Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Saviour Who is Christ the Lord

December 25, 2007 Year A

The Nativity of the Lord

Christmas Mass at Midnight

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13

Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

Theme:  A Saviour Who is Christ the Lord

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Once again we visit this Holy Night.  For on this Holy Night, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem a great light has shown.  The hopes and fears of all the years converged on that holiest of nights in the city whose name means house of bread.  

It is about a 100-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  While this trip today takes 2-3 hours by car, for Mary and Joseph it required 8-10 days by foot and with some animal of burden.  Today we travel great distances with very little difficulty.  Mary however was great with child and just days from giving birth.  Not only did she embark upon this otherwise cumbersome trip, but also did so riding on the back of a donkey or horse.   

Their destination was Bethlehem because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David.   Joseph's family line gave to Jesus the covenantal heritage of King David.  And the small Judean village was the hometown of King David and the site of his coronation. (I Samuel 16:1-13) And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel. (Matthew 2:6) It was in this historic place of Jewish history of which it was prophesied 'from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient of days.' (Micah 5:2)

Mary gave birth to our Lord and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.  Today as then, there appears to be little room or time for the holy child Jesus.  It is a preoccupation of a sort that robs us of his Kingly entrance. Who is this King of Glory born of Mary?  He is the Lord, the Lord of hosts strong and mighty. Lift up your heads O Gates! And be lifted up O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7-10) It is the promise of a Messiah who is Christ and King and Lord that gives us the meaning of this Christmas night. For the One who occupies the crèche tonight seeks room in our hearts, in our lives. 

The angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and said, "Be not afraid; for I bring you good news."  By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.  This birth is for all of humankind, for the salvation of us all. Once again we remember that in the stillness of Bethlehem's night the Bread of heaven came for the life of the world.  May we commune with him this Christmas in the silence and deepest recesses of our souls. We pray that Christ who is born of Mary may descend to us, cast out our sin and enter in and in us be born today, our Lord Emmanuel. (O Little Town of Bethlehem) 

For to you is born this day in the city of David a savior; who is Christ the Lord.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, this holy night may my heart as the crèche be filled with you.  Enlarge my heart to reflect your love, your forgiveness and your mercy, lest I be selfish and unkind toward my fellowman. With thanksgiving for Mary and Joseph and all the heavenly hosts be born in me again my Lord Emmanuel.  Amen. 




Monday, December 17, 2007

The Divine Origin of Christmas--Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2007 Year A
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings 

Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-6
Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

Theme:  The Divine Origin of Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.

This fourth Sunday of Advent finds us in deep contemplation.  Shall we arrive at Christmas understanding that the babe in Mary's womb is of the Holy Spirit?  Will we keep Christ in Christmas? Matthew is careful to tell us that before Mary and Joseph came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.

The annual parade of Christmas movies and shows always includes A Charlie Brown Christmas.  What makes this show endure is its faithfulness to the divine origin of Christmas.  Charlie Brown in frustration yells at the top of his lungs, "Doesn't anybody know what Christmas is all about?"  It is Linus with his security blanket in hand who steps into the spotlight to recite the Bible story of the Birth of Jesus.  Afterward Linus states plainly and simply, "That's what Christmas is all about."  

It is Advent that teaches us to inquire as to the true meaning and message of Christmas.  It was on the day of Christ's birth that a weary world rejoiced.  It was when Jesus was born the soul felt its worth!  And it is in this incredible mystery of the divine in which we find Joseph and Mary living.  Both are living in contemplation of what Mary's supernatural pregnancy means for both them and the world.  

It is meaningful to observe Joseph's consideration of the matter.  A careful reading of the Gospel reveals a Joseph in reverence of Mary rather than in suspicion of Mary.  We know this because he seeks to keep the matter secret and let the mystery unfold without any further claims to Mary.  But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus."      

Matthew intones the Isaiah passage with a fuller and final meaning.  "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means God with us).  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.  

