Both writers differ in their details, but their central religious message
about the meaning of Jesus is often remarkably similar.
The Birth of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke 2:1-20+
Jesus is born as one of the poor: Good News! Emmanuel: God-is-with-us!
Luke’s story emphasizes that:
- God is utterly faithful.
- God upsets human expectations.
- God is found in the most ‘unlikely’ places: in humble, faithful servants, in the needy and oppressed, in the poor and ignored, in the rough and ‘uncultured.’
- God delights not in suffering, but in life
- God cares for and honors the poor.
- The ordinary can be filled with God’s glory and power.
- As followers of Christ we should value cooperation, mutual support, faith-sharing, rather than competitive status and power-seeking.
- We are called to prayerful contemplation of the mystery of God’s loveand to humble service.
The people in Luke’s story:
Zechariah Elizabeth John Mary Joseph Angels Shepherds Simeon Anna
How do these people further the meaning to Luke’s story? What else do you find in this story?
From Celebration Dec. 2004:
On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death. “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.
Karl Rahner says that “when we say that God is the Lord and goal of humankind, that without God there is no meaning to our lives, that God is our helper and savior” . . . then we shall know what it means that God-is-with-us.
The Birth of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-16+
Jesus is a Light to the Nations.
Matthew’s story emphasizes that Jesus is:
- sent by God and fulfills the Jewish OT prophecies.
- rejected by the powerful, the greedy.
- welcomed by the humble, the just, the wise.
- recognized by people from all nations.
The people in Matthew’s story:
Joseph Mary Angel
3 seekers from the East King Herod
Chief priests and teachers or scribes of the Law
What meaning do you find in their reactions to Jesus? What meaning do you find in these symbols?
The Star Frankincense Myrrh Gold
*How do both stories ‘prefigure’ the story of Jesus’ life and death?
What similar meanings do we find in both stories?
What differences do you notice?
An unknown poet wrote:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.”
*from “Birth of Jesus” The Catholic Vision, by Mark Link
Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:1-25
It was important to the Jewish people that their lineage is rooted in Judaism. At the time, if in any man there was the slightest admixture of foreign blood, he lost his right to be called a Jew, and a member of the people of God. The pedigree of Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, and proves that he is the son of David. Let us look at some of the cast of characters that make up the family genealogy of Jesus:
Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3 Abraham is called by God to leave his country and build a new nation under God. On the way, he makes a covenant with God that his descendants will be given the land too. Abraham speaks regularly with God and has a close relationship, but he is not without fault. He disowns his wife Sarai to cause favor with the Pharoah (Don’t worry, God sends plagues so Sarai is returned.) and commits adultery with a maidservant and has a child Ishmael (who God also blesses with descendants). Abraham had his son Isaac at 100 years old.
Ruth: Her mother-in-law Naomi’s husband, her sister-in-law Orpah’s husband and her own husband all died because of famine. Normally, the sisters-in-law would return to their homelands; Orpah did. But Ruth stayed. Ruth 1:15-18 They made their way to Bethlehem where Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s helped them with food in his fields and eventually married Ruth. It is important to note that Ruth is not Jewish but a Moabite.
David: David was the youngest son of Jesse and tended to the sheep. Samuel anointed him when he was still a young boy and he defeated Goliath by slinging a stone into his forehead (and then cut his head off which the cartoons never include!). Saul was the current king. He felt threatened by David and sought to kill him. David had chance to kill him first, but he spared Saul. Saul was later killed in battle, so David was anointed king. He praised God for his greatness and reigned well. He did have relations with Bathsheba and had her husband killed to get him out of the picture, but he repented of this. The psalms are attributed to David. He sang a song of Thanksgiving 2 Samuel 22:2-7. His son Solomon became ruler after him.
Zerubbabel: (Because it’s fun to say) Zerubbabel was the head of the tribe of Judah during the time of the return from the Babylon exile. He was the prime builder of the second Temple, which was later re-constructed by King Herod. He led the first group of captives back to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple on the old site. Ezra 3:1-3
The Jews were a waiting people. They never forgot that they were the chosen people of God. Although their history was one long series of disasters, it was the dream of the common people that into this world would come a descendant of David who would lead them to the glory which they believed to be theirs by right. Jesus is the answer to their dreams. He breaks the barriers of Jew/Gentile, male/female, and saint/sinner in his pedigree (Barclay’s Daily Bible Study Series, p. 15-17).
