1) Origin of the Christmas celebration: Many scholars believe that Christmas came to be placed on December 25th in order to counteract a pagan celebration called the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, a feast established by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in AD 274. Since December 25th was around the date of the winter solstice (the year’s shortest day, after which the days begin to lengthen again, showing the victory of the sun over darkness), it was chosen as the date of rejoicing. When Christianity was approved as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Church chose this day to celebrate the birth of the true Sun – the Son of God Who conquers the powers of darkness. Another theory gives Biblical support for celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. It claims that the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah occurred during the feast of Yom Kippur, around September 25th, placing the birth of John after nine months on June 25th. Since the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the Annunciation event and the conception of Jesus took place around March 25th leading to Jesus’ birth after nine months, around December 25th. Where did the name Christmas originate? In the medieval times the celebration of Christmas took the form of a special Mass said at midnight on the eve of Christ’s birth. Since this was the only time in the Catholic Church year when a midnight Mass was allowed, it soon became known in Middle English as Christes Masse (Christ’s Mass), from which is derived Christmas.
2) Thanks for listening: In the Cable TV episodes Inside The Actor’s Studio, James Lipton invites celebrities – famous actors, writers and directors – to talk about their careers and how they do what they do. And he always ends each episode the same way, with one particular question: “If you believe that God exists, what do you think He will say to you when you finally see Him?” It’s a good question, by the way, to ask ourselves periodically. It can make for an interesting examination of conscience. Anyway: on this episode, the person James Lipton was interviewing was Steven Spielberg. Lipton asked him that final question: What do you hope God will say to you when you finally see Him? And Spielberg thought for a moment and smiled. He replied: “’Thanks for listening.” So much of the Christmas story is, truly, about listening. When Gabriel arrives to bring Mary the news that she will bear a child…she listens. When the angel tells Joseph in his dreams what is about to happen…he listens. The shepherds listen when the angel announces the “good news of great joy.” Two thousand years later, we confront this stunning message – “tidings of comfort and joy,” as the carol describes it – and our hearts swell with the sentiment of the season. We hear. But are we paying attention? Are we listening? Christmas invites us to listen. (Deacon Greg Kandra, 2013)
3) “Man, you don’t mess around when you’re hungry!” Have you heard about the little boy who loved going to Church? He enjoyed the music, the stained glass windows, the homily and the fellowship. The only part about going to Church that the little boy didn’t like, were those long personal prayers which the pastor added to the intercessory prayers! Then on Christmas, the little boy’s parents invited the pastor home for lunch… and would you believe it, his mom asked the minister to pray the prayer of thanksgiving before the meal. “Oh, no,” thought the little boy, “We will never get to eat. I am starving and he will pray forever.” But to his surprise, the pastor’s prayer was brief and to the point. He said, “Oh Lord, bless this home. Bless this food, and use us in your service, in Jesus name. Amen.” The little boy was so astonished by the pastor’s short prayer that he couldn’t help himself. He looked at the pastor and blurted out what he was thinking: “Man, you don’t mess around when you’re hungry!” Well, I don’t want to “mess around” on this Christmas Day because I know that whether we realize it or not… we are hungry. We are all hungry for God. We are all hungry for our Savior. We are all hungry for Christmas… because, you see, this is precisely what Christmas is all about. We need a Savior, we are starved for a Savior, a Savior is given in Jesus, and the name “Jesus” means literally “The Lord is Salvation,” or “Yahweh Saves,” or “Savior.” Jesus came at Christmas to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He came to save us from our sins.
4) “And all mankind will see God’s salvation.” Every year, the former President Bush and his wife Laura used to send out a Christmas card with a Bible verse on it. For Christmas 2001, when the country was still coming to terms with the Sept. 11th attacks, the Bushes decided to choose a verse that conveyed their faith and hope. They picked this verse from the Psalms: “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” [An interview with First Lady Laura Bush by Ellen Levin, Good Housekeeping (Jan. 2002), pp. 105, 130.] That is the promise of Christmas. Isaiah put it like this: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.'” That is the hope that sustains us in good times and bad. We shall see God’s salvation. Christ came because the world needed saving.
5) “We’ll all be home for Christmas.” Senator John McCain spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s. During that time, he was frequently tortured or held in solitary confinement. He reports that his lowest point came on Christmas Eve 1969. McCain was giving up hope of ever getting out of Vietnam alive. To compound his homesickness, the captors played the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” over the PA system. Just then, McCain heard tapping on his cell wall. This was the communication code the POWs used to communicate with one another. On the other side of the wall was Ernie Bruce, a Marine who had been imprisoned for four years already. In spite of his dire situation, Bruce was tapping out, “We’ll all be home for Christmas. God bless America.” These simple words of comfort restored John McCain’s hope. [“The tapping on the wall” by Senator John McCain, Ladies’ Home Journal (July 2002), pp. 107-111.] The message of Christmas is always one of hope. This world needs saving, but God began that process of salvation two thousand years ago with the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem. There’s something about Christmas that elevates us. Christmas is about hope of a better world to come.
