“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” (Matthew 1:18-25) His mother, Mary, engaged to be married to Joseph but while still a virgin, became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. How can we understand this mystery? How do we grasp this unfathomable conception of the Messiah in the womb of Mary? Joseph and Mary had their own challenges of belief and understanding (like many of us)—but they were caught up in this amazing and bewildering moment of God's grace.
What would a child be like that was conceived by the Holy Spirit, an act seeming so impossible and improbable? How do we understand such a child? Here is an equally profound question: How do we understand the working of the Holy Spirit in us—and the conception of Jesus in us, too? The substantive weight of scripture of this truth, however, is much like the appearance of the angel to Joseph and Mary—because God wants Jesus to come alive in all of us, too. He wants us to become as Jesus in our world and to our world, and He promises to do this by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today (this weekend) along with celebrating the birth of Jesus into our world, we also celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. I like to think that we are all parts of holy families. We hear about the struggle of Jesus’ family; and we hope to be strengthened in all our own family struggles, too. We listen to good advice in the Old Testament Reading (in the Books of Wisdom) from the Book of Sirach for all the members of a family: the younger and the older. In the Second Reading from the First Letter of St. John (Year C) we are reminded that as the family of God, we are all God’s children. (All of us—not just some of us…) We are reminded to love one another and to keep the commandments—something we tell each other and (hopefully) try to do in our own personal families. My prayer is for God’s blessing on all families however you may define them─by blood or by love—nuclear, blended, adopted, invented. May all the children of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit; and all our families be blessed by God—and be a blessing for those around them.
We celebrate that God came into our world in Jesus Christ, conceived in the womb of Mary without the intervention of a human father. Let's remember that God wants to come into our world through us: our words, our influence, our character, our actions, our unconditional love, our conversion, our work, our witness and our transformation. The same Spirit that conceived and empowered the Lord Jesus is also at work in all of us to conform us to Jesus, and to empower us to serve like Him.
In these holy-days of Christmas and in the new year to come, let us re-awaken our hearts to the wonders of God's grace in the birth of Jesus from the womb of Mary, and in the birth of Jesus into our lives. Both of these miraculous realities are necessary to show God's grace to our world. Let us commit to truly live the life of Jesus before our dark and unbelieving world so that the people around us can know of God's grace, mercy, and love through us. Instead of being the Inn and turning Jesus away, now “Ours the Hearts He seeks for lodging.” Have a very happy and peaceful Christmas, celebrating the birth of our salvation into the world, and into our hearts and our holy families.
This is the season for gift exchanges, the perusal and pursuit of the perfect gift, the purchase of the perfect gift, the presence and presentation of the perfect gift! We know that Christ entered the World as God’s perfect gift: His Son and our Savior, that Jesus is God’s gift to us. We can never really match God’s gifts of love and mercy, His generosity and beneficence. However, we can endeavor to emulate His example, and maybe come close—and I don’t mean about stuff…
Today, this Fourth Sunday of the Advent Season we hear in the Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Micah about the foretelling of the gift of Jesus to the world. This is the gift we've received from God: the gift of Christ which many of us celebrate this season; a gift that has no strings attached. Christ was given to us freely by a Father who gives because He loves us. There was no pre-screening, nor was the gift given secretly to only a select few. Jesus died for all of us—every human being on the planet—because the Father loves us and giving us this gift brings our Father great delight. As people who love each other, just think how happy we feel to give a gift! God is like that; His is a gift offered with grace and received by faith—not earned or won by anyone's good life. But if you receive it, you have to be willing to live with this gift…
When a person receives the gift of Christ that person is changed—re-created. St. Paul says that we are what God has made us; we are the results of his craftsmanship, the finished product of his artistry. Christ didn't come just to forgive us, solve our problems, give us rules by which we are to live, or drop a to-do list of necessary religious acts into our laps. Jesus came to make us new creations; to live by our better angels. It’s not about stuff: but about love and sacrifice—the best gifts of all.
