Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
The angel said to [the shepherds], “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 and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14
Glory to God in the highest! The celebration of the glorious birth of Christ the Lord has begun…Merry Christmas!
Try to put yourself in the shoes of these shepherds. Little excitement would have regularly come their way. They were poor, simple shepherds who spent their days and nights tending the sheep of the fields. That night, a group of them had gathered together for camaraderie. It’s easy to imagine the scene of normal talking, laughing and being together. Little did they realize what was about to happen.
As they were gathered, an angel of God appeared to them announcing “good news of great joy!” They must have been stunned. But that’s only the beginning. The angel announced that the Savior of the World had been born and then, much to their surprise, they witnessed the whole host of heavenly angels singing praises: “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” “Glory to God in the highest!”
These humble shepherds were the first to be called by God to go and greet the newborn King. What’s amazing is that God did not first call the “important” of the age to come worship. He called these poor shepherds.
One thing this tells us is that, in the eyes of God, all are equal. God does not pick favorites from among those who are seen as important in the eyes of the world. No, He sees the great value and dignity of each and every person and desires all of us, rich or poor, powerful or weak, to come to Him in adoration and love.
Christmas is a time filled with many exciting things. Often there are gifts and gatherings, food and good times. But more than anything else, Christmas must be seen as a time for us to step back and take in the deep and rich meaning of this sacred event. We must see, first, that God entered our human condition and, in doing so, is able to identify with all that we experience in life. God understands human life! He lived it.
Second, we must understand that the birth of the Savior of the world and His appearance to shepherds reveals that each and every one of us is invited to come and meet Him. God humbled Himself in the most profound way so that we could come to know Him and His perfect love for us. “Do not be afraid,” as the angel said, to come and behold the Christ who came as your Savior. Do not be afraid to come to meet Him, love Him, adore Him and get to know Him. God is given to us, today, as an infant. Small, weak, fragile and innocent. Do not be afraid to gaze upon His humble presence and to give glory to God for His blessed coming.
Lord, I love You and adore You. I thank You for the unfathomable gift of Your divine presence among us. I thank You, especially, for the invitation You offer me to join the poor shepherds as they come to adore You. May this Christmas celebration be one in which I understand, more deeply, the incredible love You have for all Your children. May I know that You came for me, to save me and to invite me to worship. May I, this day, enter into that worship and adoration with all the Heavenly Host. Jesus, I trust in You.
Feast of the Holy Family
Sunday in the Octave of Christmas
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. Luke 2:51-52 (Year C)
On this, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In honoring them, we also honor all families,big or small. And in honoring all families, we honor the family of God, the Church. But most especially, we focus in on the hidden, day-to-day life of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
What was it like to live day in and day out in the household of St. Joseph? What was it like to have Jesus for a son, Mary as a wife and mother, and Joseph as a father and husband? Their home would have certainly been a sacred place and a dwelling of true peace and unity. But it would have also been so much more.
The family home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph would have been, in numerous ways, just like any other home. They would have related together, talked, had fun, disagreed, worked, eaten, dealt with problems, and encountered everything else that makes up daily family life.
Of course, the virtues of Jesus and Mary were perfect, and St. Joseph was a truly “just man.” Therefore, the overriding characteristic of their home would have been love.
But with that said, their family would not have been exempt from daily toil, hurt and challenges that face most families. For example, they would have encountered the death of loved ones, St. Joseph most likely passed away prior to Jesus’ public ministry. They would have encountered misunderstanding and gossip from others. Our Blessed Mother, for example, was found with child out of wedlock. This would have been a topic of discussion among many acquaintances for sure. They would have had to fulfill all daily chores, earn a living, put food on the table, attend gatherings of family and friends and the like. They would have lived normal family life in every way.
This is significant because it reveals God’s love for family life. The Father allowed His Divine Son to live this life and, as a result, elevated family life to a place within the Trinity. The holiness of the Holy Family reveals to us that every family is invited to share in God’s divine life and to encounter ordinary daily life with grace and virtue.
Reflect, today, upon your own family life. Some families are strong in virtue, some struggle with basic communication. Some are faithful day in and day out, some are broken and deeply wounded. No matter the case, know that God wants to enter more deeply into your family life just as it is right now. He desires to give you strength and virtue to live as the Holy Family. Surrender yourself and your family, this day, and invite the Triune God to make your family a holy family.
Lord, I do offer myself to You this day and in doing so I offer You my family. I offer every relationship, be it good or difficult, and I offer every challenge we face. Please come and sanctify my family, making it holy in imitation of your family in Nazareth. Jesus, I trust in You.
Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr
Second day of the Octave of Christmas, December 26
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:58-59
What a shocking contrast! Yesterday, our Church celebrated the joyous birth of the Savior of the world. Today we honor the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Yesterday, the world was fixated on a humble and precious infant lying in a manger. Today, we stand by as witnesses to the blood that was shed by St. Stephen for professing his faith in this little child.
In a sense, this feast day adds some immediate drama to our Christmas celebration. It’s a drama that should never have happened, but it’s a drama that was permitted by God as St. Stephen bore the greatest witness of faith to this newborn King.
Perhaps there are many reasons to include the feast of the first Christian Martyr in the Church’s calendar on the second day of the Octave of Christmas. One such reason is to immediately remind us of the consequences of giving our lives to Him who was born an infant in Bethlehem. The consequences? We must give Him everything, holding nothing back, even if it means persecution and death.
At first, this could appear to strip away our Christmas joy. It could appear to put a damper on this festive season. But with the eyes of faith, this feast day only adds to the glorious solemnity of this Christmas celebration.
It reminds us that the birth of Christ requires everything from us. We must be ready and willing to give our lives to Him completely and without reserve. The birth of the Savior of the world means we must reprioritize our lives and commit to choosing Him above all else, even above our own lives. It means we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus, living selflessly and faithfully to His most holy will.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we often hear. This is true. He is the reason for life and the reason to give our lives without reserve.
Reflect, today, upon the demand imposed upon you by the birth of the Savior of the world. From an earthly perspective, this “demand” can appear overwhelming. But from the perspective of faith, we recognize that His birth is nothing more than an opportunity for us to enter into new life. We are called to enter into a new life of grace and total self-giving. Let yourself embrace this Christmas celebration by looking at ways you are being called to give of yourself more completely. Do not be afraid to give everything to God and others. It’s a sacrifice worth giving and is made possible by this precious Child.
Lord, as we continue the glorious celebration of Your birth, help me to understand the effect that Your coming among us must have on my life. Help me to clearly perceive Your invitation to give myself completely to Your glorious will. May Your birth instill in me a willingness to be born anew into a life of selfless and sacrificial giving. May I learn to imitate the love that St. Stephen had for You and to live that radical love in my life. St. Stephen, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Third day of the Octave of Christmas, December 27
Beloved: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life— for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4
This, the third day of the Octave of Christmas, is dedicated to St. John. St. John is particularly important to honor during Christmas because of the fact that so much of what we know about our Divine Lord comes from him. Not only did he write one of the four Gospels, he also wrote various letters that are preserved. The letter above was from the first reading of the Mass for today.
In this letter, John echoes what he wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel when he spoke of the Eternal Word, existing from the beginning, taking on flesh. Here, he echoes that “What was from the beginning…was made visible to us.” Namely, the Eternal Son of the Father took on flesh for us to see. John was a witness to this.
As we honor St. John, it’s good to try to look at Christmas from his perspective. He would have been able to ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation of God throughout his life. He would have pondered the reality that this man whom he came to know personally and intimately existed from before time and was a member of the Most Holy Trinity. For John, the Incarnation would have been particularly real and overwhelming in a personal and transforming way.
Try to look at Jesus from the perspective of John. But look, especially, at the Incarnation from John’s perspective after Jesus had ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. For decades afterwards, John dedicated his life to the spreading of the Good News. He dedicated his life to pondering the great mystery by allowing himself to see, more clearly, that the human being with whom he walked and talked, was both God and man. He would have never fully exhausted this great mystery and would have continually been in awe of what he experienced.
Furthermore, John would have been blessed to continue “touching” the presence of the God-Man every time he celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Little by little he would have understood that Jesus was fully present to him through this gift.
Reflect, today, upon this great Apostle. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for his deeply insightful writings, and try to enter into his mind and heart as he prayerfully reflected upon Jesus throughout his life. He is a gift to the Church for which we enter into gratitude today.
Lord, You are glorious and beyond my understanding. Your divine presence in this world is truly mysterious and awe-inspiring. Thank You for coming among us and thank You for revealing Yourself to us through the writings of St. John the Apostle. May I come to know You more deeply through all that he has written and may I always imitate his example of a beloved disciple. St. John, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Fourth day of the Octave of Christmas, December 28
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Matthew 2:16
Today, on the fourth day of the Octave of Christmas we are given a similar witness to the one we received on December 26, the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. But today’s feast presents the same evil in a different and even more tragic light. Here, out of envy and hatred, Herod had countless innocent children killed in an attempt to eliminate Jesus, the newborn King.
We can only imagine the grief that would have filled the town of Bethlehem and its vicinity as the soldiers went through killing those innocent children as their parents watched helplessly. On one hand, it’s shocking to knowthat God permitted this. On the other hand, on a level of deep faith, we must strive to understand the witness that these innocent children gave.
