Dear brothers and sisters,
The first Sunday after Christmas in the liturgy of the Church we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The reason for this is that the Holy Family of Nazareth is the model for all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways. Today we are called to meditate on the message of God who is with us, Jesus Christ, was born for us and grew up in a regular, normal family. That means Jesus, our God, understands our family life.
In the gospel according Luke we find an episode immediately after the birth of Jesus. "The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger". At this point we can ask: Why did the shepherds went to Bethlehem? "The shepherds made haste, partly no doubt from human curiosity, in order to see this great thing that had been announced to them. But surely, too, they were driven by their joy on hearing that now, truly, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord had been born, the one so long awaited - and they would be the first to see him.
How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste - so the evangelist is discreetly telling us - then it is the things of God". (BXVI)
The shepherds were invited to visit the Holy Family and find Jesus the New born child. Today when we celebrate the Holy Family we are invited to visit the Holy Family and even better we are called to invite the Holy Family into our life. Because the Holy Family is for us the example of how we can live, this desire is expressed in today's opening prayer which we have heard before the reading: "help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love".
The opening prayer reminds us that there are two essential elements in family life: respect and love. Of course we know that respect and love are the elements of natural social life. That's true but today the Church helps us remember that respect and love have special importance for the family and sacramental marriage. The Church teaches us: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life (...) has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized". (CCL1055) Sometimes, especially young people ask what is the true meaning of marriage and love. Pope Francis in apostolic exhortations Amoris Letitia explains what is marriage:
"At the centre we see the father and mother, a couple with their personal story of love. They embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19:4). We hear an echo of the command found in the Book of Genesis: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24)”.
"In speaking of marriage, Jesus refers us to yet another page of Genesis, which, in its second chapter, paints a splendid and detailed portrait of the couple. First, we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him”. The original Hebrew suggests a direct encounter, face to face, eye to eye, in a kind of silent dialogue, for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words. It is an encounter with a face, a “thou”, who reflects God’s own love and is man’s “best possession, a helper fit for him and a pillar of support”, in the words of the biblical sage (Sir 36:24). Or again, as the woman of the Song of Solomon will sing in a magnificent profession of love and mutual self-bestowal: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine".
But we know very well that marriage is not only a love story but very often a big challenge and story of daily sacrifice. Even the Holy Family were not free these troubles and problems. We remember the reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent Joseph decided to divorced Mary informally. Only the intervention of angel changed Joseph's decision. After the birth of Jesus the Holy Family don't have a easy life. Today's gospel speaks about the escape into Egypt of Holy Family. "The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him". At this point we can observe that God looks after this special family. If God protects Holy Family, today He can protect our family. We need only ask for this protection and we need to be able to hear the voice of God who gives us instructions like He gave Joseph in today's gospel. Saint Joseph is for us an example to follow, his capacity to perceive the divine and his ability to discern, is necessary today for us, for our daily life. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God's message in this way.
Today celebrating the Holy Family from Nazareth we ask this special protection for our family. We ask for the gift of love for all families but especially the capacity of forgiveness because without this gift it is impossible to build a true family where we can find respect and love.
Dear brothers and sisters,
After 24 days of Advent, today we celebrate with great joy the Nativity of our Lord. Today's entrance antiphon reminds us: Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior is born to the world. True peace has descended from heaven. Yes, we can rejoice because our Lord, our God Jesus Christ is with us. A few day's ago on Fourth Sunday of Advent we heard that the name of our God is Emmanuel a name which means "God is with us". Today we can see this prophecy is true: God was born for us, God is with us. Today we are called to accept God, Emmanuel, in our life. This acceptance is really the most important decision in our life. Isaiah, the prophet, speaks about this: The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.
If we accept the Lord in our life we can truly live. No more in the darkness caused by our sins and our problems but in a great light and this light is Christ who shows us the true meaning of human life. The prophet Isaiah uses four special names for God who born for us and became man. These illustrate for us the importance of Christmas.
"For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
What does Wonder Counsellor mean? Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we need help and especially counseling from other people. We know that we have questions which no one can answer. Only God is able give us the answer for the most important questions in our life, questions like: What is the meaning of my life? where have I com from and what is there after this life? God who became man, was born like child for us, is the Wonder- Counsellor.
What does Mighty-God mean? Where is the power of God if there is injustice in the world, pain and illness? How is it possible speak today about Mighty-God? Especially in the context of Christmas when our God becomes for us a child, powerless child. This is logical because God wants change our life but not with power and force but simply with His love.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks about God who is coming and uses the expression Eternal Father. This expression reminds us that Jesus is the Son of God "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven". God the Father sent Jesus because He loves us. He first loved us and today when we celebrate this mystery we are called to respond to this love. How can we respond? We respond in three ways, first by loving each other, second when we discover the presence of God in our life and third when decide to chose Him as our savior. God never wants be an intruder and he comes today to us like a child. If I want to, I can accept my God but I can refuse and make no space for Jesus who is coming. This decision is one of most important choices which we need to make.
The prophet Isaiah speaking about God, who is coming, uses the expression Prince of Peace. Every day when we celebrate the Eucharist we repeat Jesus' words: "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you". Today the world generally, every person and especially the family needs peace. The peace which only God, Jesus Christ can give us. The peace of Jesus is a peace that the world cannot give. In gospel according to Luke we read: "Glory to God in the highest, and or earth peace among men with whom he is pleased". According to the evangelist, the angels "said" this. But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually a song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present. (Benedict XVI).
The celebration of Christmas every year reminds us who is our God: Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Today we are called to open our life, open our hearts to God who is coming. "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction". This person is Jesus Christ who born for us, for our salvation.