6) Camel on the roof of royal palace: The king of Balkh in northern Afghanistan, Ebrahim ibn Adam, was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well. One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: “Who’s there?” “A friend,” came the reply from the roof. “I’ve lost my camel.” Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: “You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?” “You fool!” the voice from the roof answered. “Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?” The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint. Every Christmas Jesus asks the same question of each one of us: “Where are you looking for Me? In the majestically adorned and illuminated cathedrals or in the stables of the poor and the needy?” Tonight’s Scripture readings tell us where to look for Christ the Savior.
7) “No Room in the Inn”
The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful and costly tombs ever built, but there is something fascinating about its beginnings. In 1629, when the favorite wife of Indian ruler Shah Jahan died, he ordered that a magnificent tomb be built as a memorial for her. The shah placed his wife’s casket in the middle of a parcel of land, and construction of the temple literally began around it. But several years into the venture, the Shah’s grief gave way to a passion for the project. One late evening while he was surveying the sight, he reportedly stumbled over a wooden box in the dark , and he had some workers to remove it and put it in a common storehouse. It was months before he realized that [it was] his wife’s casket that had been carelessly kept in a common store along with useless articles. The original purpose for the memorial became lost in the details of construction. [Dr. James Dobson, Coming Home, Timeless Wisdom for Families (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1998), 122, & “Story of Christless Christmas,” taken from Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, pp. 131-132.] This seemingly unrealistic ancient legend is a painfully relevant parable of the way some people celebrate Christmas today. Sometimes we become so involved in the tasks and details of Christmas that we forget the One we are honoring. Five little words in the Gospel of Luke say it all: “No Room in the Inn.”
8) The golden rice grains: There is a beautiful poem by the mystic poet of India, Rabindra Nath Tagore, extolling the reward of generous giving. It tells the story of a king who regularly visited his people, passing through the streets in a chariot. One morning as the king was passing by, a beggar woman who planned to ask him for alms stood on the road side with her begging bowl. As the king approached her, however, he descended from his chariot and stretched out his hand as though he was expecting a gift from the woman. Excited and surprised, the woman put her hand in the cotton bag on her shoulder, took out a pinch of rice, and with trembling hands gave it to the king. The king was well pleased; he smiled at her put her offering in his pocket and gave her back a pinch of grains from his other pocket. When the woman returned to her small hut that evening and examined the grains she had gotten that day, she was surprised to find a few grains of gold in the rice. You can imagine both her surprise and despair when she realized she should have given all her rice grains to the king. We are here to offer our gifts to Child Jesus in the manger as His birthday gift. Let us remember that Jesus does not want our material gifts as much as He wants our selves, with all our weakness and temptations, our merits and demerits. Let our Christmas gift to him be a heart full of love and a strong and sincere resolution to share it generously with others.
9) “I want somebody who has skin on.” Leonard Griffith, the outstanding pastor in Toronto, tells the story of a mother who was putting her little daughter to bed in the midst of a thunderstorm. She told her daughter that she did not need to be frightened, that her mother and father were close by in the living room and God was with her where she was. The girl replied to her mother, “Mommy, but when it thunders this way, I want somebody who has skin on.” This simple, homely story, in essence, is the essential truth of our text. The Son of God did clothe himself in skin, flesh, and blood and came to dwell among us with grace and truth.
10) God’s Christmas Gift: Would you like to know what is on record as the most expensive Christmas gift in the world? It is the Phoenix 1000. This is a 213-foot personal luxury submarine. Maybe there is a couple out there that lives on Lake Lanier and this is something you could buy to impress all of your friends. This is the single largest private underwater vehicle ever built that has a total interior area of 5000 square feet. It can make transatlantic crossings at 16 knots. A small automobile can be kept in the aft section of this submarine; it even has a mini-sub complete with its own docking area that can take your guests down to 2000 feet. Wrap it up and bring it home for only $78 million dollars! [ ]The Phoenix 1000 may be the most expensive Christmas gift in history, but it is not the most valuable Christmas gift, nor even is it the most costly. The Christmas gift that I want to talk about tonight is God’s Christmas Gift. It is His Son Jesus as our Savior. Though it is the most valuable and most costly gift ever given – get this – it is absolutely free.
11) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is all about Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean banker who hoards all his money, and goes around saying, “Bah! Humbug!” On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. Then he wakes up on Christmas morning, and finds out he’s been given a second chance. He buys the biggest goose for Bob Crachett and Tiny Tim, is reconciled with his family, serves everyone, and loves everyone for the rest of his life. What makes this such a great story is that Scrooge wakes up on Christmas and decides to spend his life consciously loving and serving others, to live every day as if it were Christmas, loving and serving Christ in everyone.
12) “I Wish I could Be a Brother Like That.”:
Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. “Is this your car, Mister?” he asked.
Paul nodded. “My brother gave it to me for Christmas.” The boy was astounded. “You mean your brother gave it to you, and it didn’t cost you nothing? Boy, I wish…” He hesitated. Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels. “I wish,” the boy went on, “that I could be a brother like that.”
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, “Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?”
“Oh yes, I’d love that.”
