Christmas: Mass at Midnight

First Reading

(Isaiah 9: 1-6)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian. For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames. For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13)

Refrain: Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.

1) Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all you lands!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name. (Refrain)

2) Announce his salvation day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations, among all peoples, his wondrous deeds! (Refrain)

3)Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them! Then shall all the trees of the forest exult. (Refrain)

4) They shall exult before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy. (Refrain)

Second Reading

(Titus 2: 11-14)

Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

Gospel

(Luke 2: 1-14)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 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 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.”

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)

Resources:

- "Surprised By Christmas". From Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922. Used with permission.
- Good News, by Rev. Joseph T. Nolan. Liturgical Publications, Inc., 2875 South James Drive, New Berlin, WI. 53151.
- Days of the Lord, Volume 1, pp. 191-208. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 1991.
- Catechism: # 525 (the mystery of Christmas). United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC: 1994. [As recommended in A Homily Sourcebook (The Universal Catechism), by N. Abeyasingha. The Pastoral Press, Washington, D.C.: 1993.]
- The Gospel of Luke, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 1975.
- The Letter to Titus, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 1975.
- "Christmas Passion", by William J. Bausch. From More Telling Stories, Compelling Stories, pp. 130-133. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, Ct. 06355: 1993.
- "Christmas Code", by William J. Bausch. From Storytelling the Word, by William J. Bausch, pp. 203-205. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, Ct. 06355: 1996. (Includes discussion of the real meaning of the "Twelve Days of Christmas".)
- "Three Questions for Christmas", by William J. Bausch. From Storytelling the Word, by William J. Bausch, pp. 206-211. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, Ct. 06355: 1996.
- "Christmas Music", by William J. Bausch. From Telling Stories, Compelling Stories, pp. 130-133. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, Ct. 06355: 1991.

Homily
The Spirit of Giving

I'm sure you have all heard the phrase "the spirit of Christmas". So what is the spirit of Christmas? Perhaps it is encapsulated in the following story.

I think we would all agree that the spirit of Christmas is not about selling pills. Or about commercialism in all of its many forms. It is not about running around like crazy purchasing gifts for others only because “they would never forgive me if I didn’t”. There’s nothing like doing something for someone else because otherwise the wrath of God would most assuredly be called down upon our heads. I recently read a story which might help us to find out what is the real spirit of Christmas. The author writes:

So perhaps this is our answer to what is the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is not about how much we are going to get or whose feelings would be hurt if we don’t give them something of value. Here was this girl whose concerns for what she was going to get for Christmas were the farthest things from her mind. She was only concerned about giving this boy, who was a total stranger to her, something special.

If we think about it, Christmas is all about someone’s birthday. And on someone’s birthday, we give them gifts as a sign of our love for them. This morning, did any of you have any gifts neatly wrapped under the tree for the child Jesus to open? I’m certain the answer to that question is no. But you see, Jesus doesn’t want gifts that are of this world because he made them all anyway. Just like the girl in our story who wanted so very much to give something very special to this boy, Jesus desires something very special from us too, something that belongs in the next world with him.

There is a Christmas song of which I have become very fond over the last few years. It’s not usually included on many of those numerous Christmas recordings we own. It has some extraordinarily beautiful verses. But it is the last one that really cuts to the chase. It goes like this:

This is the gift which Jesus desires the most: the love that resides in our hearts. This love doesn’t have to be gift-wrapped and he won’t be hurt if we don’t offer it freely. He will continue to love us anyway. However, sometimes we may find it difficult to offer our hearts to the Lord because they are filled with pain, anger and hurt. But if that is the case, if that is where our hearts are at this moment, then we should offer them to him just as they are now. We need to lay our hearts and the cares within them at the feet of the child Jesus and tell him that this is the best we can do right now. Then we will truly trust in him to take care of our problems in his own time. And in offering them to him, we will be coming out of ourselves to a more “other-centered” life where peace can reign in our hearts. Our problems will not be resolved, but we will be able to deal with them in a more positive manner.

This past week, we had a service we call “the longest night” at our mausoleum. It is targeted to all those who might be having a difficult time dealing with grief at this normally festive and joyful time of the year. During the service, I used this story that I had read recently on the internet.

I emphasized to those who attended the service that she had done all this in memory of her deceased husband. She had found a way to get beyond her grief at this normally joyful time of the year. And she had done that by focusing on the needs of others.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? I think I can summarize it in the lyrics of this song I heard so many years ago now:

May the spirit of Christmas be yours now and throughout the new year.

References:

1. From SPEAKER'S TREASURY OF POLITICAL STORIES, ANECDOTES, AND HUMOR by Gerald Tomlinson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1990. (Quoted in Rejoice, from Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922. Used with permission.