Though this was an unspeakable crime and evil, from the perspective of eternity, God will sort it out. In Heaven, and forevermore, these innocent victims will wear the martyr’s crown and will be honored by the angels and saints as the first witnesses to the newborn King. Though this may not have eased the pain at the time, it will certainly transform the pain those families felt as they enter into the justice of Heaven.
Their witness reveals to us much about our own lives. It reveals that there are many times in life when things are simply not fair and not just. The massacre of these innocent children is a powerful reminder of this fact. But one thing we must hold on to is that God will right every wrong in the end. Today, we celebrate a solemn feast in the honor of these children as a way of saying that God has transformed this tragedy into something glorious.
The same is true with each one of us. Whatever your “tragedy” may be, know that the Son of God entered our world, taking on our fallen human nature, so that He could make all things right.
Reflect, today, upon that which is most painful for you this Christmas season. Whatever it may be, you are invited to unite your hurt and pain today with the sorrow of the families who lost these little ones. Let God do for you what He ultimately did for all of them. Let His Incarnation, death and resurrection transform your hurt into a crown of martyrdom. In the end, the Lord will be victorious in your life if you let Him.
Lord, I surrender all hurt, pain and confusion to You. I unite myself, this day, with the sorrow of those who lost these little children and I trust that their lives, as they reign now in Heaven with You, are a sign for me of things to come. Your birth into our world was the greatest sign that You are our Savior and that You can turn all things into good. Jesus, I entrust my life to You and know that You will right every wrong. Jesus, I trust in You.
Fifth day in the Octave of Christmas, December 29
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
On this, the fifth day of the Octave of Christmas, we are given the witness of the prophet Simeon. This holy man was promised by God by a personal revelation that he would actually see, with his own eyes, the Savior of the World. Throughout his life he would have anticipated this moment. He would have longed for it and hoped for it. And then, one day the moment came. Simeon would have woken up that day going about his normal routine like any other day. However, the moment that Mary and Joseph brought their newborn Child into the temple, Simeon knew, in his heart, that this Child was the promised Savior.
His words are powerful. He says, “Lord, now You can let Your servant go in peace…for my eyes have seen the salvation You have prepared…” In other words, Simeon realized that his life was now complete. He was ready to die because he had now been privileged to actually see the Christ. He held Him in his arms and gave glory to the Father for this moment.
We should strive to learn from holy Simeon. No, we are not a prophet in the Temple some 2,000 years ago, but we are privileged to see the Christ each day in numerous ways. The Child Simeon held was God indeed. But He was God under the veil of the flesh of a little Child. Simeon, nonetheless, saw Him for who He was and rejoiced.
We must strive to perceive the presence of the Savior all around us and rejoice with Simeon’s joy. Christ is present in every heart that is given to God, every Sacrament of the Church, every reading of the Holy Scripture, and He is especially present to us within our hearts. Our hearts must be that temple in which we discover the presence of the Christ Child and we must take Him into our lives rejoicing in how close He is.
Reflect, today, upon that scene of Simeon taking the Child into his hands and seeing the Savior under the veil of the flesh and bones of this Infant. Seek out Christ in the same way that Simeon did and ponder the many ways that He is present to You. Know that He is near and that He wants to fill your life with His peace.
Lord, I thank You for the great witness of Simeon the Prophet. Thank You for Your fidelity to Simeon in letting him see You as a little Child. May I always imitate his great faith and seek You all my life, waiting for You to come to me in veiled ways so that my heart may rejoice in Your presence. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Prophetess Anna
Sixth day in the Octave of Christmas, December 30
There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38
Today, the sixth day of the Octave of Christmas, we honor the prophetess Anna. She, like Simeon whom we honored yesterday, spent her days in the temple worshipping God day and night. She anticipated the coming Messiah and, by a personal and special revelation from God, recognized His presence as He was presented by Mary and Joseph.
How did Anna know that this was the Messiah? How did she know that this little Child was the one whom all were awaiting? Somehow she knew and she rejoiced in this knowledge.
What’s beautiful about Anna’s response is that she did not keep her joy to herself. Rather, when she saw the Christ Child, she “spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” There is little doubt that her prophetic words were filled with joy and were also quite authoritative. She would have spoken as one who knew the truth of this Child and as one who eagerly wanted to tell everyone about Him.
There is a great lesson for each one of us in her encounter with Jesus. When You encounter our Lord in your life of faith and prayer, do you then eagerly desire to share your faith with others? Perhaps it is by your words, but perhaps it’s, more often, by your witness.
The bottom line is that the true meaning of Christmas must be shared. It must be proclaimed far and wide so that all will understand the joy of the coming of the Savior of the World.
Reflect, today, upon Anna the prophetess. Try to imagine the joy in her heart as she spoke of this newborn King. And pray that her joy and prophetic example will inspire you to continually proclaim the Lord to all whom God puts in your path.