After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, “Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?” Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again.
“Will you stop where those two steps are?” the boy asked. He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his crippled little brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car. “There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn’t cost him a cent. And someday I’m gonna give you one just like it…then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I’ve been trying to tell you about.”
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride. That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when he had said: “It is more blessed to give…” [Dan Clark. From Chicken Soup for the Soul (1992), pp. 25-26.]
13) Erik’s Jesus in rags: A Christmas story: [Erik’s Old Man by Nancy Dahlberg. From Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul (1997), pp. 307-309.]
It was Sunday, Christmas Day. After the holidays in San Francisco we were driving back home to Los Angeles. We stopped for lunch in King City. The restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family and ours were the only children. I heard Erik, my one-year-old, squeal with glee. “Hithere,” the two words he always thought were one. “Hithere,” and he pounded his fat baby hands- whack, whack, whack – on the metal high chair. His face was alive with excitement, his eyes were wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and giggled. Then I saw the source of his merriment: an old, dirty smelly bum in rags. He spoke to Erik: “Hi there, baby. Hi there, big boy, I see ya, Buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.”
Our meal came, and the banging and the noise continued. Now the old bum was shouting across the room and Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hithere.” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband, Dennis, was humiliated. Dennis went to pay the check, imploring me to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. “Lord, just let me get out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” I prayed, and I bolted for the door. It soon was obvious that both the Lord and Erik had other plans. As I drew closer to the man on my way out, Erik, with his eyes riveted on his new friend, leaned over my arm, reaching up with his in a baby’s “pick-me-up position.” In the split-second of balancing my baby, I came eye-to-eye with the old man. Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide. The bum implored me: “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need for me to answer since Erik propelled himself from my arms into those of the bum. Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship.
Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath the lashes. His aged hands, rough and worn from hard labor, gently cradled and stroked my baby. I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment. Then he opened his eyes, looked into mine, and said in a firm voice: “You take care of this baby.” And somehow I managed to say, “I will.” At last the bum handed Erik to me. As I held my arms open to receive my baby, the old man said, “God bless you, Ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I said nothing more than a muttered “thanks.” With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly. And why I was saying, “My God, forgive me. Forgive me”
14) Will you take Christ home with you this Christmas? When a little boy named Davis came to Christmas morning Mass with his parents, he was surprised to find that baby Jesus was not in the Nativity Set. His parents immediately went into the sacristy and asked the pastor who had removed the Baby Jesus. The pastor rushed to the crib only to realize that some miscreants had stolen the Baby from the manger after the Midnight Mass. Later, during the morning Mass, the pastor informed the congregation of the theft and told them that he couldn’t understand the motive behind such a callous act. Then, he asked them to see that the Baby Jesus was returned. The manger, however, remained empty.
Later that afternoon, depressed and sad, the pastor was walking through the wintry streets when he saw his neighbor, little Tommy. Shabbily dressed against the cold, Tommy was proudly walking with a new, bright red wagon. The pastor knew how much his parents must have scrimped and saved to buy him the wagon. With a surge of Christmas spirit, the pastor wished Tommy a Merry Christmas and congratulated him on his beautiful Christmas gift. It was then that he noticed that Tommy’s new red wagon wasn’t empty. The Baby Jesus stolen from the church lay on a pillow in the wagon. The pastor was disappointed. He told Tommy that stealing was wrong and that the entire parish had been hurt by his action. Wiping from his cheeks the flowing penitential tears, Tommy said, “But, Father, I didn’t steal Jesus! It wasn’t like that at all. I’ve been asking Jesus for a red wagon for Christmas for a long time, and, you see, I promised Him when I got it, He’d be the first one I took out for a ride. I kept my promise and now I am on my way to the Church to bring Baby Jesus home!” Each Christmas invites us to take Jesus to our home, because the only inn where He cares to find shelter is the inn of our hearts. If, like the pastor in our story, we have misjudged others, we can take Jesus home with us by asking their forgiveness. If someone has hurt us, we can forgive him or her. Let’s make this a Christmas of reconciliation, love, peace and joy.
15) O. Henry’s story of sacrificial Christmas sharing: “Gift of the Magi”: A brief retelling of this old, but touching story is as follows: It was Christmas Eve, during the days of the Depression of the 1930’s. Della and James, a newly married couple, were very poor. They loved each other dearly, but money was hard come by. In fact, as Christmas approached, they were unhappy because they had no money to buy presents for each other. They had two possessions that they valued deeply: James had a gold watch, which had belonged to his father, and Della had long and beautiful brown hair. Della knew that James’ watch had no matching chain–only a worn-out leather strap. A matching chain would be an ideal gift for her husband, but she lacked the money to buy it.
As she stood before the mirror, her eyes fell on her long tresses. She was very proud of her beautiful hair, but she knew what she had to do. She faltered a moment, but nothing could stand in the way of love. She hastened to the “hair-dealers,” sold her hair for twenty dollars, and went round shop after shop, hunting for the ideal gift. At last she found it: a matching chain for her husband’s watch. She was very happy and proud of the gift. She knew he would love it, the fruit of her sacrifice.