2. Source Unknown.

3. In the Bleak Midwinter. Words by Christina Rossetti.

4. From http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=143818740

5. Love Is the Meaning of Christmas 

(Copyright December 23, 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@yahoo.com .)

Homily
An Easter Egg Christmas

One of the traditions in our family every Christmas season is to watch as many of the traditional Christmas movies as we can. Among our favorites is A Christmas Carol, which you all know is the story of Scrooge that is based on the book by Charles Dickens. It is really the story of how he learned not to focus on money (which is really a focus on himself) and look to care for the needs of others. As I'm sure you remember, he is first approached in his office by two men soliciting funds for the needy. It is to them that he utters the famous phrase "are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?" which would come back to haunt him later in the story. Then he gets a visit from his nephew, Fred, the only child of his sister who died giving birth to him. Scrooge wants nothing to do with him although his own father ostracized him for exactly the same reason: because Scrooge's mother had died giving birth to him. He also does not care for the woman he has married. Fred wants to invite him to come for Christmas dinner but Scrooge refuses for all of these reasons. Of course, Scrooge then receives the visits from Marley and the three spirits who get him to see the error of his ways.

I make this brief review with you because it leads up to one of the most poignant moments in the entire movie, at least for me. During the revelations of the spirits, Scrooge finds out that his sister had asked him on her deathbed to care for his nephew after she was gone. So after the visits of the spirits, he goes to his nephew's home to see if he can still take him up on his offer. After he gives his coat, gloves and hat to the maid, he approaches the doors of the parlor where the guests are all gathered. There is a touching moment as he looks back at her as if to ask if he should go in. She nods to him that he should. So he opens the doors and everyone of course is shocked to see him. He then asks Fred if his dinner offer is still open. When he says yes, Scrooge then approaches Fred's wife and says these wonderful words: "Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years?". She gets up and kisses him, telling him how glad Fred is to see him.

In the past when I have preached on Christmas, I have spoken about "the real spirit of Christmas". After all, a birthday is a day when we give presents to the person who is celebrating the birthday. So what do we offer our Lord on his birthday? Well perhaps this story might help give us an answer.

A mother tells about an Easter egg hunt in which her then five-year-old daughter participated (Bear with me. There is a link to Christmas here!). The daughter, whose name was Ashley, came back with three eggs. One had a certificate for a free Happy Meal from McDonald's and the second had several tokens for Chuckie Cheese's Pizza Palace. Then they opened the third one. She picks up the story:

[Editor's note: Ashley is now seventeen years old and has been actively involved in the Salvation Army Angel Tree project each year, wrapping and distributing gifts to children. In many cases, the Angel gifts are the only Christmas presents that these children receive. To become involved in the Angel Tree Project in your area, call your local branch of the Salvation Army or go to www.salvationarmyusa.org . (1)]

This child had already learned the lesson which Scrooge learned the hard way: that Christmas is about giving and not so much about getting or being selfish with all the blessings that God has so generously bestowed upon us. Perhaps in our own lives we have had occasion to say our own variation of Scrooge's words to someone: "Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years?". Our Lord has told us that whatever we do for the least of these, his brethren, we do for him. So Ashley and her mom gave our Lord a wonderful gift that Christmas, which has been carried on ever since, a gift of caring for the needs of others. We are called to do the same: to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. May you all have a blessed, giving, Christmas!

Reference:

1. The Easter Egg Christmas by Denise Peebles from Chicken Soup for Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap.

(Copyright 2010 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the site noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Homily #2

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Jesus Christ
Background

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" was the headline that appeared over an editorial in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. Both the headline phrase and the editorial itself have become indelible parts of popular Christmas lore in the United States.

In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was faced with a minor family crisis. His eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, had begun to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, her friends telling her that he was fictional.

Dr. O'Hanlon told her to write to the Sun, a prominent New York newspaper at the time, assuring her the paper would tell her the truth. While he was possibly passing the buck because he could not bear to tell his daughter that Santa Claus was a myth, he unwittingly gave one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question, and address the philosophical issues behind it.

Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time which saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the editorial page, below even an editorial on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", its message struck a chord in the hearts of people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language; the Sun itself reprinted it annually for years after its initial publication. Although many have questioned the veracity of the letter's authorship, noting that a young girl such as Virginia would not refer to children her own age as "my little friends", the message contained in the response is considered as pertinent today as in 1897.

The Article from the Sun

We take pleasure in answering at once thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor -- I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? -- Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-fifth street.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Interpretation

Although Francis Church's response to Virginia's question addresses the existence of a secular figure, Santa Claus, his response could just as easily be addressing the question of whether or not we believe in Jesus Christ. All we would have to do is replace the name of "Jesus Christ" wherever "Santa Claus" appears in the text and remember that we humans are all children in the eyes of God. This is how such a substitution would change the meaning of certain portions of the editorial:

This is truly the message of Christmas. To paraphrase Church, "although we do not see him, our faith in Jesus Christ changes everything. Without our faith, there would be no reason for love and generosity and devotion to exist, and these are what gives our lives its highest beauty and joy. There would be nothing to make tolerable this existence of ours and no enjoyment, except in sense and sight of the world around us. The eternal light which fills our childhood would be extinguished."

