luke 2: 10-11: “Don’t be afraid. I am here with Good News for you, which will bring great joy to all people. This very day in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you–Christ the Lord." We rejoice today with those shepherds because we have a Savior who can free us from the bondage of sin. We have a Savior who liberates us from our slavery to impure, unjust and uncharitable thoughts, desires and habits. We have a Savior Who can, and will, release us from our evil addictions, heal our physical and mental diseases and free us from hatred, enmity, jealousy and bitterness.
Saviors and the Savior: History tells us that there has been no shortage of false liberators and pseudo-saviors who have deceived generations of people all around the world. The Greek philosophers believed that education and knowledge would liberate the world. Later, rationalists like Voltaire and Rousseau taught that mere human reason, alone, provided an antidote for all human ills. Revolutionary movements, such as Communism, have offered mankind the dream of an earthly paradise. Today, many people advocate science as the solution for all human problems, while others turn to liquor, drugs or other pleasures to escape their troubles. Our century has witnessed the uncontrolled use of sex as a false liberating instrument, and Eastern mystical experiences and modern psychological techniques as routes to peace of mind and heart. Despite the claims of these various panaceas, however, the true remedy for our ills, as every Christmas reminds us, is Jesus, our Divine Savior Who, alone, can give us both true liberation and lasting peace and joy.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will." Christmas gives us the message of lasting peace, which we can possess only by sharing our blessings with others. This is the message contained in the celestial song of the angels, reported in Luke’s Gospel: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will." Christmas reminds us that God shared His love by giving us His Son. Hence, we must share our health, wealth, talents and blessings with others. Just as Jesus shared His love with the poor shepherds and the humble Magi, we, too, are called to share our love with the less fortunate people around us. Sharing with love is the sign that one has the “good will”of which the angel spoke. The peace of Christmas is promised only to such large-hearted people, for only they are able to receive it.
Life messages: 1) We need to become Christ-bearers and Christ-givers: Since it is Jesus Who gives real meaning to our celebrations, Jesus must be reborn in us each time we celebrate Christmas. Hence, let us leave a “room in the inn”of our hearts for Jesus to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, if He is not born in my heart?” So let us pray for the grace of Jesus’birth in each one of us today, bringing us love, mercy, kindness and compassion to give away. Let us help all those around us to experience the newly-born Savior –Jesus within us - as sharing love in the form of compassionate words, unconditional forgiveness, selfless service, merciful deeds and overflowing generosity.
2) We need to listen to God speaking to us every day and respond promptly, as the shepherds did: There isn't one of us in this Church this morning who hasn't had God speak to him or her in some personal way. It may not have happened as dramatically as it did with these shepherds, but God has indeed spoken to our soul and spirit. Too often, however, we have chosen not to listen. Have we ever had an argument with a member of our family, and heard that voice deep down within us telling us to stop, and we knew we should stop? Have we ever had that same inner sense of knowing we needed to do something or to avoid doing something? That was the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, the Spirit sent to us by the Father at the request of Jesus our Savior. Whether or not we chose to listen in those cases really isn't the point. The point is that God has indeed spoken to us, and He continues to speak to us right now. How are we going to respond? Will we respond as Mary did, as the shepherds did and as the magi did? Or not?
JOKE OF THE DAY:1)A four-year-old girl went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas lights, displayed at various locations throughout the city. At one church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautiful nativity scene. “Isn’t that beautiful?”said the little girl’s grandmother. “Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.”
“Yes, Grandma,”replied the granddaughter. “It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn’t Baby Jesus ever going to grow up…? He’s the same size he was last year!”
2) Some children were asked what love is. The responses were quite interesting and instructive for us adults. One said, "Love is when my mommy makes a cup of coffee for my daddy and takes a little taste before she gives it to him to make sure it tastes okay." Another said, "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you’ve left him alone all day." Another response was, "You really shouldn’t say, ’I love you’ unless you really mean it, but if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget." One boy said, "When someone loves you, the way they call your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth." And finally seven-year-old Bobby said, "Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
3) Typical of last minute Christmas shoppers, a mother was running furiously from store to store. Suddenly she became aware that the pudgy little hand of her three-year-old son was no longer clutched in hers. In a panic, she retraced her steps and found him standing with his little nose pressed flat against a frosty window. He was gazing at a manger scene. Hearing his mother’s near hysterical call, he turned and shouted with innocent glee, "Look Mommy! It’s Jesus - Baby Jesus in the hay!" With obvious indifference to his joy and wonder, she impatiently jerked him away saying, "We don’t have time for that!"L/16
Synopsis: Christmas Day (Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18/1:1-5,9-14)
Introduction: While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham, and Luke's genealogy to Adam, John’s genealogy goes back to God Himself. John travels to eternity to reveal to us the theology of Christmas. While the Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas, the selection from John’s Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—His wonderful Name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God.