James came in, beaming with love, proud of the gift he had bought for Della. He knew she would be very happy with the gift. But when he saw her, his face fell. She thought he was angry at what she had done. She tried to console him by saying that her hair would grow fast, and soon it would be as beautiful as before. That is when he gave her his gift. It was an expensive set of combs, with gem-studded rims. She had always wanted them for her hair! She was very happy, but with a tinge of sadness. She knew it would be some time before she could use the precious gift.
Then, with tears in her eyes, she presented him with the gift she had bought. As he looked at the beautiful chain, he said with a sigh: “I guess our gifts will have to wait for some time. The combs were very expensive; I had to sell my watch to buy the combs!” These were the perfect gifts: gifts of sacrificial love. Both James and Della were very happy for, like the Magi, they had discovered LOVE through self-sacrifice.
16) Two babies in the manger? In 1994, two Christian missionaries answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics in a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. It was nearing Christmas and the missionaries decided to tell them the story of Christmas. It would be the first time these children heard the story of the birth of Christ. They told the children about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the Baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and the orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. When the story was finished, the missionaries gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins that the missionaries had brought with them since no colored paper was available. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out
nightgown discarded by a tourist, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt which the missionaries had also brought with them. It was all going smoothly until one of the missionaries sat down at a table to help a 6 year old boy named Misha. He had finished his manger. When the missionary looked at the little boy’s manger, she was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, she called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, Misha began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the
happenings accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the Baby
Jesus in the manger.
Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending. He said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma, and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me that I could stay with Him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give Him like the shepherds and the magi did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept Him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep You warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep Me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave Me.” “So I got into the manger and then Jesus looked at me and He told me I could stay with Him – for always.”
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that
splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head
dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.
The little orphan had found Someone Who would never abandon nor
abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS. Today we celebrate the great feast of Jesus the Emmanuel – “God With Us. “
17) A Christmas Parable written by Louis Cassels: Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which Churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for the midnight service. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”
Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have Christmas,” he thought, “it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another. He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his living room window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the storm. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter.
He put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction – except into the warm lighted barn. “They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .” Just at that moment the Church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now I see why You had to do it.” (Quoted by Fr. Tommy Lane)
18) Did you see the queen? Remember that nursery rhyme?
“Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?”
“I’ve been to London to look at the queen.”
“Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?”
“I frightened a little mouse, under her chair.”
The pussy cat went to see the queen, but it saw only a mouse. We have come to Christmas to see Jesus coming to our lives as our Lord and personal Savior. But do we see only the lights, the statues in the manger scene and the poinsettias around the altar? We have come to have the Light of the world shine on us. But do we see only the darkness of our lives and that of the world? God has communicated His love for us and His desire to be with us through the Babe in the manger. Do we get the Message?
19) Christmas Reconciliation. A young woman drove a rented car slowly up a snow-covered mountain road on a cold Christmas Eve. She was going to see her father, whom she had not seen in twelve years. She had been sixteen when her father and mother divorced after his affair with a woman at work. Neither she nor her mother had ever been able to forgive him.
The affair had not lasted and her father had soon given up his corporate job in an eastern city and moved to Colorado — “to rest his weary soul in the solitude of the mountains” was what he had written in the first letter he sent after he left home. He had taken a job with the national park service for the summer and hoped he might find something at a ski resort in the winter. That was all she knew about his life for all of those years. Letters had come regularly from the same address in a town called Ward, and she had carefully saved each one, unopened, in a cookie tin on the back shelf of the large walk-in closet in the bedroom of her townhouse. She had done well for herself, ironically, in the same company that had once employed her father.
The last line of that one letter she had read flashed into her mind, as it had so many times before, as she saw the road sign for Ward with an arrow pointing to the right. “I hope you will be able to forgive me some day, Gracie. I love you.”
Could she forgive him? Was that why she had come? Even after the long flight and the equally long drive from the airport on unfamiliar mountain roads, she still didn’t know.
Grace and her mother had always spent Christmases together, vacationing in Florida or the Caribbean. It was a way of distracting themselves from what they had lost. Now that her mother was remarried, there was no place to go. They had invited her for Christmas, her mother and Ted, but she hadn’t wanted to intrude on their first holiday together. So, here she was on the road to Ward.
Grace could see the lights of the little town shimmering below her, shiny and yellow against the snow, like the gold that had once been mined from the mountain. She turned off the main highway and shifted into low gear. The road down to the village was steep and narrow and snow-covered. Sand had been spread on the curves, but she still had to go slowly. She wondered in which of the thirty or forty houses and old miner’s shacks she would find her father. She pulled up in front of the general store. The porch light was on and the door was open. A young woman about her own age, dressed in bib overalls with braided hair hanging down to her waist, was crocheting behind the counter near a small wood-burning stove. Candy bars, cigarettes, and several brands of cough medicine lined the shelves behind her. The woman smiled at Grace and said, “Good evening. What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for my father,” Grace said. The plaintive tone of her own voice surprised her. She told the woman her father’s name and immediately saw a knowing look of recognition. “Old Jim. He comes in here all the time. You must be Grace. He told me about you.” It seemed strange to hear her father called old. Grace remembered him as middle-aged. Of course he would be older now, in his late sixties. It pleased Grace to know he had spoken of her.