I would like to close with my altering of Church's last paragraph: "No Jesus Christ! Thank God! he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart" of all God's children. This Christmas season, let us truly thank God for the gift that he has given to us: his Son, Jesus Christ.

Reference:

1. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes,_Virginia,_there_is_a_Santa_Claus )

(Copyright 2005 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the site noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Homily

The Spirit of Christmas

I'm sure you have all heard the phrase "the spirit of Christmas". So what is the spirit of Christmas? Perhaps it is encapsulated in the following story.

I think we would all agree that the spirit of Christmas is not about selling pills. Or about commercialism in all of its many forms. It is not about running around like crazy purchasing gifts for others only because "they would never forgive me if I didn't". There's nothing like doing something for someone else because otherwise the wrath of God would most assuredly be called down upon our heads! I recently read a story by one author who also found out what Christmas was not about.

I think we would all agree with the author of this story that God used these children to remind him of what Christmas is all about. The spirit of Christmas is not about how much we are going to get or whose feelings would be hurt if we don't give them something of value. Here were these two children whose concerns for what they were going to get for Christmas were the farthest things from their mind. They were only concerned about giving their mother something special.

If you think about it, Christmas is all about someone's birthday. And on someone's birthday, you give them gifts as a sign of your love for them. This morning, did any of you have any gifts neatly wrapped under the tree for the child Jesus to open? I'm certain the answer to that question is no. But you see, Jesus doesn't want gifts that are of this world because he made them all anyway. Just like the children in our story who wanted so very much to give something very special to their mom, Jesus desires something very special from us too, something that belongs in the next world with him.

There is a Christmas song of which I have become very fond over the last few years. It's not usually included on many of those numerous Christmas recordings we own. It is called In The Bleak Midwinter and has some extraordinarily beautiful verses. But it is the last one that really cuts to the chase. It goes like this:

This is the gift which Jesus desires the most: the love that resides in our hearts. This love doesn't have to be gift-wrapped and he won't be hurt if we don't offer it freely. He will continue to love us anyway. However, sometimes we may find it difficult to offer our hearts to the Lord because they are filled with pain, anger and hurt. But if that is the case, if that is where our hearts are at this moment, then we should offer them to him just as they are now. We need to lay our hearts and the cares within them at the feet of the child Jesus and tell him that this is the best we can do right now. Then we will truly trust in him to take care of our problems in his own time. And in offering them to him, we will be coming out of ourselves to a more "other-centered" life where peace can reign in our hearts. Our problems will not be resolved, but we will be able to deal with them in a more positive manner.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? The meaning of Christmas is all about love: the love of a Creator who loved us enough to become one like us; I think it is well summarized in the verses to another Christmas song which says all of this better than I ever could.

May the spirit of Christmas, which is love, be yours now and throughout the new year.

References:

1. From SPEAKER'S TREASURY OF POLITICAL STORIES, ANECDOTES, AND HUMOR by Gerald Tomlinson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1990. (Quoted in Rejoice, from Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922. Used with permission.

2. Golden Shoes for Jesus. By Helga Schmidt. Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, pp. 56-58, copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. (This resource, as well as many other Chicken Soup books, and a specially-priced Chicken Soup package of them, is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)

3. In the Bleak Midwinter. Words by Christina Rossetti.

4. Love Is the Meaning of Christmas

(Copyright 1999 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary.)

Christmas Midnight
December 25
Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world who has come to save us from the darkness of sin. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you have loved us since before time began and proved it by becoming one like us. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you are the Word of God made flesh through the motherhood of Mary. Lord, have mercy.

Christmas Midnight

December 25

Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: Today we remember with great joy how the Son of God took our flesh upon himself. Because he can understand our needs as only a brother can, we confidently bring our prayers and petitions before him.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer."

That the leaders of the Church will reveal the light of Christ by the way they live, we pray to the Lord.

That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to bring peace on earth, we pray to the Lord.

That the lonely, the sorrowful and the grieving may find consolation by laying their cares at the feet of the Child Jesus, we pray to the Lord.

That we, the members of his church, will offer the Child Jesus the gift he most earnestly desires, the gift of our hearts, we pray to the Lord.

That we may all come to realize that the spirit of Christmas lies in giving, not in receiving, we pray to the Lord.

That we will come to show the love we have for the Child Jesus through our love for one another, especially for those in need, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Gracious Father, your Son became one like us to teach us how to live and to free us from the bondage of sin. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to make him real in our own lives. And we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.