Monthly Archives: December 2022

Why We Celebrate Christmas

After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, its true meaning and impact may fade against the backdrop of today’s culture.  Yet, if we think about it, God’s willingness to become one of us is the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.  In John’s Gospel we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

Here we have God the Father, creator of all that exists, creator of the millions of galaxies and the billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years. Here we have God who created the atom and the molecule whose size is measured in nanometers – that’s one billionth of a meter.  This God, who created the human person with a body, soul, and mind, different from all other creatures, became one of his created in order to free each of us from our sins and the world from its bondage to sin – to reconcile us to him and one another.   

Father William Barry, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God no service if we downplay what God has done in becoming human.” 

It seems like it is easier for us to view Jesus in his divinity than it is for us to accept fully his humanity.  But God in Jesus was a real human person, born of Mary in the humblest of circumstances.  He had to be toilet trained, learn a language and be raised from childhood to an adult just as we all have been.  We can be sure that Jesus’ humanity felt the sting of the whip and the piercing pain of the nails.  God is no stranger to suffering.  God in Jesus knows what human life is like from the inside.  His desire for friendship, to dwell with us and in us knows no bounds.

Genesis tells us we were created in the image of God, but from the very beginning, we have failed to live up to that expectation.  God had to show us how to be his image by becoming one of us. After showing us by his example, he then sent us the Holy Spirit to live in us and enable us to be his presence and bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives.

A cobbler does not become a shoe, a cabinet maker does not become a cabinet, but God the Father and creator of all that exists became one of us.  Little wonder that history’s calendar is measured in terms of before and after this event.

Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus for what it is – the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.

Praising God for His Actions

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1:46)

We may recognize this verse as the first line of Mary’s Magnificat, as she praises God for his request for her to be the mother of his Son, Jesus.  According to the Gospel of Luke, she offers this prayer right after entering the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth to serve Elizabeth during her pregnancy with John the Baptist.  Through the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” and says to her, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45) 

I would like to praise God for a particular blessing that he has bestowed on our daughter, Emily, who was born with Down syndrome.  After graduating from St. Paul VI Catholic High School in the Arlington, Virginia Diocese, one of the first Catholic high schools in the nation to offer special education, she subsequently went to work for a bakery and catering business involved in various food preparation tasks, including dog biscuits.  The bakery employed as many as thirty-five individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, some of whom included friends from her high school. 

Emily worked for the bakery for twelve years until a number of circumstances, including COVID, caused the bakery to close its doors.  For more than two years we have been searching for work opportunities for Emily, but none appeared to work for her. We prayed continuously that God would find something for her.

This past summer her sisters came up with the idea for her to offer “Coffee and Community” after daily mass at our parish church, St. Mark.  We got approval from our pastor, her sisters developed signage and name tags, and we were able to contract with a job coach to assist in making the coffee and set up.  In October she began to offer Coffee and Community every Tuesday and Thursday after daily mass. Emily helps my wife bake cookies to go with the coffee. The church staff is very supportive, and the people of our parish are getting the opportunity to interact with someone with a disability.

Emily was born with an inclination to love.  When she meets someone, her first reaction is to give them a hug.  During this season when we celebrate God becoming one of us, we praise God and give him thanks for his care and provision for Emily.  She is now doing what she loves to do most – greeting people with her beautiful smile and giving them a hug. 

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.   

Wheat and Chaff

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Luke 3:16, 17)

These are the words of John the Baptist describing Jesus who will come after him.  Like a lot of scripture, these words can have multiple levels of interpretation.  As in the parable of the Last Judgment with its separation of the sheep and the goats, here we have the separation of the wheat and the chaff.  Both references point to a separation of the good and the bad, with the potential consequence of determining our eternal destination.

John’s reference to the wheat and chaff likely relate to our present condition since he is talking about what Jesus will do for us – he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. If we accept Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit, he will separate the wheat from the chaff — preserving the wheat and destroying the chaff.

Because of our fallen human nature, we all have chaff in our lives.  Jesus invites us to accept his winnowing fan — God’s grace to separate and remove the chaff.  For most of us this is a life-long process.  The chaff can represent the more obvious sins such as those that violate the Ten Commandments, or the more subtle forms, such as failures to love as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, or failures to reflect the Beatitudes in Mt. 5:1-12.

In our preparations to celebrate God becoming one of us in the birth of Jesus, perhaps we could spend some of the same energy seeking Jesus’s help in removing the chaff from our lives as we do in buying presents, decorating our houses and preparing the Christmas meal.   

Some questions we might ask ourselves this week include: Am I patient and kind with store clerks when shopping?   At holiday parties, do I listen more than I talk?  Do I keep my anger in check when I feel I’m being slighted?  Am I willing to adjust my plans when someone needs help?  Am I spending time with Jesus as well as with family and friends?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6 NIV)