“Almost everybody is up at the church,” the woman said. “I saw your dad go up about a half-hour ago. A retired preacher comes up from Nederbet every Christmas Eve. It’s about the only time they have services here. You can leave your car out in front. It’s easier to walk from here.” Grace slowly made her way over the footbridge spanning the ice-covered stream that wound through the center of the town. She could see the small clapboard church about 200 yards up the mountain. On top of the steeple there were green, blue, and red Christmas lights flashing in the form of a star. They appeared to be attached to the cross. Her hands trembled as she opened the door of the church. Would her father be glad to see her after all these years? Would he recognize her?
She spotted him, sitting by himself in one of the back pews. “Old Jim.” The woman at the store was right. His hair was thin and completely gray. He was much heavier now. He looked tired, and, the thought pained her, very much alone.
The congregation stood up to sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The words of the familiar carol rang in her ears as she slipped into the pew beside her father. “Glory to the newborn King, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
She squeezed her father’s hand and a smile came over his face in the same instant he turned to see her. “Grace,” he said, “I’m so glad to see you.”
“Daddy,” was all she was able to say.
When the pastor gave the invitation to come forward for receiving Jesus in the Christmas Holy Communion, Grace and her father walked up the aisle hand in hand.
20) “God has revealed Himself in his Son.” Theologian Karl Barth stood before students and faculty at Princeton in 1963 during his Princeton Lectures. A student asked: “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only Christianity?” Barth stunned many who were present when he thundered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
21) Christmas trees are a big business (as you can imagine) in this country. Thirty-six million Christmas trees are produced in this country every year and more than one million acres of land have been planted in Christmas trees. Over 100,000 people work full time in the Christmas tree industry. More than 1 million acres of land in this country are dedicated just to planting Christmas trees. Roughly 21% of United States households will have a real tree in their home this year versus 48% that will have a fake tree.
22) Shuttle service to heaven: The brilliant writer, C. S. Lewis, wrote a thought-provoking book called The Great Divorce. It is not about the divorce that occurs between husband and wife. It is about the divorce that occurs between our souls and God. In this book, C. S. Lewis gives us a picture of Hell as a big city, with all its pressures and problems. In this big city, the weather is always cold and wet with a heavy rain. The light is always grey and murky. The people in this city of Hell become more and more aware of the great divorce that has taken place between their soul and God, and they sink deeper and deeper into their dismal surroundings. Except … there is a way out! There is a way out of this terrible condition! God has provided a shuttle-bus service from Hell to Heaven: regular bus service. All you need to do is get on the bus and let the power of God carry you into the light. The incredible thing about the story is that very few people get on board the buses, even though they are arriving and departing all the time. The people find all kinds of excuses for putting the journey off to some vague future time — and they miss the opportunity to be carried by the power of God from death to new life; from the misery of being estranged from God to the joy of being in union with God. Though we may stand in the darkness of the “great divorce,” the Christmas Promise of God is that He will carry us into the light if only we are willing to get on the bus.
23) Jesus sells: One never tires of Jesus as a subject. The cover stories of Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report regularly mark His nativity. One reason for their featuring Him so often is that their circulation invariably increases. Born twenty centuries ago, Jesus still sells. Mel Gibson broke all records with his DVD version of The Passion of the Christ. He sold nine million copies in three weeks at $22 a clip. The first book published by Pope Benedict XVI is called Jesus of Nazareth. It quickly found a home on the Best Seller list of The New York Times. Artists at their easels struggle to paint His portrait again.
Have you seen Andy Warhol’s Nativity? Composers struggle to salute Him with a fresh musical score. Will it ever be otherwise? I believe not.
Tell others of Jesus. But firstly allow Him to be born in you. He can’t be born again, but we can. (Fr. James Gilhooley)
24) “But I did show up”: A story is told of an old woman who lived all alone. Each year as Christmas drew near she would sigh and lament her loneliness, wishing that some people would visit her. Since nobody would visit her, she decided to pray to the baby Jesus and his mother requesting that they pay her a visit. Finally the baby Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her that her prayer had been heard and that the Holy Family would visit her on Christmas day. Oh, how excited she was! She began cleaning and polishing everything in her house squeaky clean in preparation for the Divine visitor. She cooked her best dish and baked her best cake in readiness for the visit of Jesus and his mother. Who knows, maybe if she pleased them well enough, they might decide to stay on and live with her!