Matthew pictures Mary and Joseph living at Bethlehem and having a house there. The coming of the magi, guided by the star, causes Herod to slay children at Bethlehem while the Holy Family flees to Egypt. After Herod’s death, the accession of his son Archelaus as ruler in Judea makes Joseph afraid to return to Bethlehem, so he takes the child Jesus and his mother Mary to Nazareth in Galilee, seemingly for the first time. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem only because they had to register there during a Roman census. The statement that Mary laid her newborn child in a manger because there was no place for them in “the inn” indicates that they had no house of their own in Bethlehem. Luke leaves no room for the coming of the wise men or a struggle with Herod. The Holy Spirit is content to give us 2 different accounts of the Christmas events. To treat them separately is being faithful to them (Raymond Brown in Scripture from Scratch’s “The Christmas Stories”, 1994)
From Altogether Gift, by Michael Downey:
In Jesus Christ, Love’s Word, we see in a fleshly way the compassion of the Father. The Hebrew word for a woman’s womb and the word for compassion are related, and both are related to the word for mercy. Thus, the mother’s intimate, physical relationship with her newborn is the prime image for compassion and, hence, the compassion of God in Christ.
By the Incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life.
1st Reading – Isaiah 9: 1-6
One can certainly see how the early Christians (who were all Jewish) ‘saw Jesus’ in this passage . . . What line do you most treasure from this poetic passage? What name for the Messiah speaks to you?
Of course, when Isaiah first wrote this passage he was not thinking of Jesus – or of a ‘far-future messiah.’ He was trying to encourage King Ahaz (the weak and unwise king at the time) to be strong and to rely on God’s wisdom and power. He was promising the birth of a son who unlike Ahaz would be faithful, prudent, and far-sighted – and in this way would be Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It seems that Isaiah’s hope never did become reality; this yearning, though, gave rise to the yearning for a true Messiah – one born to bring God’s presence to the people. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year C, 77-78)
2nd Reading – Titus 2: 11-14
This letter was written not to a community but to an individual in regards to their pastoral duties. Paul, himself, probably did not write this letter. Most likely a disciple of Paul wrote it hoping to be giving the advice that he felt Paul would have given. In this passage he is simply reminding all that Christ’s coming in time and history [in birth and on a cross] is about our lives right now – and in the ultimate future hope of a second coming in fullness and light. Our task we are told is not to retreat from the world but to be “eager to do what is good” – to let our very lives reflect the goodness of our Lord. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509; Birmingham, W and W Wrbk. for Yr C, 77-78)
The Gospel – Luke 2: 1-14
The Infancy Narratives pose difficult problems for those who try to use them to reconstruct some actual history for there are agreements and also discrepancies. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu.) It is more about the truth of God’s entrance into human history through the person of Jesus – born as one of the poor and insignificant, tracing his life to two inconsequential towns (Nazareth and Bethlehem). His power is not about ‘government overthrow’ but about conversion and openness to God’s love. In Jesus, God comes for the outcast, for the despised, and ‘unclean’ – the shepherds. Angels bring messages: God is acting and offering salvation to everyone. The phrase “people of good will” is not meant to be an exclusion – it is meant to refer to all people who because of this birth, are objects of divine favor — all is permeated with God’s life and love and holiness. Luke’s purpose is Christological and ecclesial: Jesus links God’s glory with the humble – those open and listening for the surprising way in which God will break into life – the small and vulnerable and those needing human care and concern. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook Year C, 79-80)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509:
The Christmas story urges us to ask: “What does it mean to be fully human?” Since God chose to become human, the whole meaning of Christmas rests on the answer. Is it about all the ‘Martha-like-work’ that the season brings? Is it the ‘family tradition’ of dinners and presents and decorations to which we cling?
But what about those who have no family – or are sick and alone? Jesus’ life, too, had fun and laughter along with the suffering and poverty. Maybe full humanity has to do with loving and being love. Isn’t love the aching desire that lies under all the rest? Don’t we all long for a love that will at last be carried out? A love we can trust? And a love that we might be bold enough to love in return? To be fully human means allowing enough room inside ourselves to let God and others in. It means letting go of all those things we think will save our lives (possessions, honors, importance, bigness), so that we can relate to God and to others. In the busy-ness and noise of this season, we need to find time to listen for the stillness. We may be only inches away from the emptying-out that will let God be born inside of us. Let it be!
Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing:
Thoughts on Jesus and Incarnation: The Word was made flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14) The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine (p.76).
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78). We are the Body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration, or a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us (p. 79-80). This is the core of Christian spirituality . . . God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . . The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son (p.80). The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes (p.100).
Luke’s Birth Story – Notes from William Barclay
The Roman Census — In the Roman Empire, periodic censuses were taken with the double object of assessing taxation and discovering those eligible for compulsory military service. The Jews were exempt from military service so any census would have been only for taxation. In Egypt they have discovered much evidence of these censuses – and that they were taken every 14 years. If that pattern held true, then Jesus’ birth might have been in about 7 or 8 B.C. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D. but he did hold an official post there from 10 -7 B.C. It was also the custom in Egypt to have every man go back to his home origin; it may also have been the case in Israel.
Bethlehem — Nazareth was 80 miles from Bethlehem. (Its name means the ‘place of bread’.) The accommodations for travelers were most primitive. ‘Inns’ were merely a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food. Since there was little room according to Luke, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in the common courtyard – or perhaps found shelter in a cave, also common around this town. The fact that there was no room for Jesus was symbolic of what would happen to him: rejection would be his fate: the only place where there was room for him was on the cross. He still seeks to enter the crowdedness of our hearts . . .
Swaddling clothes –were the common way to ‘dress’ an infant. They consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming off from the corner. The infant would be wrapped in the square and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.
Manger—(R. Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, p. 20) not a sign of poverty but probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” But this has been repealed, because the shepherds find the baby in the manger and praise God.
Shepherds –were despised by orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they simply could not observe all the hand-washings and regulations. Their flocks made constant demands on them. They were rough, uncouth, and unclean characters. But these shepherds also served God. Their sheep were the lambs to be one day offered as sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem just 7 miles away. Luke is certainly comparing their lambs with Jesus, the Lamb of God. The shepherds, the unclean and rough, were invited by angels (God’s messengers) to come.
My sisters and brothers, how does God love you? Think about that for a few seconds, how does God love you? Now, look for a moment at our Crèche. Yes that is how much God loves us. This is what we celebrate today, Jesus Christ, Mighty God and Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, Jesus Christ, who came in glory with salvation for his people. Our God, who is love, who makes us channels of peace, loves us so much that he gave us the gift of his love in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, our brother, our friend, our savior. What a wonderful gift we have been given.
And this Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, loved us so much that he gave his life for us so that we might have eternal life. Jesus was born, Jesus suffered, Jesus died, and Jesus rose from the dead so that we might live, not as we do now, but live the life that we, as human beings, can only imagine. A life of no suffering or pain, a life where every tear will be wiped away, a life where all are equal. Very shortly the simple gifts of bread and wine will be placed upon this altar, this table. There they will be changed, changed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The bread and wine are not the only gifts to be placed on this table though. As the gifts are brought forward tonight I invite each of you to add your own gift, the gift of your very life too. All your suffering and pain, your joys and your sorrows, your questions, any heaviness in your heart, all your thankfulness, where ever you are right now; place it on this table so that it too may be offered.
For all of us, my sisters and brothers are the Body of Christ and our lives too will be changed along with this bread and wine. Then as we share in this simple meal, as we receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ, may we feel the joy and the peace offered to us at this Christmas Mass and every Mass where we are fed with what we become. My brothers, my sisters, my friends, Christmas is also a time of giving and receiving gifts right? May I suggest giving one another and receiving from one another the best gift this year. This gift we receive in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Now may I ask you again, how does God love you? I would like to close by offering a gift to each of you. I don’t know how this gift got started, but I hope it is still given. I received this gift from my sister about 40 years ago. Then it was difficult for me to read this note not because the typing is small, but because I didn’t get to see the gift until I read the card that came with it telling me why she sent this as her gift and tears had already filled my eyes. Today I still get tears and I had to make the writing bigger. I offer this as a gift for you, but it is from our God who is love. The note says: “This is a very special gift that you can never see. The reason it’s so special it’s just for you, from me. Whenever you are lonely or ever feeling blue, you only have to hold this gift and know I think of you. You never can unwrap it, please leave the ribbons tied. Just hold the box close to your heart. It’s filled with love inside.”
