Engaging Faith | Fri, Dec 20, 2013
Lectionary Reflections for Christmas, Dec. 25, 2013
Dec. 25, 2013
Vigil: Isaiah 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25 or Matthew 1:18-25
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
Dec. 26: Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr
Dec. 26: Start of Kwanzaa
Dec. 27: Feast of St. John
Dec. 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents
Dec. 29: Feast of the Holy Family
Jan. 1: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Jan. 2: World Day of Prayer for Peace and New Year’s Day
“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.”
Pope John Paul II, Dec. 24, 2001
“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.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas 2006
“Why should there be rich people that have more than they need and poor who don’t have anything? God didn’t plan it that way. He planned for us to be equals. That’s why we have to build a society where everyone has the right to live a decent life.... Maybe it sounds like I have my head in the clouds. But I’ve heard about these astronauts in the United States who’ve gone into outer space. And I figure, hell, if these astronauts can get to the moon, then why can’t ordinary folks like us learn to share the earth?”
Elvia Alvarado, Honduran human rights advocate
“Real blood was shed at this delivery, by a poor woman of peasant society far from home, laboring in childbirth for the first time. And it was holy.”
Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, “Truly Our Sister”
“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”
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 1
“God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself ‘became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9). The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor.”
Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 197
Thoughts for your consideration
It is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life.
The celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas is God’s affirmation of the goodness of life, especially human life. It is a celebration of God’s engagement in life here on earth and even in the struggles, questions, poverty and injustices of life. The readings from the four Christmas masses share this wonderful message to all people and especially to the poor.
At the Vigil Mass, Isaiah tells us that “the Lord delights in you… so shall your God rejoice in you.” In Acts, we are told that Israel, despite all her sins, has a savior. In Matthew’s gospel, we listen to the long genealogy, which includes saints and sinners but at the same time leads to the birth of the child who will affirm the mercy of God and who will be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” With the revelation of Jesus, the Christ, it is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life.
At the Mass in the Night, Isaiah tells us that all the symbols of oppression (the yoke, the pole, the rod) will be smashed. A Prince of Peace will “confirm and sustain by judgment and justice.” In the letter to Titus, we hope for “the appearance of the glory of our great God.” In Luke’s story of the birth, hope is revealed in the birth of a homeless child born in a place for animals. A liberating God is with us in our sinful world and so it is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life.
At the Mass at Dawn, Isaiah announces “Your savior comes!” Therefore, we “shall be called the holy people.” In the letter to Titus we are reminded that it is “because of his mercy” that we “become heirs in hope of eternal life.” The shepherds travel to the child and experience the presence and fulfillment of the promise. God comes to us in a spirit of mercy, and so it is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life.
At the Mass during the Day: Isaiah proclaims one who comes with joy and comfort. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that this message is coming directly from the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory.” No matter how bad things are, it is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life.
God invites us to share this message to all who are in need, to all who experience poverty, to all who are oppressed by injustice. With Jesus Christ it is good to be alive. It is good to be human. It is good to be engaged in life. Great things are happening. We are invited to be part of it all.
More thoughts for your consideration
Christmas celebrates the birth of a child.
Christmas is a celebration of joy and life.
Our social teaching is about joy and life.
We affirm the value of all human life from conception to natural death.
We work to put an end to all those things which destroy life and the quality of life for all.
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 born in poverty.
The story of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus is analogous to the experience of many people who are poor and powerless today.
Mary and Joseph are subject to the whims of the powerful as they have to travel to Bethlehem for the census. The Holy Family is homeless when they arrive in Bethlehem. They become refugees in Egypt to escape the danger of death in Israel. As the child is born, most people are going on with their daily lives and do not recognize the presence of God. Only the shepherds are able to detect the presence of God in the child that is born to a homeless family in a stable.
At Christmas time we encounter many temptations. There is the temptation to be sentimental. There is the temptation to get too involved in elaborate gift giving. There is the temptation to focus just on our small circle of family and friends. There is the temptation to make Christmas into a celebration of our prosperity. There is the temptation to impose too many expectations on this holiday and forget what we are celebrating.
The fact that Jesus was born poor and homeless calls us to be aware of these temptations. 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 called to reflect on those who are suffering from the realities of violence and death, in war zones or even in our nation.
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 parents who are frustrated by their poverty as they desire to provide for their children, of agricultural workers who have no land of their own, of the poor or unemployed in the United States 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 lost loved ones in acts of violence, 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.
As we celebrate Christmas and the birth of the messiah, this story challenges us to look around us and to once again expect to find the messiah in our midst.
Questions for your faith sharing community
We experience certain temptations in the U.S. culture such as consumerism and sentimetality that distort the message of Christmas. Whic temptation distracts you most profoundly? How does this temptation affect you and your family?