When Christmas day finally arrived her house was squeaky clean. Everything was in place to give her Divine guests a fitting welcome. She sat by the door and read a book, just to make sure the visitors would not have to ring the door-bell twice before she could open the door and let them in. It was a cold and rainy day. At about noon she spotted a gypsy couple in the rain making their way to her house. The man was dirty and disheveled. The thinly-clad woman was nursing a baby who was crying in the rain. “Why can’t these gypsies just get a decent job,” she said to herself. Then she screamed at them, “Turn back, turn back immediately. Come another day if you like. Today, I am expecting very important visitors.” The gypsy family turned back and left. The woman continued to wait. She waited all day and no Divine visitors showed up. At sunset she fell asleep on the chair and there in her dream was Jesus. “Jesus,” she screamed, “how could you disappoint me? You said you were coming to visit me for Christmas and I waited all day and you never showed up.” “But I did show up,” replied Jesus. I came with My father and mother in the rain and you turned us away.”
25) “You’re a good man.” In Alan Paton’s beautiful novel, “Cry the Beloved Country,” there is a young man who was born late in his parents’ lives. He left his home in the hill country and went down to the city. He never wrote or sent back news. Finally, his elderly father decided to go to the city to find his boy. Because he hadn’t spent much time in the city, the father had a hard time of it there. He was bewildered and confused and he didn’t know where to begin. Then he was befriended by a city minister who heard his story and resolved to help him. The old man moved in with the minister who went out of his way, spending time trying to help the father pick up clues, to get on the trail of his son. And when they seemed to be making progress, the old man, with tears in his eyes, was trying to thank the minister for all he has done. He couldn’t quite find the words and said simply, “You’re a good man.” The minister replied, “I’m not a good man. I am a sinful and a selfish man. But Jesus Christ has laid His hands on me, that’s all.”A good man is hard to find. But God sent one — one good Man — to show us the answer to the supreme riddle of life. One good Man who will never fail us. For, as St. Paul has written, “Love never fails” (I Cor. 13:8). (Voicings.com)
26) “Your God Is Too Small.” JB Phillips authored a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. One of the great reasons for Advent is to celebrate the birth of Jesus and explore the BIGNESS of our GREAT God. The irony of Christmas is this: the bigness of God can be seen in a tiny baby. According to Paul in Colossians 1:15-23 this tiny baby is the dynamic, Omniscient, Omnipotent Creator of the universe!
27) He jumped into the hole: A student asked a Christian professor how Confucius and Buddha would differ from Christ. He responded with a parable. A woman fell into a deep hole. Try as she might, she could not climb out. Confucius looked in. He told her, “Poor woman, if you had paid attention to me, you would not have fallen in there in the first place.” Then he disappeared. Buddha approached. He too spotted the woman. He said to himself, “If she can just manage to get out of that hole, I can give her genuine aid.” He continued his journey. Along came Jesus. He spotted the woman. He was moved with pity. He jumped into the hole immediately to assist her out. This story illustrates the Incarnation. We gather here to celebrate the concern of God for each of us. His willingness to parachute into enemy-occupied territory in human form for our sakes is illustrated by the birth of His Son today. (CS Lewis).
28) Ancient Christmas reading from the Roman Martyrology: Pope Gregory XIII in 1584 brought together the Roman Martyrology. “The customary reading for Christmas from the Roman Martyrology, often proclaimed prior to the celebration of Christmas Mass at Midnight:
In the year 5199 since the creation of the world, when God made heaven and earth; in the year 2759 since the flood; in the year 2015 since Abraham’s birth;
in the year 1510 since the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt under the guidance of Moses; in the year 1032 since David was anointed king; in the 65th week of the year according to Daniel’s prophecy; in the 194th Olympiad; in the year 732 after the building of Rome; in the 42nd year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, when there was peace in the whole world; in the 6th era of the world’s history;
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desired to sanctify the world by His gracious coming. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and now after nine months (all kneel) He is born at Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah as Man from the Virgin Mary. THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE FLESH. (Fr. Cusack)
32) The face of God: I heard the story once of a great Cherokee wood carver. He would take a log and sit it on a stump outside his back door. Then he would seat himself in front of that log sometimes for hours just staring at it. Finally, he would pick up his carving tools and start carving the most beautiful of things out of the wood. He was known for his intricate details in feathers of eagles, or the look of sadness in the eyes of the faces he carved. A tourist once asked him how he decided what to carve, and the young man said that he looked for the picture that was already in the wood, then just took the excess wood away, leaving the beautiful finished image. He said people would continually ask him how he came up with the ideas as to what he was going to carve. People are curious about everything. For hundreds of centuries, people wanted to know what God looked like, too. Many thought He might have the face of a demanding judge or strict disciplinarian. It seems we always put the face on God that we fear the most. On a Christmas Eve, some 2,000 years ago, God took off His mask and showed the world what He looked like. He let us see Him how He really looks. We have all hard what we call “the Christmas Story”, and we all feel very comfortable with Jesus in a manger, don’t we? (Rev. Diane Ball).
33) But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: Take the year 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births. For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England’s finest statesman. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day affect the literary world in a marked manner. On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life. It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year heard the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby’s name? Abraham Lincoln. If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: “The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.” But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news–when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior. (Adapted from Charles Swindoll).
34) “You left your palace and your glory to visit me”: Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, “I am your king!” The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!” The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him, “the unspeakable gift!” Source Unknown.
