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familyA reading from the Book of the First Book of Samuel
(Chapter 3:20-22, 24-28)
 
This is a heart-warming and heartbreaking story, especially for those of us who are parents. Many of us have prayed for a child as Hannah did and were overjoyed when that child was born. I suspect that none of us would do what Hannah did nor would we ever be asked to do so. This story, however, took place thousands of years ago in a different culture. Hannah did what she thought was right and, in a sense, sacrificed the life of her child to God’s service. He did indeed perform great service to God and to God’s people.
 
Sometimes, we make sacrifices for our children and for others, and make do them with some pain but also with the joy of giving from deep in our hearts.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5)
 
“Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” The expression “fear the Lord” has been misunderstood for centuries and has been used to frighten and mislead people into both spiritual and emotional illness. The fear of the Lord that the Psalmist is talking about is not the cringing, debilitating fear that drains the joy from people and keeps them from the all-powerful and all-forgiving love of God. The real meaning of the word “fear” in Hebrew is awe and wonder at God’s great power and might.
 
Are you truly in awe of God, enthralled with his goodness, in wonder of his great creation? Or are you still caught up in the words you may have heard in your childhood: “You better be good, or God will punish you.” How you answer that question may either bring you a powerful sense of God’s peace and protection or encourage that little voice that sometimes in your head that says, “You’re not good enough.”
 
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John
(Chapter 3:1-2, 21-24)
 
Saint John is writing to people who have been shunned by their fellow Jews and persecuted by the ruling Roman Empire. These Christians risk their lives every day. What do they have to show for it? First, they are the “children of God.” “They shall be like him.” They “shall see him as he is.” And, “the way that we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” That’s not bad for anyone but especially for people who were on the bottom of the social and economic ladder. Imagine that you are being told that you are like God, that you will see him face to face, and that his very Spirit lives in you right now. That was John’s great message then, and it is ours now. This is what we have been told. This is who we are. God’s Spirit lives in us, now and always.
 
As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, we need not only to look into the past at the family of Jesus but also to look into our own families. We can rediscover the Spirit that can help us heal all our wounds, including those that we inflict on one another. We can celebrate the Spirit-filled family that we are, despite our faults and insufficiencies, and forgive each other as the Father forgives us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 2:41-52)
 
Some years ago, I read a novel about a man who takes his daughter, his only child, to the supermarket and has her sitting in the shopping cart as they reach the checkout. She asks him to take her down and let her stand behind him as he puts the items on the counter. Against his better judgement, he agrees, and when he is finished and turns around, she is gone. He never sees her again even though he spends the rest of his life looking for her.
 
Losing a child, even for a while, is a horrifying experience. Imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. They knew how special Jesus was, and now he was nowhere to be found. How distraught they must have been until they found him in the temple conversing with the teachers.
 
Mary “kept all these things in her heart” until one day when she lost her son for what may have seemed to her forever. But a short time later she had him back in a new life that he shares with her and offers to share with all of us—life in his presence forever.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Lord Jesus,
you are divine and human,
born into the world by your blessed mother.
As we celebrate your birth,
we do not tremble before you or shrink from you.
Instead, we embrace you,
assured of your understanding,
your love,
and your mercy.
Thank you for your presence among us here on earth
and for the promise of union with you
forever in heaven.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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God,
open our hearts to the invitation and challenges
placed before us in the Gospel.
May our anticipation of the celebration of Christmas
encourage us in our work for justice in the world.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Micah
(Chapter 5:1-4a)
 
The prophet Micah lived some 700 years before Jesus at a time when Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians. Micah offers a hopeful promise for a messiah: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.”
 
We Christians see this as a prophecy proclaiming the true Messiah, Jesus, and most important, his mission: “he shall be peace.”
 
Jesus brings peace for all who truly seek peace not just those who say it but don’t live it. How do you see yourself as living the peace of Jesus? Are you a peace maker?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19)
 
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
How often do you turn to Jesus? Do you ever make the turn when you are not asking for anything but simply to be near Jesus?
 
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 10:5-10)
 
In the Jewish faith when this letter was written, a whole series of offerings and sacrifices were fulfilled at different times in the year. Attributing the words to Jesus, the author says, “‘Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in. They are offered according to the law.’ Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’ He takes away the first to establish the second.”
 
Jesus challenges the Old Law and replaces it with a new law, himself. He replaces the Old Law with its hundreds of impossible prescriptions with his Law of Love for God and one another. No wonder the religious leaders opposed him so dramatically. They felt, in effect, that he was putting them out of business, the business of ruling, of deciding who was in and who was out. For Jesus, everyone could be in who believed and lived accordingly, as it should be today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 1:39-45)
 
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures there are a series of unexpected, miraculous births. They all come through the power of God to exceptional women who were called by God to greatness through their children. For both Elizabeth and Mary, the births were full of joy, but the deaths of their sons were painful for the sons to experience and for the mothers to bear.
 
When we see the emaciated bodies of children dying in Yemen and Syria and on and on, imagine the extreme sorrow of their mothers and fathers. Mary and Elizabeth bore that sorrow but did it in faith, knowing that their sons were living and dying for the salvation of a whole people. So many mothers today who lose their children to starvation, violence, illness, or the disease of addiction are left only with memories, lifelong and very painful. Let us pray and act in solidarity with those mothers and fathers in their grief that they may believe in the power of the Resurrection of Jesus and of their children and all children.
 
And let us do our part to bring peace to our broken world, the peace that Jesus offers to us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.
 
Image, “Mary’s Song,” by Sr. Therese Quinn, RSJ

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The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:9–11
 
Fr. Joseph Healy, a Maryknoll missioner, tells this story in his book, Once Upon a Time in Africa.
 
It was the night before Christmas in Africa, and an eight-year-old-boy from Ghana was devastated because his village had been destroyed by the so-called army of liberation. He felt none of the usual joy and anticipation of the season. His parents had been killed, and many of his friends were kidnapped and never returned.
 
In years past, Christmas in his village had always been a joyous festival with music, houses decorated with paper ornaments created by the children, roads filled with people visiting friends and relatives, and plentiful food and drink. The little boy wondered how Christmas could come without his parents and his village. How could he celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace since he had not known any peace, only war and suffering?
 
As the boy continued to think about Christmases past and about the present suffering, he heard the horn of a car. It was a group of travelers who had taken a detour through his village, because the bridge over the river had been destroyed. They said it was Christmas Eve, and they were on their way to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. They shared their food with the villagers and helped build a fire in the marketplace to keep the people warm.
 
The young boy’s oldest sister was pregnant. She was still in shock and had not spoken since she and her brother escaped the soldiers. She went into labor, and villagers and visitors removed their shirts to make a bed for her next to the fire. She gave birth to a beautiful boy. War or no war, they danced and sang Christmas carols until dawn. When the young mother was asked what she would name the baby, she spoke for the first time since the village had been destroyed. She said, “His name is Gye Nyame,” which means “except God I fear none.” And they celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas had come, in the midst of their suffering and despair, with the birth of the boy’s nephew. This was their hope. Christmas always comes—despite all circumstances. Christ is among us and continues to come into our darkest moments to bring light and hope to our wounded hearts and broken world.
 
Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas season and a year filled with the hope of Christ!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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