Engaging Faith | Mon, Dec 22, 2008
December 25, 2008
Midnight: Isaiah 9:1-6: Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20
During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
December 26: Saint Stephen
December 26: Start of Kwanzaa
December 27: Saint John
December 28: Holy Innocents
Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us.
John Paul II, homily, December 24, 2001
In the crib we contemplate the One who stripped himself of divine glory in order to become poor, driven by love for humankind.
John Paul II, Christmas 2003
Before the crib where you lie helpless,
let there be an end to the spread of violence in its many forms,
the source of untold suffering;
let there be an end to the numerous situations of unrest
which risk degenerating into open conflict;
let there arise a firm will to seek peaceful solutions,
respectful of the legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples.
John Paul II, Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas 2004
Our Savior is born for all. We must proclaim this not only in words, but by our entire life, giving the world a witness of united, open communities where fraternity and forgiveness reign, along with acceptance and mutual service, truth, justice and love.
Benedict XVII, Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas 2006
We should not serve the poor like they were Jesus. We should serve the poor because they are Jesus.
- Mother Teresa, In My Own Words
Thoughts for your consideration
The commentator, Anna Quindlen, in the December 22, 2008 issue of Newsweek, wrote a piece called "Stuff Is Not Salvation." [It can be found at http://www.newsweek.com/id/174265 .] She reflects on the recession that is gripping the world and writes about families who are not poor, but also are not focused on things or gifts.
.... there is a family like one I know in rural Pennsylvania, raising bees for honey (and for the science, and the fun, of it), digging a pond out of the downhill flow of the stream, with three kids who somehow, incredibly, don't spend six months of the year whining for the toy du jour. (The youngest once demurred when someone offered him another box on his birthday; "I already have a present," he said.) The mother of the household says having less means her family appreciates possessions more. "I can give you a story about every item, really," she says of what they own. In other words, what they have has meaning. And meaning, real meaning, is what we are always trying to possess. Ask people what they'd grab if their house were on fire, the way our national house is on fire right now. No one ever says it's the tricked-up microwave they got at Wal-Mart.
Think about the child who said "I already have a present." What a different spirit from that of our culture! The salvation that we celebrate on Christmas is not a rejoicing in the stuff we possess or even the stuff we are able to give as gifts. Gifts can be important reminders of something more. However, the "ultimate symbol" is the birth of a child, God's gift to us. The most important value is not in keeping more things for ourselves but in sharing what we have. Christmas is a celebration of community, life and joy. The angels in the gospel story in Luke say it very well: "And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
In the mass at Midnight, we hear in the works of Isaiah: "For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed." The values of the new born child smash the values of consumerism, greed, and fear.
Christmas calls us to see things in a new way. We are called to see the salvation of God in a homeless child rather than in wealth, consumption, power, honors, or status of any sort. We are called to create a world based on the values of this child.
We all need things, but we need something more than things. Anna Quindlen writes in the same article I quoted above:
Oh, there is still plenty of need. But it is for real things, things that matter: college tuition, prescription drugs, rent. Food pantries and soup kitchens all over the country have seen demand for their services soar. Homelessness, which had fallen in recent years, may rebound as people lose their jobs and their houses. For the first time this month, the number of people on food stamps will exceed the 30 million mark.
More Thoughts for your consideration
The Christmas story lends itself to reflection on many issues of social justice. The experience of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus is analogous to the experience of many people who are poor and powerless today and to the experience of those who lives, jobs, and even savings are controlled by forces beyond their control.
(1) Mary and Joseph are subject to the whims of the powerful as they have to travel to Bethlehem for the census. (2) The Holy Family is homeless when they arrive in Bethlehem. (3) They become refugees in Egypt to escape the danger of death in Israel. (4) As the child is born, most people are going on with their daily lives and do not recognize the presence of God. (5) Only the shepherds are able to detect the presence of God in the child that is born to a homeless family in a stable.
The fact that Jesus was born poor and homeless calls us to see things in a new way. More than that, the details of Jesus' birth challenges us to be engaged with those who are poor and powerless today - with those who are living the human experience of poverty or injustice.