35) Christ is born anew within. On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line of a gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over he child’s eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum they do not whisk by this photo hurriedly. They pause. They almost feel the pain. And deep inside I think that they are all saying: “O God, don’t let that be all that there is.” God’s hears those prayers and it is in just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that His Almighty Power is born. It is there that God leaves His treasure — in Mary and in all of us, as Christ is born anew within. (Sermon Illustrations, 1999).
36) Jesus pitched his tent among us: The custom of placing lighted candles in the windows at Christmas was brought to America by the Irish. When religion was suppressed throughout Ireland during the English persecution, the people had no churches. Priests hid in the forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night. It was the dearest wish of every Irish family that at least once in their lifetime a priest would arrive at Christmas to celebrate Mass. For this grace they hoped and prayed all through the year. When Christmas came they left their doors unlocked and placed burning candles in the windows so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity could be welcomed and guided to their home through the dark night. Silently the priest would enter through the unlatched door and be received by the devout inhabitants with fervent prayers of gratitude and tears of happiness that their home was to become a church for Christmas. To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people explained that they burned the candles and kept the doors unlocked so that Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to stay, would find their way to their home and be welcomed with open hearts. The candles in the windows have always remained a cherished practice of the Irish, although many of them have long since forgotten the earlier meaning.
(William Barker in Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide; quoted by Fr. Botelho.)
37) A Legend from Russia: “A Legend from Russia” is a poem by Phyllis McGinley about Christmas. The poem begins as the old grandmother, Babushka, is about to retire for the evening: When out of the winter’s rush and roar, came shepherds knocking upon her door. They tell her of a royal child a virgin just bore and beg the grandmother to come and adore. Babushka is good-hearted, but she likes her comfort, and so her reaction is to go later. “Tomorrow,” she mutters. “Wait until then.” But the shepherds come back and knock again. This time they beg only a blanket: “With comforting gifts, meat or bread, and we will carry it in your stead.” Again Babushka answers, “Tomorrow.” And when tomorrow comes, she’s as good as her word. She packs a basket of food and gifts: A shawl for the lady, soft as June, For the Child in the crib a silver spoon, Rattles and toys and an ivory game. . . but the stable was empty when she came. (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho.)
38) Every one of us is going to have a baby this Christmas! During a pastoral call, a three-year-old boy climbed in the lap of a pastor and whispered confidentially, “I know a secret!” The pastor asked, “Will you tell me your secret?” “Yes,” the little fellow giggled delightedly, “but you mustn’t tell my mamma.” When the pastor promised not to tell, the boy continued, “My mamma’s going to the hospital to have a baby. But don’t tell her. Me and Daddy want her to be surprised!” Would you be surprised if someone told you that you were going to have a baby? Women over 50 would say, “Who do you think you are kidding?” When an angel came to the Virgin Mary, it was a surprise when he told her that she was to have a baby. The fact is that regardless of sex or age, every one of us is going to have a baby this Christmas!
39) Christmas gift of the first ride for Baby Jesus: (Added on Jan 4, 2014): Once, the people of a very poor parish set their hearts on acquiring an expensive set of figures for their Christmas crib. They worked hard and managed to get a set of rare porcelain for their crib. The Church was left open on Christmas day so that the people could visit the crib. In the evening when the parish priest went to lock up, to his consternation he found the Baby Jesus was missing. As he stood there he spotted a little girl with a pram entering the Church. She made straight for the crib, took the Baby Jesus out of the pram and put him lovingly in the crib. As she was on her way out the priest stopped her and asked her what she had been doing with the baby Jesus. She told him that before Christmas she had prayed to baby Jesus for a pram. She had promised him that if she got the prom, he would have the first ride in it. She had got her pram so she was keeping her side of the bargain. -Christmas evokes generosity in all people, especially in children. What is our gift to him? (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies.)
40) Christmas in the Vietnam jail: (Added on Jan 4, 2014): In 1967, during the Vietnam War, John McCain was captured by Vietnamese Communist forces and spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war. He survived beatings, malnutrition, and torture, and was eventually released. McCain went on to great success in life, and became a U.S. Senator in 1986. In an interview with television host Larry King, Sen. McCain told about his experiences in the Vietnamese prison camps. One year, the American prisoners wanted to celebrate Christmas. McCain secured a Bible, and found another prisoner who could sing some Christmas hymns. The prisoners gathered together to hear Scripture passages about the birth of Jesus and to sing a few hymns together. As John McCain looked around, he saw tears of joy and tenderness in the men’s eyes. In the midst of this hell-hole of a prison camp, these men still found hope in the story of Jesus. [Larry King with Rabbi Irwin Katsof, Powerful Prayers (Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998), pp. 213-214.] And why shouldn’t they find hope in Christmas? They were celebrating the birth of One who knew what is was like to be a prisoner–who knew what it was to be beaten–who knew what it was to die for others. People of every generation of every imaginable condition have found a soul-mate in the babe of Bethlehem. Christmas means that God shares our pain.
