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“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way (Matthew 2:9-12).

The Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Savior to all people, not only the Jewish people. God’s love leaves no one untouched.

God revealed himself to the magi in signs in the stars. As Christians, we must be guided in our search not by the stars but by Scripture.

Signs come in all forms: they may include the love we receive from someone, a good example someone sets by trying to live by the Gospel, an insight that comes in our prayer and reflection, or even a sickness or tragedy in our lives. It is up to us to pay attention and read the signs around us. If we look with openness and with the eyes of faith, these signs will lead us to God.

This feast is also a feast of unity. Jesus came to all, and we are all one under God’s love. As we reach out to those who are looked down upon or those who are considered outsiders, we do our part to bring about the unity for which God sent his Son to us.

In what ways can you reach out to those who might feel excluded?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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Considering the nature of the events in St. Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus, we would expect from the witnesses exactly the reaction that Luke described: they were “amazed.” But within the same few lines of Luke’s story there is a tantalizing counterpoint to that amazement: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

We have learned 20 centuries later about the birth of Jesus and all the circumstances surrounding it, and we hear the story repeated in a variety of ways scores of times during our lives. We have benefited from explanations of the Nativity in homilies, in our religious instruction, in our reading. Do we, in the 21st century, have the same reactions to the birth of Jesus as those who were present at the time? Are we amazed, and do we reflect on these things in our hearts?

Although we are used to the story and all the images surrounding it—angels, shepherds, the manger, the parents, the infant—the meaning of these events should still amaze us. This is not just a folk tale adorned with details calculated to charm us. This is the account of a transformative event in human history, an event in which divine life and human life intersected in a uniquely intimate way.

This was not God speaking to man and woman from the shadows of Eden. This was not God pronouncing commands to Moses from the flames on Sinai. This was God, so full of love for the creatures made in his own likeness that he himself took on human form. This was God taking on himself the whole of the human experience, excepting sin, so that men and women would be restored to their proper relationship to God through the ministry, sacrifice, and glorification of the man whose birth Luke described.

If we believe this, how can we not be amazed?

As astounding as the birth of Jesus was in its implications for the human race, it was in its immediate circumstances a very personal event—this particular child born to these particular parents under difficult economic, social, and political conditions.

Although it occurred in the first century in Palestine, a time and a place that are remote from us, we can easily relate to the story of Jesus’ birth because we understand on the one hand fear and confusion, and we understand on the other hand the joy of parenthood and the irresistible attraction of a newborn child. For Joseph and Mary, the effects of these competing emotions must have been unsettling and exhausting.

But Mary, as she so often did, set an example for us in her reaction to the Nativity itself and the framework in which it occurred: she reflected on these things in her heart.

The Christmas season at times seems to be designed to prevent us from doing any such thing. The season imposes on us, and we impose on ourselves, so many material obligations—the season immerses us in so much activity and noise—that we may not pause to reflect on anything.

But for most of us, the pressures of the holiday season are as nothing compared to what Mary confronted. And still, she reflected on these things in her heart. The birth of Jesus began the unfolding of the mystery through which each of us has been offered salvation from the consequences of sin and death.

If we believe this, how can we not reflect on it at Christmas and on every day of our lives?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them (Luke 2:46-50).

Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, answering and even posing questions to the temple instructors. When asked why he had stayed behind and worried his parents, he replied to his mother with words that she and Joseph did not grasp.

Forgiveness and patience are perhaps the most needed virtues within a family. Living side by side, day after day, we find much to forgive in each other. We all need patience to bear differences in personality, preferences, or habits.

In this story of the Holy Family, we see the same needs. Mary and Joseph displayed patience and forgiveness with the young Jesus as they found him in the temple and tried to understand why he had stayed behind.

When we practice these ordinary family virtues of patience and forgiveness, we are doing much more than overlooking the faults of others and giving them a second chance. We are being introduced to a wonder hidden within them and within all of us. We are being introduced to God’s presence in our midst. By practicing these virtues, we grow in wisdom and grace before God and our families.

Which relationships in your family are the most difficult? Which are the most comfortable? Why?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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TrumpetersJubilee years have a deep history in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Book of Leviticus (25:8-13), during a jubilee observed every 50 years, slaves and prisoners were freed, debts forgiven, land and possessions returned to their rightful owners. Perhaps most important, during such a year, the mercy of God would be manifested.
 
The word “jubilee” is based on the Hebrew yobel. The word described a “trumpet-blast of liberty” according to the Septuagint, the early translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.
 
Just as the ancient Hebrews forgave debts, so the Church today, in the words of Pope Francis, “has an endless desire to show mercy.”
The Holy Father states it clearly: “This is an opportune moment to change our lives.”
 
The custom of calling jubilee years in the Church dates back to the sixteenth century. Since then, there have been only 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations. So the current celebration is something extraordinary.
 
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father calls on sinners to repent, reminding us that “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (The Joy of the Gospel, 3).
 
Our prayer today:
 

Dear Jesus,
give me the wisdom and courage
so that I may become an island of mercy
in the midst of a sea of indifference.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled’” (Luke 1:41-45).

God is present to each of us in different ways. In the encounter described in this Gospel passage, Elizabeth was aware of the presence of God in Mary. We are challenged to become aware of the presence of God in our own lives. How is God present to you in the people with whom you live and work? Where is God present to you in nature? What about the person next to you on the train or plane?

Elizabeth shows us that when we see goodness, we should acknowledge it, both to the other person and to God. This gratitude creates more goodness, and naming it gives us appreciative and joyful hearts.

We live in a time and place very different from the first century Palestine of Mary and Elizabeth. But we and those holy women have some important things in common. Like Mary, we too discover God’s will for ourselves in prayer and reflection. Then, like Elizabeth, we too live it out as a prayer of praise and gratitude.

When you look over the past year of your life, for what or for whom are you grateful?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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