We are invited to see how the experience of those in the Christmas story is not unlike the experience of millions of refugees and displaced people in our world today, of children born into poverty, of agricultural workers who have no land of their own, of the poor or unemployed in the US who are losing their benefits, of the those who are homeless, of those who are caught up in the events of war and terrorist acts, of those who are anxious about their savings, of those who have seen the value of their savings go down, of those who have lost jobs or homes, of those who are still among the millions living in some form of slavery, of those denied basic human rights, of those whose lives are controlled by the power of large corporations and impersonal governments, of those who go on with their busy lives without any significant awareness of the presence and goodness of God in the ordinary things of life.
Questions for your Faith Sharing Community
How is this Christmas different for you and your family because of the recession? How is your celebration different or how do you see things differently?
When have you celebrated Christmas with "the poor"? What did you learn?
In the US culture we experience certain temptations to distort the central message of Christmas. Which one do you experience most profoundly?
How does this temptation affect you and your family?
Actions - Links
The Children's Defense Fund is working on a Health Coverage for All Children Campaign. They are looking for people to write Congress about this issue. To participate, go to:
Pax Christi International invites people to send electronic Christmas Peace and Justice Wishes & Prayers to the people of Bethlehem. For info about how to do it, go to http://www.paxchristi.net/international/eng/news.php?id=97&wat=show or to http://www.aeicenter.org/aei/about_aei/projects/wishes/christmaswishes2008.htm . You can read the messages that others have already sent at
Brian McLaren, chair of the board of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, wrote a short piece called "The Politics of Joy." He reflects on some themes coming from some well-known Christmas songs. Read it at: http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2006/12/brian-mclaren-politics-of-joy.html
"But how can there be political transformation in the external world of thorns, sins, and sorrow if our inner lives don't become the manger into which hope, healing, empowerment, love, and joy are born?"
President-elect Barack Obama has pledged "unstinting resolve" to promote peace and security for Darfur and all of Sudan. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is working with Save Darfur and other organizations to collect one million electronic "postcards" urging the president to follow through on this promise. You sign the electronic postcard to ensure that Darfur is a day one priority for the president at http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/survey.zgi?p=WEB228HGNGE6ZX
The number of Americans receiving food stamps reached 31.5 million in September 2008 (10.3% of the total USA population), the highest absolute number since the program began in 1962. 51 percent of all participants are children (17 or younger).
Prayers of Intercession
Response: May the child lead us to peace.
For an end to the way of violence and war, we pray....
For all who are living the experience of poverty, we pray....
For refugees and other displaced people, we pray....
For all our children, we pray....
For the elderly, we pray....
For those who are far from home, we pray....
For those without jobs that pay a living wage, we pray....
For peace and justice for all, we pray....
For genuine joy for all the people, we pray....
"Churches for Middle East Peace" has A Christmas Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem at http://www.cmep.org/Statements/s14.htm .
Almighty God, you have come to us as a small child and brought us the gift of eternal love. We thank you for the prophets' hope, for the angels' songs, for the wondrous birth of the Savior. We thank you for the star to guide us to Jesus. We thank you for the promise of peace on earth and goodwill toward all people.
Help us, we pray at this Christmas time, to celebrate your promise of peace by living with hope for justice.
In this season of joy, our thoughts focus on the little town of Bethlehem, nestled in the hills near Jerusalem. Yet even as our hearts are warmed with familiar songs of Christmas, we remember that the children of Abraham - Jews, Christians and Muslims - who still live in these sacred places are not yet at peace. We pray that you will guide those in positions of authority that they may strive sincerely for justice and compassion in the Holy Land.
Like Jesus, we too are drawn to the City of David, the City of Peace. Help us, O God, as we resolve anew to pray and to work for the peace of Jerusalem. Give us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to pursue a pastoral and prophetic ministry. Enable us to be agents of reconciliation and hope in Jerusalem, in our own neighborhoods and throughout the world: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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 others,
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman, African-American mystic