My friends may Christmas joy and peace be with you.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about traditions this Christmas….family traditions, ethnic traditions, religious traditions…and how so many people I talk to have given up on them. “I’m too busy”, “They’re too much work” are the most reasons I most often hear. While I’m all about simplifying the commercialism of Christmas and the pressure to consume, I think we are about to throw the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater”. It’s a “vanilla” world, where every day is the same, and we move automatically and efficiently from one day to the next. No time is special. It is so easy to lose touch with who we are and where we are going. We disconnect from our past, and fear our future. I believe we need to mark moments, to celebrate them with all the flavor and texture of our traditions, for these moments make us stop to consider who we are and who we are called to be. These moments pull us out of the ordinary, the mundane and raise us to a deeper consciousness of the grace that surrounds us.
At the celebration of Passover, the parent in the Jewish home turns to the child and asks, “Why is this night different than any other night?” This question first names this night as special, then leads the family to consider the mystery of God’s love as the story of their salvation is recounted.
To me, Christmas Eve is that moment.
Although not a tradition in my childhood, I have been blessed for the past 35 years to participate in a beautiful Christmas Eve tradition that comes from my Polish heritage. It is called Vigilia, which is the Polish name for Christmas Eve. When the first star appears, the Christmas tree is lit and luminaries line the path to the house. The Christmas Eve meal begins with a short ritual — the reading of The Night Before Christmas (our family’s addition), the reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, and then the sharing of the blessed oplatek ( a thin wafer similar to that used at Communion in a rectangular shape imprinted with a manger scene). The host/hostess of the home begins with a prayer, and then they each break a piece of the oplatek and eat it, wishing each other good health and happiness for the coming year, the fulfillment of dreams, and forgiveness for any misunderstandings as they begin a new year. They pass pieces of the broken wafers to each person present, who in turn go to each other with good wishes for the new year.
Then it is time to gather at table. We begin the meal by sharing what we have been thankful for over the past year, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. In some Polish homes, an empty seat holds a place setting for an unexpected guest and a reminder that Mary and Joseph were looking for a place on that Holy Night. In others a bed of straw is the table centerpiece as a reminder of the place where Jesus lay on that Holy Night. There are nine foods, all meatless, that make up the Vigilia meal. Usually mushroom soup, fish, pickled herring, pierogi, potatoes, sauerkraut with mushrooms, beets with horseradish sauce (a personal favorite!), cole slaw, salad, bread and butter.
After an assortment of desserts, including a traditional poppy seed pastry, it is time to depart for midnight mass.
Every Christmas Eve, we can count on everything being constant – the light, the food, the stories read. But our lives change. And each year we look at our lives in the context of the familiar story.
“Why is this night different than any other night?” Because it acknowledges our roots, it makes us reflect on the past and look with hope on the future, and it reminds us that our God has pitched his tent in our lives, and will never leave us abandoned.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a world of flavor and texture, where we make time to celebrate the richness of our stories and traditions, and in doing so, re-connect with our deepest longings for meaning and for life. As Catholics, we do this throughout the liturgical year, with color and with song, with symbols and stories. My Christmas wish for you is this: ”May your life be full of flavor!”
The snow hit last night, so 8:30 AM Mass was a difficult service to make. I’m glad I did wake one hour after Adam had cleared the driveway and walkways of snow. We just made it to Mass to join about 20 other brave drivers… and Al was the sole altar server for Mass. It was the only period of time today where I felt successful as a parent and relaxed enough to enjoy some time for reflection… until now?
Before the snow hit hard, we all enjoyed Jade’s school production of Willy Wonka. The kids went to bed late; yet still, perhaps, “all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.” After church, I ran late running Jade to her matinee performance in the school musical. I lost my patience with attempting to write my annual Christmas letter (due to Alejandro’s constant demands to download more Apps and videos). He got shipped to work with Dad at the rink, and I could escape my guilt of using “screens” as a babysitter again. My nightly visions “dancing in my head” are predominantly only of “what I needed to do!” and “ways I was falling short!” Every year it seems those lists grow exponentially. I hope it is just nostalgia that makes me think it was so much easier to put on Christmas when the kids were tots.
Like many others, financial stresses seem to grow these days rather than subside despite the fact that I went back to work once the kids started school. Will I stop questioning my decision to NOT teach but work as an hourly-paid aide so I can be present for my kids after school rather than grading English class compositions? (I’ve always justified this decision as a balance between still wanting to work with kids and Adam’s around-the-clock demands of managing the athletic facilities at Union College, sitting on the Youth Hockey Board, coaching youth and women’s club hockey, working as a referee, staying tuned to ESPN updates, and all the phone calls, texts, emails… With the stress of budgeting bills instead of just paying them off each month, nostalgia for the heedless bliss of two incomes and no kids has regretfully also come into existence.