God gives us this great gift expecting that we will live with it and utilize it. He has in mind that we will do good; to be the best we were created to be and that we will do good works. It's still a free gift offered in grace with no strings attached, but this gift does come with the responsibility that those of us who receive it will live so that this gift occupies the central place in our lives and motivates us to lives of love, integrity, purity, kindness, holiness and righteousness.
God understands and knows that our new lives will not always be easy to live and that our old habits and perspectives may die slowly. He recognizes that we're always learning about the implications of the gift He that has given us has for our lives. His expectations are realistic. He understands that we won't perfectly live this gift we've received for quite some time, but He gives us this gift expecting that we will do the best that we can to live up to the responsibilities of receiving it.
The bottom line is that the gift we've received from God, this gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, cannot be put away in the closets and basements of our hearts and ignored. It cannot be placed on a shelf, dusted off and admired periodically, and then put back. Even more importantly, this gift will absolutely not conform to the old patterns of our lives—our lives must be re-patterned to fit around the gift that God has so graciously given us.
This gift really is no burden, though. Living with the gift of Christ brings new joy with each new day. Each day we discover something new about God, about ourselves, about the people and the world around us. These new discoveries will thrill us, delight us, and surprise us, bring joy. Before too long, we won't be able to imagine living without God's gift and returning in love to the world the love freely given to us.
These last few weeks I have witnessed incredible gifts of commitment, time, faith and love to our Parish Community. Last weekend the final formal blessing prayer before dismissal from Mass said: “May (God make) you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope and untiring in love.” I have seen the living reality of this blessing during this time of ‘too many things to do’ evinced by many of the people of this parish. The usual things to do are quite enough—yet with all of the extra liturgies, events and projects that have taken place—more than the typical help and support was needed and the call was answered!
We have so much for which to be thankful: an untiring staff of personnel who work above and beyond all (reasonable) expectation and a host of volunteers who make all things possible. Think (and be thankful) about the last few weeks and all that has been achieved: from collections and donations to meaningful liturgy. In the Music Ministry and other Worship Ministries: all the young and the youthful; the families participating in the lighting of the Advent Wreath; the Lectors, the Eucharistic Ministers, ushers, acolytes, enhancement (decoration) of the liturgical space, all while surviving the secular perception of Christmas. We have had Christmas parties, potlucks, concerts, pageants, teas, fundraisers, extra liturgies, meetings, rehearsals, hard work and fellowship. I would like to extend my personal, heart-felt appreciation and gratitude to those in the Music Ministry for their continuing love and hours of commitment to this parish. Much has been accomplished by the people of St. Aidan. May God bless you all in these holy-days—at Christmas and in the New Year to come—for your gifts of steadfast presence and faith, your joyful hearts and your untiring dedication and devotion to this Community.
I wrote this article a few years ago at this time of year, and people seemed to appreciate its message—so I decided a “re-print” (reprise) might be in order. Today, this Third Sunday of Advent, the crowds ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?” John clearly answers how to live a Christ-like life. He talks about charity and sharing, about holiness. This letter from Jesus is something I received from a friend (email), and I share it with you. It is entitled “A Letter from Jesus” and as scripture in Advent reminds us, this is a good time to discern what is most important.
It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you have forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although, I do appreciate being remembered any time.
How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate really My birth just be humankind (human and kind) and LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Having said that, let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen of your own and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did this there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town. (Remember the distinction between God and Caesar.)
Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree, maybe save a few. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15:1-8.
If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:
1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. Tell them you pray that war will end, and for their soon and safe return. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.
2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them and pays them some attention.
3. Instead of writing political leaders and complaining, why don't you write and tell them that you'll be praying for them and their family this year? They certainly need it, just like the rest of you. Then follow up (with the prayer). It will be nice hearing from you again.
4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the Story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile as it may make a difference.
7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a “Merry Christmas” that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day maybe they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.
8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.
9. Here's a good one: There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no “Christmas” tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to a charity and they will make the delivery for you. This will also make a difference!
10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions, by what you say and do, that you are one of mine.
Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work because time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love, and remember me.
I LOVE YOU,
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.