Scripture lessons: The first reading gives us the assurance that, just as Yahweh restored His chosen people to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus, the Savior, will restore mankind to the Kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God Who had conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets sent His own Son, so that He might demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection, the real nature of our God. John's Gospel gives us a profoundly theological vision of Christ, the result of John’s years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God's love. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, he leaves no doubt as to the reality of Jesus' human nature. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He explains later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas: Jesus said “I am the Light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) and “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14-16).
Life Messages:1) A day to remember and a day to wait for: Today, while we remember and celebrate God’s first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward, because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming. The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him. In addition to these two “comings,” the Church teaches us that Christ comes to us every day through the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Bible and the worshipping community. We are asked to inaugurate Christ’s Kingdom in our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth to build His Kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.
2) We need to rememberthat there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn't room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us. There's no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness. There’s no room for our human power and prestige. There's no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin. There's no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride. There's no room for bitterness and greed. There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable human beings who desperately need the gift of love and grace which God so lavishly gives us through the Sacraments, through the Holy Bible and during our prayers. L/16
CHRISTMAS DAY: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18 or 1: 1-5, 9-14
Anecdotes: 1) A vision test: Once there was a Rabbi who asked his disciples the following question: "How do you know when the darkness has been overcome, when the dawn has arrived?" One of the disciples answered, "When you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a cow and a deer, then you know dawn has arrived.”“Close," the Rabbi responded, "but not quite." Another disciple ventured a response, "When you can look into the distance and distinguish a peach blossom from an apple blossom, then you know that the darkness has been overcome." "Not bad," the Rabbi said, “not bad! But the correct answer is slightly different. When you can look on the face of any man or any woman and know immediately that this is God’s child and your brother or sister, then you know that the darkness has been overcome, that the Daystar has appeared." This Christmas morning when we celebrate the victory of Light over darkness, the Gospel of John introduces Jesus as the true Light Who came from Heaven into our world of darkness to give us clear vision.
2)God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all: Eight-year-old Benny died of AIDS in 1987. CBS made a movie drama about the trauma called Moving Toward the Light. As Benny lies dying in his mother's arms, he asks, "What will it be like?" His mother whispers softly in his ear, "You will see a light, Benny, far away -- a beautiful, shining light at the end of a long tunnel. And your spirit will lift you out of your body and start to travel toward the light. And as you go, a veil will be lifted from your eyes, and suddenly, you will see everything ... but most of all, you will feel a tremendous sense of love." "Will it take long?" Benny asks. "No," his mother answers, "not long at all. Like the twinkling of an eye." Many families have been devastated by AIDS. Amid the darkness and despair, an eight-year-old boy and his mother witnessed to the sustaining power of the light of God's presence. They have touched the lives of a multitude of people. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ).
Introduction: While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham, the father of God's people, and Luke's genealogy of Jesus' ancestry goes all the way back to Adam, thus embracing the whole human race, John goes back to God Himself. John is the only Gospel writer who does not stop at Bethlehem to explain the “reason for the season.”John is more concerned with the WHY and WHO of Christmas than with the WHERE of Christmas. So he travels to eternity to reveal the person of Jesus Christ. This is a great passage because it gives us the theology of Christmas. While the Gospel selections for the Vigil, Midnight and Dawn Masses describe the history of Christmas, the selection from John’s Gospel for this Daytime Mass lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—His wonderful Name is the Word. The reading tells us that the Baby in the manger is the Word of God, the very Self-expression of God. He was present at creation; He is actually the One through Whom all things were made. The Prologue to the Gospel of John in today’s Gospel, and the Prologue to the Letter to the Hebrews in the second reading, are superb affirmations of the Person of Jesus Christ, expressed in beautiful theological words and metaphors. The first reading gives us the assurance that, just as Yahweh restored His chosen people to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, Jesus the Savior will restore mankind to the Kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God, Who had conveyed His words to us in the past through His prophets, sent His own Son so that He might demonstrate to us humans, by His life, death and Resurrection, the real nature of our God. John's Gospel gives a profoundly theological vision of Christ, the result of John’s years of preaching and of meditating on this wondrous mystery of God's love. While stressing the Divinity of Christ, he leaves no doubt as to the reality of his human nature. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John introduces the birth of Jesus as the dawning of the Light Who will remove the darkness of evil from the world. He explains later in his Gospel why light is the perfect symbol of Christmas: Jesus said “I am the Light of the world,”(Jn 8:12) and “You are the light of the world”(Mt 5: 14-16).
