"FIRST IMPRESSIONS "

CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT December 25, 2017

Isaiah 9: 1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Christmas

Midnight

Mass

2017

 

We believe what Paul says: "the grace of God has appeared, saving all…." Christ, our Savior, has appeared in human history therefore, Paul tells us, we must live "temperately, justly and devoutly in this age." This new way of living is made possible by the gift of grace. He adds we are to live good lives, "as we await the blessed hope the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." This sentiment and wording are part of our prayer following the Lord’s prayer at our Eucharist:

For Paul, there is an unbreakable connection between what we believe and how we act. Notice, as is always the case, God’s grace is the source of our behavior. Grace has convinced us of God’s love, delivered us from sin and transformed us. As a result, we can now live a new life and are eager to do what is good, as we "await the blessed hope." Paul reminds us that we await, "the appearance of the glory of our great God...." The "glory of God" was a frequent image used by the prophets. It sustaining them and stirred up hope in God’s eventual coming to rescue the people from slavery.

Paul makes it quite clear that God’s grace is available for all people. No one is excluded. So, there is an implicit mandate for us: we are to exemplify the presence of God’s grace by how we live among each other in our Christian community. We must also give witness to God’s universal grace by living in new ways, sharing God’s love with all people – no exceptions based on religion, race, creed etc.

Christ has saved us from sin and has offered us eternal life. But all in our world has not yet been made new and so we "await the blessed hope," the return of the Messiah. Even as we Christians celebrate God’s birth among us, we must still wait for the future appearance of "the glory of our great God." Meanwhile, as we wait for God’s final triumph over sin and death, Paul describes the effects grace has on us: we are "eager to do what is good." We put into practice the good works grace enables within us.

In the gospel we notice the emergence of what Paul spoke of: "the glory of our great God." What a strange way for God to manifest "glory" to the world! We tend to sentimentalize the Nativity Story. But the narrative certainly doesn’t show what we would usually call "glory." First of all, Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary were "betrothed," and that Mary was pregnant. Betrothal was a binding commitment for a couple. It could be broken by death or divorce. Normally a couple would not be alone together unless they were already married. Mary is pregnant before the wedding. What would her Galilean townspeople think about her? The couple would have been the object of gossip. Things were not getting off to a good start. Where’s the promised "glory" in the Messiah’s birth?

The overcrowded conditions meant Mary had to have her child in a manger. Where’s the glory in that? When will God’s glory shine forth as the prophets foretold? Maybe it’s already shining and maybe we miss it at this stage of the story. God’s Son is poor, in the poorest of conditions – lying in a trough for feeding animals.

If we are looking for God’s glory amid the world’s brilliance and power we will not see it. The story invites us to look elsewhere for God’s shining forth – among poor and peripheral people. We look around our world, past the mall music, extravagant displays and over-the-top gifts. Fake glory. We need to look more closely at people and places that, on first glance, are inglorious. Where’s Christ being born and coming to us today? Is today’s "holy family" in a refugee camp waiting to be admitted by a host country? The true God comes not on a throne in Rome, but as a helpless baby in a stable, displaced and away from home. Where’s the glory in that?

We need help to see what Paul has called "the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." But wait a moment, the story continues. Once again we are among the least likely people, shepherds – in the least likely place, "in the fields." People in towns and cities considered shepherds the lowest class. They were wanderers, rootless and not to be trusted as they passed through with their flocks. Hide the valuables and guard the women and children. If we are going to see the glory of God we will have to put aside our criteria and sense of superiority. God shows up among the least likely people and in the strangest places.

These shepherds aren’t singled out because they were praying for a Messiah. Quite the contrary. Their profession kept them out with their sheep, unable to observe the Sabbath rituals and prayers with the community. We don’t even know if they could be counted among, what we call, "the deserving poor." They were just shepherds doing their jobs. At least, they seemed to be doing that well – "living in the fields and keeping night watch over their flock." Although it wasn’t for the shepherd’s singular worthiness, still God reveals God’s self to them: "the glory of the Lord shone around them."

God isn’t being sparing and minimalistic here; but is pulling out all the stops for these shepherds. No wonder they grow afraid. They are getting a glimpse into the immensity and grandeur of God and they know they don’t deserve this favor. Still, God’s beginning to show, in new ways, God’s love and mercy towards all people – starting with the outcast shepherds.

We have prayed all Advent: "Come Lord Jesus." The "blessed hope" has arrived and can be found already in our midst. The story directs us not to look for him in the grand and haughty, but among the least, the broken and the needy. Like the shepherds we will have to get up, put aside our presuppositions about worthiness, and come in from whatever far away field we find ourselves.

There was nothing inherently distinctive about the infant the shepherds saw lying in the manger. The shepherds will become the first evangelists when they share the good news of what they had seen and heard with others. What about us? Where shall we look for God? Among the bright, shiny and well-put together? Possibly. But certainly, at least that’s what the story tells us, we will find him among the simple and least significant. If that is true, let us get up and go look for him. When we find him we will praise God’s glory and get to work telling others about what we have found.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122517-midnight.cfm

QUOTABLE

Mary,

You birthed to earth your son,

You birthed the Son of God from heaven by breathing

the Spirit of God.

– Mechthild of Magdeburg

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

For a child is born to us. . .
Isaiah 9:5

I remember my sense of wonder when I first held my children in my arms after they were born—how could so much love be generated by these little strangers who had come into my life. I have been blessed to be a mother and now, a grandmother. For many children in the world, however, the loving bond between parent and child is missing and the miracle of the Christ-child within them becomes lost in statistics. Look at the following:

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there exist more than 210 million orphans throughout the world. Of these orphaned children, more than 86 million orphans are living in India, more than 10 million orphans are living throughout Mexico, more than 3.5 million orphaned children exist throughout Asia, and more than 5.5 orphaned children are presently living in Africa. The number of orphaned children in Africa is expected to rise to more than 44 million by the year 2010 as a direct result of the widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic. Other statistics show more than 1.5 million orphans living throughout Eastern Europe, nearly 400,000orphans living throughout Latin America, and more than 135,000 orphaned children enrolled within the U.S. foster care system. As a direct result of these numbers, more than 35,000 children die each day due to hunger and malnutrition.

Staggering numbers aren’t they? Each one of these orphaned children, made in the image of God, carry love within them and deserve to be loved. Contemplating these lives makes my head reel and my heart ache on this day of such great joy. I wish I could adopt them all.

This Christmas Day, when we so thoroughly celebrate the birth of one child, make the time to pray for the orphans of the world by spiritually sending your love to them like an invisible thread. Let’s wrap all children everywhere in our love for them. . .for a child is born to us!!!

TO EVERYONE: MAY YOUR CHRISTMAS BE FULL OF LOVING BLESSINGS AND MAY YOU BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS THROUGHOUT THE NEW YEAR

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Mary wrapped the child in swaddling clothes

and laid him in a manger,

because there was no room for him in the inn.

Reflection:

If we are looking for God’s glory amid the world’s brilliance and power we will not see it. The story invites us to look elsewhere for God’s shining forth – among poor and peripheral people. We need to look around our world, past the mall music, extravagant displays and over-the-top gifts. Fake glory.

So we ask ourselves:

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:  http://www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/ - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626