Lord, may I always remember the reason for Christmas. May I always keep the joy of Your coming among us at the center of my celebration. You, dear Lord, are the greatest Gift ever given. I thank You for Your life and I pray that You will help me to share the Gift of Yourself with others. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Eternal Word Becomes Flesh
Seventh day in the Octave of Christmas, December 31
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5
On this, the seventh day of the Octave of Christmas, we are given a mystery. The mystery of the “Word.” It’s a language that is veiled and yet revealing at the same time. It presents Jesus to us as the “Word.” He is the Word who takes on flesh and is eternal, from “the beginning with God.” The passage goes on to say that the Word was God and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The term “Word,” given to Jesus in this passage, is a translation of the Greek word “Logos.” Logos means “plan,” “reason,” “logic.” It also can be understood as the spoken word. In this passage, it especially reveals to us that God “spoke” from eternity His perfect plan of salvation and this wisdom spoken is a Person. The Person is the Divine Son of God. Thus, when the Son “speaks” and when He is “spoken” by the Father, all things come to be.
Perhaps that’s quite confusing. In fact, this is partly the point. The point is that this beginning to John’s Gospel reveals to us that the action of God creating all things and ultimately fulfilling His wisdom through the Incarnation, the Son becoming flesh, is a mysterious plan far beyond what we could ever comprehend or fathom. We should see this mysterious language as a statement in and of itself. The statement is this: Seek to understand the mystery, but know that the mystery of Christmas and Creation is beyond you. But seek to understand and comprehend nonetheless.
Christmas should be a time of great joy and celebration. It should be a time in which we reflect upon the nativity of Christ the Lord. We should read the story, listen to Christmas music and not set that all aside until our Christmas season is over. But as we do all of that, we should always keep before us the fact that Christmas is a great mystery of faith.
Reflect, today, upon this language of St. John. “In the beginning was the Word…” “The Word was God…” “The Word became flesh…” Let yourself know, this day, that you do not fully know this mystery and as you face this reality, allow the Eternal Word to draw you in one step deeper.
Lord, Jesus, Eternal Word of the Father, I thank You for coming among us and for making Your eternal dwelling present to us. Thank You for the great mystery of Christmas. Help me to always celebrate this season with great joy and gratitude, and also with a sense of mystery. May I always realize that the mystery of Christmas will never be fully understood. May this mystery draw me closer each and every day so that I may fall more deeply in love with You, my eternal God. Jesus, I trust in You.
Blessed Mary, Mother of God
The Octave Day of Christmas, January 1
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Luke 2:19
Our Christmas Octave would not be complete without paying special attention to the glorious Mother of God! Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of the Saviour of the World, is properly called the “Mother of God.” It is worth reflecting upon this powerful title of our Blessed Mother. And it’s important to understand that this title says just as much about Jesus as it does about His Blessed Mother.
In calling Mary the “Mother of God,” we especially acknowledge one fact of human life. A mother is not just the source of one’s flesh, she is not just the mother of the body of her children, she is the mother of that person. Being a mother is not just something biological, it is something sacred and holy and is part of the divine order of God’s creation. Jesus was her Child and this Child is God. Therefore, it is proper logic to call Mary the “Mother of God.”
It’s an amazing fact to think about. God has a mother! He has a particular person who carried Him in her womb, nursed Him, raised Him, taught Him, loved Him, was there for Him, and pondered who He was throughout His life. This last fact is especially beautiful to look at.
The Gospel passage above says, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And she did this as a caring mother. Her love for Jesus was as unique as the love of any mother. However, it should be noted that she was a mother in perfection and loved Him with a perfect love, He who was not only her Son, but was also God and was perfect in every way. What does this reveal? It reveals that the motherly love shared between Mary and Jesus was profound, inspiring, mysterious, glorious and truly sacred! The mystery of their love is worth reflecting on throughout our lives, keeping it fully alive in our hearts. She is an example for every mother and is also an example for all of us who seek to love others with a pure and holy heart.
Reflect, today, upon the holy and captivating relationship that Mary would have shared with her Divine Son. Try to fathom what this love would have been like. Imagine the deep emotion and passion that would have filled her heart. Imagine the level of unwavering commitment she would have had. Imagine the unbreakable bond that was forged as a result of her love. What a beautiful celebration this is to conclude this Octave of Christmas Day!
Dearest Mother Mary, you loved your Divine Son with a perfect love. Your heart burned with an unquenchable fire of motherly charity. Your bond with Jesus was one that was perfect in every way. Help me to open my heart to that same love you share with me. Come be my mother and care for me as you cared for your Son. May I also love you with the love Jesus had for you and with the love He now lavishes upon you in Heaven. Mother Mary, the Mother of God, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
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