First reading, Isaiah 52:7-10:This prophetic passage dates from the return of the Jews to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. The setting is the desolate city, Jerusalem, awaiting the return of the exiles from Babylon. The city, personified, is rhetorically called "Zion," after the hill in its midst where the Temple stood. Isaiah first imagines that the city can hear, even at a distance, the footsteps of her returning children. The returnees are pictured as singing exultantly, "Your God is King!" Then Jerusalem's sentinels raise the cry of recognition, and join in the praise of God. Finally, the joyful people declare that all the earth will recognize the hand of God at work in their restoration. This return to Jerusalem, like the Exodus from Egypt centuries earlier, was a type or a foreshadowing of the greater Redemption that was to come through Jesus the Messiah. The re-possession of the land of Canaan for a few years; the restoring of Jerusalem and Judah, were but pale shadows of the great restoration and the possession of our eternal promised land which were to be given by the Messiah in the days to come, not only to Israel but to all nations.
Second Reading, Hebrews 1:1-6:The addressees of the Letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews who were beginning to feel the pain of separation from their fellow Jews who had refused to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Christian Jews needed to be reminded that their relationship with Jesus more than filled the gaps in their religious lives caused by the loss of Temple ritual and the like, particularly as they were suffering the temptation to change back to the old law and the Jewish religion because of persecution from Judaizers. In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul explains to them how superior the new Covenant is to the old. The letter begins with a comparison of how God formerly spoke to their ancestors and how God has now definitively spoken to them through Jesus. These six verses from the Letter’s first chapter were chosen for today's reading because of the clear, definite and emphatic declaration of the Divinity of Christ, which they contain. Paul asserts that the Baby Who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, lived and died in Palestine, rose on the third day from the grave and ascended to heaven forty days later, was also God, equal to the Father in all things. This is a mystery beyond our human comprehension, yet it is a fact, stated by Christ himself, believed and preached by the Apostles and accepted by the Church for almost two thousand years. The whole reading is about the superiority of Jesus to everything and everyone else. Specifically it declares that Jesus is superior to angels. That Jesus is also, necessarily, superior to the institutions of Judaism from which the Hebrew Christians were cut off and for which they were feeling nostalgic, is implied in the passage.
Exegesis:The paradox of the Incarnation:John the Evangelist proclaims the Incarnation of God, the most fundamental truth of Christianity, in the inspired words of his Prologue, making the connection between Jesus Christ and the Logos of God. Between the beautiful Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, there lies the great paradox of the Christian Faith, the paradox of the Incarnation, the entering of God into the human story, in human form. The Prologue of John (1:1-18) can be divided into three sections: a) The Word's relationship to the Creator and Creation (1:1-5), b) The Word's relationship to John the Baptist (1:6-9) and c) The Word's relationship to the world (1:10-18).
The theology of the word made flesh: Within thirty years of Jesus' death the Christian Faith had traveled all over Asia Minor and Greece and had arrived in Rome. By AD 60, there must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the Church for every Jew who had become a Christian. But Jewish ideas like the Messiah, the center of Jewish expectation, were completely strange to the Greeks. Hence, the very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to the Greek Christians. So the problem which John faced was how to present Christianity to the Greek world around him in the Greek city of Ephesus where he lived. He found that, in both Greek and Jewish thought, there existed the concept of the “word.” For the eastern peoples, words had an independent, power-filled existence. The Greek term for word is Logos which not only means word, but also reason. Hence, whenever the Greeks used Logos, the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds. That is why John introduces Jesus to the Greeks as the eternal, light-giving and creative power of God, or the Mind of God in poetical prose, in the very beginning of his Gospel. In his Prologue, John deals with the major themes like the pre-existence of the Word, God/Word and Father/Son as distinct but, at the same time, one; of Jesus as God, Life and Light; of the struggle between Light and darkness; of the power of the Light over darkness.According to John, the Word of God, Jesus, gives Life and Light. Thus, John’s Prologue summarizes how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. One of the Fathers of the Church (St Irenaeus) once said, “Gloria Dei, homo vivens,”(the glory of God is a person fully alive). If that can be said of any of us, how much more must it be true of the Word made flesh?