The Emmanuel - God is with us.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today's first reading starts with an imperative from God addressed to Ahaz. The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said:"Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself". Why this story important for us during Advent? Because during the reign Ahaz, the King of Israel and during the life the prophet Isaiah people felt abandoned by God. They lived with faith but they had a problem recognizing the presence of God. I think today we are in a similar situation. Yes, we are Catholics, we are people who believe but sometimes we ask: God, where are you? Today a few day's before Christmas we are called to answer this question: where is my God? Is He here in the Church or even better is He in my heart or maybe have I lost my God? As we are so busy preparing for Christmas we can lose sight of God. Today God repeats to us this same imperative addressed to Ahaz in the first reading: "Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself". Ahaz received the promise and the sign: It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us".
Today we are called to discover once more, that it is true that God is with us. Even if some times I stray away from my God, even if sometimes I'm not able be sure of presence of God in my life. But God's promise to Ahaz and today God's promise to us is that He is Emmanuel: "God-is-with-us".
What does "God-is-with-us" mean? It means God knows everything about our life, all our successes and failures. But today's gospel speaks about another aspect of God's presence in our life. God shares our human nature, He know our problems and our doubts. Matthew speaks with all honesty in today's gospel:
This is how Jesus Christ come to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honor and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorced her informally.
The story of how Jesus Christ came to be born may cause problems, it raises some doubts, with the temptation not to do God's will. Therefore, Joseph had made up his mind to divorce Mary informally, because he does not want to cause Mary public shame.
Pope Benedict speaks about that and wrote: "The designation of Joseph as a just man extends far beyond the decision he takes at this moment: it gives an overall picture of Saint Joseph and at the same time it aligns him with the great figures of the Old Covenant - beginning with Abraham, the just".
After the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream Joseph changed his decision because he was open to God's voice, he was open to God's will.
The angel came to Joseph in a dream. Once again this shows us an essential quality of the figure of Saint Joseph: his capacity to perceive the divine and his ability to discern. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God's massager in this way. And an ability to discern was necessary in order to know whether it was simply a dream or whether God's messenger had truly appeared to him and addressed him.
Today we are called to discern God's will, this is only possible if we listen carefully to the voice of God. In life we can meet different difficult situations and especially in these situations we are called to realise what God's will is. When we are afraid, when we don't have peace we need to remember the voice of the angel from today's gospel: "Do not be afraid". Don't be scared take on this task, one that might well arouse fear. "Do not be afraid" the very words that the angel of the annunciation had spoken to Mary. Today, during our difficulties God speaks to us: Do not be afraid. Because our God is a God who is very close to us, His name is Emmanuel "God is with us". If I discover that this true, if I want to be able to listen carefully to the voice of God I can't be silent and don't speak about my God. Today before Christmas the world, our country, our society and our community need to receive the message that God is with us. We heard about this in the today's second reading, were St Paul wrote: "From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures". Today Paul can't preach the Good News to the world in person but we as living Christians, we are called to speak about Christ who wants to be born in our life. That is today's challenge for us: Do I want to open a space for God and speak about God? Because today's world needs God and needs people who trust in God.
John in his prison ... (Matthew 11,2)
Dear brothers and sisters,
One of the characteristics of Advent is that it is a time of waiting. St. James in his letter, today's second reading, speaks about this characteristic: "Be patient, brothers, until the Lord's coming". We need to be patient, sometimes in our life we don't like waiting, we don't want to be patient and this was the situation in the first Christian community. They didn't want to wait any longer. I think we, our community, our parish and our society has lost this ability to wait. But if we want be prepared for the coming our Lord Jesus Christ we need to wait. St. James used this beautiful example for us: "Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!". A really beautiful example for us, but we need to ask ourselves, do I really want to wait? Do I really want to be patient? Or perhaps my life is characterised by a lack of patience and a capacity for waiting.
"You to have to be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon", that's another message to us from St James in his letter. Sometimes we think: Yes, I agree with the teaching of the Church, with what I read in Bible, but it is so difficult to practice. When we think like this it is helpful to remember the story of John the Baptist which we heard in today's gospel.
"John in his prison..." In prison we can't control anything. We can only wait, we can observe, we can ask but we must wait for an answer. Today many people try to make sense of their lives like John who asked: "Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?" John the Baptist is the person who encourages us to wait for the Lord even in very difficult situations like persecution, like prison, like illness, like unemployment and like all the other difficulties we encounter in our life.
Another teaching in today's gospel is the need to listen carefully to the voice of Jesus. But today especially we must remember sometimes that the answer from Jesus comes indirectly. When John was in prison Jesus' answer was:
"Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me".
What does Jesus' answer mean? Sometimes we want God to answer us directly, like a voice from heaven. But that is not God's way.
The answer from God can be found in what we can "hear and see". God is able give us the answers which we need, but we are called to "hear and see" very carefully.
The person who speaks in name of the Lord is the prophet. In today's gospel Jesus told us that: John the Baptist is a prophet. Because he speaks about the Son of God who is coming, he is waiting for him. Today we are called to be prophets. Yes we are call to be a prophet. We must speak about Jesus in our family, in the places where we live, where we work. Because the prophet reveals God. We need to reveal God once again to this world because the world has forgotten God. That sounds really strange, if we browse the internet, watch television and listen to the radio they speak about Christmas months before the season starts. Yes, they speak about Christmas without mentioning Jesus.
If we don't prepare ourselves to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas which is really the birthday of Jesus our celebration will be empty. Remember what we heard in the second reading : "You too have to be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon".
The time before Christmas calls us to ask ourselves: What is the great desire of my heart?
It is God Himself who puts this "thirst" in our hearts.