The Holy Spirit filled Mary and Joseph and fills us to know and understand the divine origin of Christmas. We along with Joseph rightly discern the person and task of Mary and of Mary's Son.  The words that Joseph knew her not until she had borne a son underscore Joseph's understanding not only of Jesus but also of Mary.  The word until asserts that the marriage was not consummated, with the idea there would not be a consummation.  We recall a similar use of the idiom when Jesus tells his disciples he will be with them till or to the End of the Age.  This sounds like but certainly does not mean that Jesus will be with us up to a certain point in time, but after that he will forsake us. 

The Liturgy and the Tradition of the Church underscores that Mary bore one Son and that by the Holy Spirit.  That same Worship and Tradition of the Church holds that Joseph never knew Mary in the manner that a man knows his wife.  We may note that the effect of the Angel's words to Joseph inspired him to find his vocation as protector and provider as well as guardian of her who carried in her womb the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Until his death Joseph walked in the shadow of his salvation.  Likewise Jesus walked and grew and learned under the love and care of Joseph.  And until the age of 33 he was known as the carpenter's son. 

The peace and joy of Christmas is upon us.  Let us in these final hours of Advent prepare ourselves like Mary and Joseph to keep in our hearts the true and everlasting meaning of Christmas. 

Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, by the Holy Spirit draw us closer to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  May this Advent find our hearts filled up with the true and divine origin of Christmas.  Send your Holy Angels to us as you did to Mary and Joseph to tell us again that it was not by the power of men, or the might of human effort, but by the Holy Spirit Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  Amen.



Thursday, December 13, 2007

Or Shall We Look For Another? Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2007 Year A

Third Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146:6-10

James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Theme: Or Shall We Look for Another?

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today forever!

I'm not sure why. Occasionally our youngest child will ask, "Do you love me, OR?" At first this was disconcerting. Then we began to make it playful by responding, "NO ORs!" Any Mom and Dad would respond the same way. Behind almost every man on death row is a mother who still affectionately calls him her boy. There are just not any 'ORs' in her love for her boy.

Jesus' response to John's OR was meant to both affirm and assure him. Facing a certain and soon death, John needed both. He had faced the hostility and ridicule of an unbelieving nation for several years. His preaching had taken him to the heights of political power. Reproving Herod not only for adultery but also for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison. (Luke 3:18) This effectively brought a predictable end to John's exhortations and preaching of the good news to the people.

It was during this time of imprisonment that news reached John about all the deeds of the Christ. Probably wishing he still had a ringside seat to Jesus' ministry, John found his influence decreasing as Jesus' ministry and message was increasing.

And then what happened to John also happens to all of us. What if I have believed in vain? Is Jesus really who I think he is, OR should I look for another. It was John who had pointed his prophetic finger at the Son of God and proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" It was John who emphatically said, "He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." It is this same John who fearlessly 'made straight the paths of the Lord' who now sitting on death row wants to hear it right from the Lord's mouth; ARE YOU HE WHO IS TO COME, OR SHALL WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?"

Now John, missing the solitude of the desert seeks solitude from him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It was in the desert John found the contemplation of the holy fulfilling and life changing. Such contemplation had left him speechless in the dark watches of the night. But when the sun rose in the morning, the people gathered to him at the Jordan to hear gracious words from a holy heart.

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. The natural days are growing shorter. Darkness is more prominent. The festive hours of Christmas seem farther away than we first entered into Advent. It is with John the Baptist we long to hear the words of faith and hope and joy.


Jesus, not offended or defensive answers John's inquiry. "Tell John what you have seen and heard. Take word back to him. Do it now. Do it quickly. Tell John the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the poor have the good news preached to them." The expectation of the Prophet and the Psalmist finds fulfillment in today's gospel.

He is the same Jesus today. He is always the babe in the manger. He is always the healer from Galilee. He is always the Savior on the Cross. He is always the One who sits at the Father's right hand. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever! There is no looking for another. There are no ORs.

We rejoice today that He who is the very image of the Father will fill the empty crèche again. With Mary we ponder in our hearts anew the ancient news: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, open my eyes to see your glory; open my ears to hear your teaching; make my tongue sing for joy, and with my legs may I leap for joy. You are forever the same, help me to never desire another; you alone have the words of life. Amen.

``O Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the the Name of Jesus...Renew Thy Wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost!!'' Pope John XXIII