Then there’s that nagging trait of thinking it’s not good enough, so I just have to strive harder toward perfection. I get home–sometimes bruised or bitten–from working with kindergarteners with social/emotional needs, nearly always emotionally drained. I pride myself in gaining more empathy (rather than disdain or blaming them) for their life situations and reactions to them. Yet, when I arrive home, I’m physically exhausted. Why can’t I find it thrilling to attempt explaining multiplying and dividing mixed numbers with my son? Why is driving across town to take Jade to hockey and walking the dog outside the rink during her practice not filling me with serenity? Why can’t I take pride in buying the precooked meal deal and timing my arrival home with a rare break in Adam’s work schedule so we can all sit together? Since returning to work, I find myself having to predominantly act reactively to what is thrown at me rather than having the time to be proactive. (I took pride in being proactive when I was teaching). I wasn’t the hockey goalie growing up—reactive is not my forté! I was going to live like Thoreau; write a Great American novel or one good poem.
I understand that even in the days of Leave it to Beaver or even The Brady Bunch, working class people couldn’t relate to how rewarding domestic life was supposed to be. Still, there’s this side of me that wants desperately to live like June Cleaver. I know life back then wasn’t so rosy for even the upwardly mobile middle-class; that is, it was closer to Betty Draper from Mad Men… and I am certainly glad to live without all the sexism, infidelity, and alcohol abuse portrayed in that setting. (I think I’d like the clothes though!). But I guess being upset that life isn’t what it’s supposed to be is the whole problem.
Hence, why I wish it was more Advent than Christmas time. Advent is a more reflective time. It’s not getting caught up in “Christmas”, but taking time to reflect on what Christmas should mean… in the abstract not material sense. So the kids are going to be disappointed that they don’t get all the THINGS they want. I’m upset that my house isn’t sparkling clean and orderly as well as decorated to the nines… looking like a gingerbread creation. We can’t get a new car—yet—and we won’t pay the bills off until the tax refund. (Yeah, that instead of the Disney vacation or new furniture.) Adam being upset that the Cardinals didn’t win the World Series is just as trivial as the rest of my supposedly grave concerns.
This is as good as it gets, and maybe that’s pretty good! Being a perfect parent isn’t being perfect. I can’t explain fractions no matter how I try. I couldn’t make better lasagna than Stouffers anyway. We still have a home. I got to see most of my family this year, and we all will see Adam’s side over Christmas. What more could one want for Christmas? Even if my kids don’t get many new clothes or electronics, they are healthy and growing into better people every day. I make a difference in my job… even if it’s not getting kindergarteners to pass a common core test; but rather, they feel better about themselves by learning to deal with disappointment, self-regulate their behavior issues, and become more disciplined students. Adam’s hard work heats the house and puts food on the table. Really, isn’t life about wanting what you have instead of getting what you want? I think if we all just take time to reflect on what makes us truly happy, we won’t get caught up in achieving Christmas before we’ve honestly taken time for Advent.
The meaning of Advent comes from the Latin words, advenire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. My prayer is for all of us to come to an understanding of what “Christ in the world” means. It means allowing Christ to arrive into our hearts and find the gratitude in what we have. For me, I think making it to Mass this morning helped me reconnect with that concept, especially in seeing the Advent wreath. The first purple candle means: hope. The second purple candle means: faith. The third pink candle means: joy. The fourth and final purple candle means: peace. I hope 2014 finds us striving for hope, faith, joy and peace, no matter what our circumstances or expectations. A Blessed Advent to all!
This is a link to another blog. Give it a read!