41) The heart and soul of Christmas: Each Christmas season, Charles Krieg, a pastor in New Jersey, takes his mother into New York City to look at all the decorations and to visit Santa at Macy’s Department Store. The windows of the department store were unforgettable one year. The first window had a scroll which read, “The Smell of Christmas is in the Kitchen.” The scene was an old-fashioned kitchen with a black stove and food cooking on it; it was so life-like you could almost smell the food. The second window was titled, “The Taste of Christmas is in the Dining Room.” There was a long table laden with food. The third window showed a beautiful tree decorated with ornaments and lights, little toys and popcorn strings. The scroll read, “The Color of Christmas is in the Tree.” The fourth window scroll said, “The Sound of Christmas is in the Carols.” This scene was a group of animated figures singing Christmas carols. Then came the store’s main entrance. If you ignored the entrance and kept on going, you would have seen one more window. The scroll in this window proclaimed: “But the Heart and Soul of Christmas is Here!” In this window was a stable with shepherds, wise men, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. (Source unknown). “Here” is not only the heart and soul of Christmas. “Here” is the heart and soul of the universe. God knows what it is to walk where we walk. God offers us new life in Him by Faith in Jesus Christ. It is the most remarkable story ever told: The Great Physician who took all humanity’s infirmities upon himself, that by his stripes, we might be healed.
42) A metronome at Christmas rush aerodrome security check up: Tom Ervin, Professor of Music at the University of Arizona was attending a conference for music teachers in New York. While at the conference he purchased a talking metronome. A metronome is a device for counting the beats in a song. Before Tom and his son boarded their flight home, Tom hefted his carry-on bag onto the security-check conveyor belt. The security guard’s eyes widened as he watched the monitor. He asked Tom what he had in the bag. Then the guard slowly pulled out of the bag this strange looking device, a six-by-three-inch black box covered with dials and switches. Other travelers, sensing trouble, vacated the area. “It’s a metronome,” Tom replied weakly, as his son cringed in embarrassment. “It’s a talking metronome,” he insisted. “Look, I’ll show you.” He took the box and flipped a switch, realizing that he had no idea how it worked. “One . . . two . . . three . . . four,” said the metronome in perfect time. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. As they gathered their belongings, Tom’s son whispered, “Aren’t you glad it didn’t go ‘four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . ‘?” (Timothy Anger) For the past few weeks we have been counting down the days until Christmas. Now we could count the hours until the dawning of a New Year. But we need to linger with Mary and Joseph for a little while longer, because what happened immediately after Christmas is a stark reminder of the world in which we live.
43) “Would you hold my baby for me, please?” Years ago a young man was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at the lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies’ rest room carrying a tiny baby. She walked up to this man and asked, “Would you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the rest room.” He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd. This guy couldn’t believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but couldn’t see her anywhere. Now what should he do? Put the baby down and run? When calmness finally settled in he went to the Traveler’s Aid booth and together with the local police, they soon found the real mother. You see, the woman who’d left him holding the baby wasn’t the baby’s real mother. She’d taken the child. Maybe it was to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child or something else. No one really knows. But we do know that this man, breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he going to do with a baby? In a way, each of us, is in the same sort of situation as this young man. Every Christmas God Himself walks up to us and asks, “Would you hold My Baby for me, please?” And then thrusts the Christ Child into our arms. (1) And we’re left with the question, “What are we going to do with this Baby?” But an even deeper question is, just “Who is this Baby?” If we look at Scripture we find all kinds of titles and names for this Baby we hold in our arms. Emmanuel, “God with us;” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Christ the King, Jesus. (King Duncan).
44) Where Does God Fit In? I just read a story about a schoolteacher in England who supervised the construction of a manger scene in a corner of her classroom by her students. The students were excited and enthusiastic as they set up the little barn and covered the floor with real straw and then arranged all the figures of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the Wise Men and all the animals. The students had all the characters facing the little crib in which the tiny Infant Jesus lay. One little boy just couldn’t get enough. He was absolutely enthralled. He kept returning to it, and each time stood there completely engrossed but wearing a puzzled expression on his face. The teacher noticed him and asked, “Is anything wrong? Do you have a question? What would you like to know?” With his eyes still glued to the tiny manger scene, the boy said slowly, “What I’d like to know is, it’s so small, how does God fit in?” (Rev. King Duncan). God fits in because, no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, no matter what our intentions in life, somehow, we just get it wrong.
45) Early American Christmas Celebrations : Back in the early 1700s, when the United States were the Colonies, the settlers in Williamsburg, capital of Colonial Virginia, celebrated Christmas with customs they had brought from England. There were no Santa Claus (a Dutch tradition), no Christmas trees (a German tradition), no Nativity crèche (an Italian tradition), and no chimney stockings (an American tradition). Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg was primarily a holy day, but the atmosphere was not solemn. Churches and homes were decorated with greens, while candles burned in all the windows to welcome carolers. There was a public celebration, too. Musicians played special concerts, and fireworks were set off and cannon were fired to heighten the general merriment. Feasting was in order with dishes of roasted fowl and hare, marrow pudding, ham, oysters, sausage and shellfish, often capped by whole roast boar on a platter. Some gifts were given then as part of the Christmas celebration, but not nearly on the present day scale.