John the Baptizer’s role:John the Baptist renewed the prophetic tradition after Israel’s four hundred years without a prophet. Since his ministry was so powerful, some people thought of him as the Messiah. Hence, John’s Gospel makes a number of references to John the Baptizer, always clearly establishing that he was subordinate to Jesus. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light (vv. 7-8). John's mission was to bear testimony to the Light (Jesus) -- to serve as a witness to the Light (v. 7). John died as a martyr because he showed the courage of his prophetic convictions by correcting Herod the king for his immoral life.
The Messiah rejected by his own people:“He came to what was his own, and His own people did not accept Him”(v 11). Jesus “came home”where the people should have known Him. And it was the home folk, "His own," the Israelites, the Chosen People, who did not receive Him. God had prepared them for centuries to receive the Messiah into their midst, but they rejected Him. This rejection of the Word by Jesus' own people is restricted neither to the time of Jesus nor to that of the Fourth Gospel. Much of the world today is still in rebellion, “preferring darkness to Light, because its deeds are evil”(3:19-20). That is true of all of us at certain points in our lives, but we are not imprisoned in those moments. We can, as long as we are alive, turn to Him, repentant and believing, and become His own again. "But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God" (v 12).
The Word became flesh and lived among us (v 14): The Word becoming flesh is the zenith of God's Self-revelation. God, Who spoke earlier through the prophets, now speaks through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2), and lives among us. The Word Who dwelt with God now dwells with “us,”becoming a human being like us and thus bridging the great chasm between God’s world and our world. Verse 14 declares that the God Who once dwelt among them in the Tabernacle and the Temple, now chooses to dwell among them in the Person of Jesus. In the Old Testament, Moses was not allowed to see the face of God. Now, however, we are allowed to see Jesus' glory -- and His face. Thus, the Father is fully revealed to us, because, "Whoever has seen (the Son) has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The other Gospels depict the glory of God coming upon Jesus at the Transfiguration. John does not relate this incident, both because he sees the glory of God in all Jesus says and does, and because the hour for Jesus to be glorified is the crucifixion.
"We have all received, grace upon grace.”(v 16):The Word is full of grace and truth –attributes of God –attributes that the Word shares with God as the "Father's only Son" (v 15). It is from this One Who is “full of grace and truth”that we receive “grace upon grace.”In other words, we draw grace from the total resources of God, an inexhaustible storehouse. Regardless of our need for grace, the supply is greater. Let us imagine ourselves standing on a sea-shore watching the waves roll in. They come every few seconds, and the supply never fails. That is how God’s grace comes to us. Let us at this Christmas time try to count just some of those “graces”showered on us. Verse 17 identifies the Word as Jesus: "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”The Gift that is the Truth, Jesus, surpasses and perfects the former gift of the Law given through Moses. Note the contrasts between Moses and Jesus: We received the law through Moses, but we receive grace and truth through Jesus Christ (v 17). John’s Prologue begins by declaring that that the Word was God (v 1) and concludes (v 18), by proclaiming that the Son is God.
Life messages: 1) A day to remember and a day to wait for:Today, while we remember and celebrate God’s first coming into our world in human form, we also look forward because the liturgy we celebrate reminds us that the Lord is going to return in his Second Coming. However, Christ is going to return, not as a Child but as a Warrior, a Judge, a mighty Savior. The liturgy calls on us to prepare His way, to be ready to be judged by Him. So we are looking back and remembering the past coming of Jesus as our Savior, and looking forward and preparing for His future coming in glory as Judge to reward and punish. In addition to these two “comings,”the Church teaches us that Christ is here now, Christ is present, Christ comes to us today, Christ comes to us every day. Christmas is actually a celebration intended to heighten our awareness of the fact that Christ has been born, Christ lives, and Christ is present now in our lives. Christmas reminds us, through the lives of the people in the Christmas narrative, of the importance of helping to bring the presence of Christ to the world around us and of being sensitive to that presence when the Lord comes to us in the least expected people and in unexpected places and situations. We are asked to welcome Christ’s kingdom into our lives by allowing Him to be born in us, by recognizing Him in others and by courageously going forth with His grace to build His kingdom of love, justice, peace and holiness in our world.
2) We need to rememberthat there is no room in the manger except for Jesus and us: There isn't room in the manger for all the baggage we carry around with us. There's no room for our pious pride and self-righteousness. There’s no room for our human power and prestige. There's no room for the baggage of past failure and unforgiven sin. There's no room for our prejudice, bigotry and jingoistic national pride. There's no room for bitterness and greed. There is no room in the manger for anything other than the absolute reality of who and what we really are: very human, very real, very fragile, very vulnerable human beings who desperately need the gift of love and grace which God so powerfully desires to give.