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. As it is at the center of our lives and our longed for destination, love must be discovered and cherished. While it is impossible to define, as difficult, to capture as a wisp of wind, love moves and shapes us like nothing else. It is both ethereal and as a real as anything we have known. Love leads no armies and possesses no land, yet it is the most powerful force in the world. It is all that we were made to strive for. We attain and try to fill ourselves of practically everything else; knowing ultimately that only love satisfies and truly fills us. At our best, it is how we understand each other, and how we understand ourselves. Love is the harmony that holds everything together. All we value ends in love. If you raise beauty to its limit, you have said love. If you have invested fully in hope, you are immersed in love. If you seek to create, you can only do so in love. Whatever is good culminates at its best in love.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. Perhaps because it resists definition, love must always takes on a person. Who changes everything for the concept of love or its theory? For us love is defined by the people who have loved us and whom we have been blessed to love. We know love because it is embodied. It has a face. When we think of love, we think of those of have shaped our lives by love, whether they have gone before us or are still with us. Those people we cannot help but think about at Christmas.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. We know love because someone loved us into being. We know love for the sacrifice that has been made for us. We know love in the thrill of falling in love, in the maturity of being in love, in the surrender we give to our children. We know love from the gift of friendship when our anxieties melt into the peace of our friend’s care.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. If God is love (and God is love) then God must be made manifest. God must be made known. And that is Christmas. Divine love showed its face in Jesus Christ. A love at once precious, immediate and eternal. That love came subtly and humbly, as love sometimes does, in a manger to obscure parents. And that love came dramatically, as love sometimes does, with a host of angels giving glory to God. But that love came definitively. In the love of Jesus Christ, we know what it means to love without all the things that blur or block our love. He showed us to live for another. He taught us what it means to die for everyone and in the resurrection proved that love could not be defeated. With nothing more available to him that we have, he showed us how love can be radically lived with abandon and true joy.
And, if the love we have for each other, with its imperfections, its sloppiness and selfishness, its possessiveness and all its other faults, can still shape our lives, how much more can divine love shake us. It must have the greatest impact. Having been this loved and this chosen, we must look at ourselves differently. We cannot think of ourselves as not worth it when such a price has been paid; we cannot think of ourselves as incapable when such a way has been shown. Having been loved so completely in Jesus Christ and having his spirit fill us is the defining moment of our lives. This is who we are, the beloved of God who has treasured us. We can no longer look at ourselves the same way. We cannot look at others the same way either.
This is what we celebrate today -that God’s love has been showered upon us. It has been manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. It has been made known because Jesus made it known. This is what we celebrate – that our brother Jesus has known us and loved us.
This is what we celebrate – that love is still alive. It is worth everything. It is why choirs of angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on whom his favor rests.”
Mary-Margaret came into the world with much commotion. There were two crash
teams in the room: one for me and a neonatal intensive care team for her.
Despite the drama of her arrival, she was a healthy and happy baby.
Unlike her older sister Mary-Margaret slept in her crib contentedly, happily
ate, and thrived. As her first Christmas approached she was a healthy cherub
like six-month old. She looked like the perfect doll: porcelain skin, pink
cheeks, dark curly hair, and blue eyes.
Christmas was going to be amazing for her father and I. After years of being
barren like Elizabeth and Zachary, we miraculously welcomed Mary-Margaret’s
older sister Kathleen into the world three years before. There was no way we
had ever thought that we would be blessed twice; and yet now we had two
A week before Christmas Kathleen was sick with what appeared to be
bronchitis. Since she had been exposed to pertussis we had to treat her for
the disease. Babies born prematurely are at risk of serious lung infections
during their first year of life. Given Mary-Margaret’s preterm status we
were told she too needed to be treated for pertussis.
As Kathleen got better and waited anxiously for Christmas, Mary-Margaret got
worse. Her cough was horrible, she couldn’t keep her feedings down, and her
fever slowly crept up. By 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve she no longer cried tears
– a sign of dehydration in a baby.
The emergency room nurse completed her triage evaluation and we immediately
were placed in a room. For the first time ever I didn’t have to produce
insurance cards or talk about money – this was serious.
My poor baby was hooked up to an IV and oxygen.
A few hours of IV fluid, a new antibiotic, and a nebulizer improved her
dramatically. We would not be spending Christmas in a hospital.
That evening Kathleen and her father went to celebrate with family.
Mary-Margaret and I stayed home. The Christmas tree was our only light and
she slept peacefully in my arms.
I thought about how fortunate I was to have given birth to Mary-Margaret in
a hospital with resources to help a newborn in need; to live in a time of
medicine to help sick children; to have heat to keep my baby comfortable. I
reflected on what it must have been like for the Blessed Mother to live in a
time without these things. I prayed the Rosary in thanksgiving for my
daughter’s improving health.
That Christmas Eve was a quiet retreat for me. I have no memory of the
presents any of us received that Christmas. I will always remember how
connected I felt to the nativity scene and the gratitude I felt for the gift