When have you celebrated Christmas with the poor?” What did you learn?
Actions - Links
Check out a series of reflections on Christmas songs or hymns and concerns about justice at:
Shortly before Christmas in 2010, Steven Colbert did a powerful piece about Jesus:
Read the Washington Post commentary “Cuts to food stamps flout the gospel message” by Bread for the World President David Beckmann and Catholic Charities USA President Fr. Larry Snyder at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/commentary-cuts-to-food-stamps-flout-the-gospel-message/2013/12/12/ecf76b78-6358-11e3-af0d-4bb80d704888_story.html
Take online action with Bread for the World at https://secure3.convio.net/bread/site/SPageNavigator/action_center/action_home.html?__utma=1.1895946475.1387398381.1387398381.1387398381.1&__utmb=188.8.131.527398381&__utmc=1&__utmx=-&__utmz=1.1387398381.1.1.utmcsr=%28direct%29|utmccn=%28direct%29|utmcmd=%28none%29&__utmv=-&__utmk=14521911
The following is from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, at http://www.unicef.org/mdg/index_childmortality.htm
About 19,000 children under the age of five die every day, mainly from preventable causes. That’s 13 children each minute.
In 2011, nearly 7 million children died before age five, as compared to 1990 when nearly 12 million did. While that translates into 14,000 fewer children dying every day in 2011 than in 1990, it still translates into the deaths of 19,000 children under age five every day in 2011.
The global under-five mortality rate stands at 51 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011, a drop of 41 percent from 87 per 1,000 in 1990. But the world as a whole is still far from the goal of limiting such deaths to 29 by 2015.
Five countries account for around half of all child deaths: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China. India (24 per cent) and Nigeria (11 per cent) together account for more than a third of all under-five deaths. More than four-fifths of all under-five deaths in 2011 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. These regions will account for the bulk of the world’s births in the next years.
And the bulk of the global under-five deaths are preventable. Two-thirds of the deaths occur from infectious diseases. About 40 percent of under-five deaths occurred within the first month of life. During post-neonatal period, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria are the main killers of children. Many of the deaths occur in children already weakened by undernutrition; worldwide, more than a third of all under-five deaths are attributable to this condition. But disease isn’t inevitable, nor do children with these diseases need to die. With vaccines, adequate nutrition and basic medical and maternal care, most of these young lives could be saved.
· There are still 30 million infants in the developing world who are not immunized before their first birthday.
· More than 900,000 children under five still die each year from measles.
· Neonatal tetanus kills 200,000 each year.
· Annually, 370,000 under-fives die from whooping cough and 50,000 from tuberculosis.
· Diphtheria has re-emerged in parts of the former Soviet Union.
· Half of all pregnant women are not immunized against maternal tetanus, which kills 30,000 women every year.
Discover more about the power of immunitization at http://www.unicef.org/pon00/immu1.htm
Prayers of Intercession
Response: May the child of peace lead us to peace.
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 an end to the way of violence and war, we pray…
For all those grieving the loss of life, 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 published A Christmas Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem at http://www.cmep.org .
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
The following was written by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s’ Defense Fund and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/a-christmas-prayer-to-end_b_152829.html
A Christmas Prayer to End Poverty in Our Time.
As 2.1 billion Christians in our world prepare to celebrate the birth of the most famous poor baby in history, I hope they and all peoples will commit to helping all the poor babies in our rich nation and world find a place in our hearts and at our tables of plenty. At a time when the gap between rich and poor in our nation and the world is at its widest ever, an economic downturn driven by the greed of a few has jeopardized the lives and economic security of all of us. I hope we will all raise a mighty voice to reset our nation's moral and economic compass.
God help us to end poverty in our time.
The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep,
no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer and get sicker and sicker and not knowing
what to do or how to get help because you don't have a car or health insurance.
The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of someone else's
children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.
The poverty of having a job that does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified
you'll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.
The poverty of losing your job because you cannot find reliable
child care or transportation to work.
The poverty of working all your life caring for others and having to start all over again
caring for the grandchildren you love.
The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a child care center,
and taking home $300 a week or month if you're lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation--having no one to call or visit, tell you
where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you're living or dead.
The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others,
of emptiness and enslavement to things, drugs, power, violence and fleeting fame.
The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, weak will and tiny vision, big meetings and
small action, loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing,
sacrificing nothing, struggling for nothing.
The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God's gifts of life and children and family and freedom
and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.
The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming and exploiting
the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.
The poverty of addiction to drugs, to drink, to work, to self, to the status quo and to injustice.
The poverty of fear that keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.
The poverty of despair and cynicism.
God help us end poverty in our time in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban,
suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises--inside and out--physical and spiritual,
so that all our and Your children may live the lives that you intend.
From the Iona Community: