>> The atmosphere was very tense and highly apprehensive…
>> The people had become enraged and were very badly instigated…
St Stephen…. the man filled with the power and spirit of God, however, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God. (Acts 7: 54-56)
And then a surprising thing happened….
>> He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God!
Usually, we always read or say in our prayers that Jesus is sitting at God’s right hand…
>> But here, Jesus is seen standing!
Jesus is probably giving a standing ovation…. to St. Stephen, the one who became his brave witness.
>> The mighty display of faith by St Stephen was worthy of a standing ovation by the Son of God!
>> The Majestic King was tremendously proud of His Faithful and Committed Soldier!
We are on the first day after Christmas…
Yesterday, we celebrated child Jesus in the crib…we sung the “silent night” and “joy to the world”… we remembered the angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to people of good will”….we exchanged a lot of smiles and shared much fun…
But suddenly today, there is a shift…
>> The atmosphere of fun and frolic has turned sombre and serious…
>> The carols of mirth and joy are substituted by cries for death and vengeance…
>> The shining gold vestments at Holy Mass are replaced with blood-red vestments…
The peace and joy of Bethlehem is contrasted by the tragedy and heartbreak at Jerusalem…
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of our eternal King.
>> Today we commemorate the triumphant suffering of His faithful soldier.
Yesterday our King left His place in the Virgin’s womb and was born in the world.
>> Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
Yesterday a group of enthused and excited people visited and paid homage to our King.
>> Today, a group of proud and ferociously evil mob execute His soldier!
Why does the Church celebrate this tradition of commemorating the gruesome stoning to death of St Stephen, soon after the celebration of the tender Babe?
The Church’s long tradition of celebrating the memorial of St. Stephen soon after the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, does not serve to demote Christmas, but to continue & manifest more clearly an important meaning of the Christmas celebration.
Christmas essentially means becoming a true disciple of Christ…
And a true disciple ought to tread the way of the cross – “If any want to be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Lk 9: 23)
Christ the Master, Himself walked this path of trials and difficulties.
>> The signs of suffering and pain were foreshadowed very much already in the Crib of Christ…
>> The manger where the babe was laid, foreshadowed the Cross on which He was to be laid.
>> The swaddling clothes of the babe, foreshadowed the shroud which will cover Him in His tomb.
>> The lack of room in the inn, foreshadowed the lack of room for Him to be buried after His death.
Christmas is the celebration of Life that was pledged to be given up in death, in order to win back life – life in its fullness!
Christmas becomes a true reality when Jesus is born in our hearts…
When Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, that heart cannot remain without effect.
>> There is a contagious enthusiasm.
>> There is a great transformation.
>> There is a tremendous zeal.
And this birth of Jesus took place in the heart of St Stephen.
>> He underwent a Real Christmas.
He experienced the joy of having Christ born in His life.
And this fact that Christ was born within, led Him to be a dynamic and bold soldier of His King!
>> Nothing could stop Him from being a witness…
>> The experience of Christmas in His life had made St Stephen to be a bold soldier.
>> The experience of Christmas in His life had made St Stephen to stand firm for the truth.
>> The experience of Christmas in His life had made St Stephen to bear the pain of stoning
>> The experience of Christmas in His life had made St Stephen to shed His blood for His Lord
>> Have we also experienced Christmas in a way that transforms and makes us authentic disciples?
>> Have we also celebrated Christmas which makes us to pledge every breath and cell of our life to the Lord?
>> Have we also enjoyed Christmas in order to find immense power and strength in being a true and authentic Christian?
The blood of St Stephen sings the beautiful carols of Jesus who was born in his life!
>> Are we ready to discover still further, the true and genuine meaning of Christmas in our life?
Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords gave a wonderful standing ovation seeing the spectacular display of faith and courage of His Beloved soldier, St Stephen.
Let us also be filled a deep passion and courage that comes from the New Born King and be His Dynamic and Enthusiastic Soldier for His Kingdom!
Happy Feast of St Stephen, the First Martyr of the New Born King of kings!
6 year old Johny and James were good friends.
James had joined Johny’s school just this year and so they were pretty new friends.
>> Yet, they had forged a good relationship with each other.
Johny was to celebrate his birthday the following weekend, and so he told James:
“Hey James, I hope you remember… It’s my birthday the next Sunday.
I want you to come home for my birthday party.”
James was obviously delighted and he said: “Oh sure, I would love to come. But I do not know the way to your house.”
“Oh, not to worry!” replied Johny, ” I will guide you exactly…”
And so saying, Johny continued:
“Right opposite the ice-parlour to which we often go, is a huge building.
Enter that building and you will see the lift right on the adjacent wall.
Use your elbow to press the lift switch.
When the lift comes down, use your feet to open and close the lift.
Then, use your elbow to press Number 5 on the lift buttons.
When the lift reaches floor 5, once again, use your feet to open and close the lift doors.
Finally, you will see House Number 501 with the bell switch on the side.
Use your elbow once again, to press that key…
…. And lo, I will be there to welcome you for my birthday party!”
James was pretty happy saying, “That’s pretty easy to find your house”
>> But at the same time, he was confused and asked: “But why at all should I use my elbow and my feet? Why can’t I use my hands itself to switch the buttons and open the lift doors?”
To that Johny replied: “Hey come on! Don’t forget James!
You are coming for my Birthday Party, and naturally you will have a big gift in your hand.
So your hands will not be free to do any of those works!!”
Well… Jesus is celebrating His birthday…
… Do we have our hands filled with gifts for the Lord?
>> Or are we empty handed and found gifts for everybody (including ourselves) but forgotten Jesus Himself!
Is Jesus the centre of our Christmas Celebration?
On this Christmas Day, let us have our attention on the Star of the Day: Jesus Christ!
1. Jesus, the Divine Babe is the primary reason for the celebration of this Festival
Many of us have been preparing for the wonderful day of Christmas, for the last few days, particularly.
>> But sometimes, like runners in a race, there can be a possibility to feel tired, or given in to feel exhausted; sometimes even to give up.
Christmas is to become a new beginning in our life; the days of preparation ought to become the launching pad to lead a more holy and zealous life in the Spirit.
Its very much possible, that Jesus – the reason for this season, may get lost in the thickets of celebrations, good food, excited shoppings etc.
>> But the Babe in the Manger, will keep waiting, to be taken home – to one’s heart, to one’s life, to one’s family
2. Jesus, the Divine Babe came primarily as the Saviour of the world
“For today in the city of David, a Saviour has been born for you..” (Lk 2:11)
>> Jesus came to the world with a very specific mission: to save people from sin and grant eternal life to those who believe in Him (Jn 10:10)
He is the only person Who took birth to die!
>> It was by His death, that He was to achieve the mission of granting life to all.
Therefore, the celebration of Christmas has to be primarily a celebration made in “repentance and renewal”
>> If the heart doesn’t repent, then Christmas can never be celebrated truly
>> If the life is not renewed, then Christmas can never become meaningful
Christmas is the story of a God passionately in love with us, and deeply desiring that we belong to Him, and Him alone!
3. Jesus, the Divine Babe desires a place in our hearts
Rev 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”
>> Mother Mary and St Joseph had to lay the newborn Babe in the manger, “because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2: 7b)
Christmas is the story of a God Who comes searching for His beloved creation, and knocking at the door of each heart, for a place to be born.
4. Jesus, the Divine Babe, in the manger, is One who identifies with us, in our weakness
God chose (in human terms) probably, one of the “most ridiculous” way of coming into the world – as a tiny infant
He is the Creator of the World; the One Who has all powers subject to Him . Yet, He chose to be totally detached (Phil 2: 6-8) and take the form of a little baby – weak, helpless and vulnerable
Christmas is the story of a God Who became weak like us, so that we can be strong like Him!
5. Jesus, the Divine Babe deserves a wonderful gift on His Birthday
Birthdays become occasions to gift the one who is celebrating.
>> Jesus, the Birthday Baby surely deserves the best gift.
But what can we give Him?
All what we have and all what we are, comes from God anyways!
So is there anything, that I can call of my own?
Yes! Probably the only thing which belongs to me, is my sin!
This Christmas, beyond all other gifts and preparations, we could gift our “sinful life” to Him.
>> It might feel bad for us to give all that ugly part of our life. But our Blessed Lord invites us to give of our self to Him entirely – broken, weak, dirty, impure, lost- as we are, to Him, so that He can renew us and make us a new person (Rev 21:5 – “Behold, I make all things new”)
As Bishop Fulton J Sheen says:
” You give me your humanity, I will give you my divinity.
You give me your time, I will give you my eternity.
You give me your slavery, I will give you my freedom.
You give me your death, I will give you my life.
You give me your nothingness, I will give you my all.”
Let us take some firm and practical resolutions…
>> Today I will seek to have Jesus as the centre of all that I am to celebrate in this Festive Season and give Him the rightful place in my heart
>> Today I will deepen my awareness of Jesus as the Saviour of my life, and make practical decisions to let go sinful ways, and offer my heart as a Gift to Baby Jesus on His Birthday!
Yes, this Christmas, let Christ be the Centre and Meaning of all our celebrations…
… and thus, let us have our hands filled with gifts for the Baby Jesus!
Happy Birthday to Jesus, our Beloved King!
>> Hearty Congratulations to His Wonderful Parents – Mother Mary and St Joseph.
Wish you all, a Very Merry Christmas!
Music has been a popular part of the celebration of our Lord?s birth for a long time!
The Bible records that many characters in the Christmas story almost instantly responded to the events surrounding the birth of our Saviour with songs.
In our own days, we take immense delight to sing Christmas carols.
We also get a special feeling in lifting our voices in joy and thrill…
Today we have on the stage of the Gospel a beautiful Hymn being sung.
The title of the hymn is “Benedictus” and it is sung by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist!
The setting of this song is during a very gloomy period in the life of the nation of Israel.
Israel had been chosen by God from among all nations to be a priestly nation to the rest of the world.
>> But this nation that was to lead all other nations to God, was being led by a pagan empire.
>> The leader was under subjugation!
>> The guide had been suppressed!
Israel was under the domination of the Roman Empire.
>> The Roman Kingdom was the last in a long line of pagan nations that had ruled Israel.
The ruler in Zechariah’s day was King Herod.
Herod was not a man of God. In fact he was just the opposite?a very degenerate man.
>> He had introduced Roman temples into the land and had built idols to the Roman gods.
Under his leadership Israel became a land filled with immorality.
>> The spiritual life of the Jews lost its vitality.
In the midst of these dark and cloudy times, Zechariah sings the “Benedictus” – a Song of Blessing!
A child had been born….signaling the Coming of the Messiah.
>> John the Baptist ushered in a period of singing praises and glory to the Lord.
> Like a drop of fresh water in the deserted land…
> Like a gleam of light in the midst of thick darkness…
> Like a faint melodious tune in the thick of deep silence…
The life of Zechariah and Elizabeth was favoured with reasons to sing blessings to God!
It’s interesting to analyse the names of this simple yet wonderful family – Zechariah, Elizabeth and John.
>> Zechariah means ” God (Yahweh) remembers”
>> Elizabeth means “the promise of God”
>>>> John means ” God (Yahweh) is gracious”
The union of Zechariah (“God remembers”) and Elizabeth (“the promise of God”) gave birth to John (“God is gracious”)
Zechariah + Elizabeth = John
God remembers + the promise = God is gracious!
Yes, God remembers His promise, and thus shows that He is gracious!
> Our lives may often be in darkness or undergoing a night of dryness…
> Our lives may seem to be devoid of true peace and happiness…
> Our lives may be rendered meaningless or hopeless…
Yet, Zechariah, Elizabeth and John invite us today, to sing a song of Blessing to God!
>> When we live in God’s love, we can sing the chorus of service!
>> When we trust in God’s providence, we can sing the chorus of joy!
>> When we hope in God’s mercies, we can sing the chorus of faithfulness!
With the armour of faith, the shield of hope and the sword of love, let us join Zechariah and Family to sing our Hymn of Blessing to God Yahweh!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is challenging in His gentle inspirations!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is merciful in His Divine Compassion!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is generous in the Blessed Eucharist!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is majestic in His Holy Sacraments!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is faithful in His gracious promises!
>> Blessed be the Lord, for He is vibrant in His Holy Church!
On this eve of Christmas, let us fervently prepare our hearts – in holiness and sanctity – to prepare a beautiful crib for our Blessed Lord, who comes as a Babe, in our hearts, in our lives and in our homes!
A story is said of a man in a mission land, who was extremely critical of religion and religious practices.
Once, this man went to a missionary who had been in the place for some years.
He told the missionary, “I want to hear about your religion”
The missionary was pleasantly surprised, and asked him:
“Oh that’s great!
But how is it that you would like to hear of my religion. I have heard of your dislike and aversion to religious practices”
To that, the man answered:
“Well, its very true, that I don’t cherish religion.
But ever since the day you came to our place, I have been observing you.
You are always cheerful and happy.
I have also heard a lot of laughter in your house and in the houses of my village people, who have embraced your faith”
The man continued, “And if you have anything that makes people so joyous, I too want it!”
Joy was the nectar that attracted the man to experience the sweetness of Christ and Christianity.
>> Am I a person who radiates happiness?
>> Am I a Christian whose life exudes with joy?
The Gospel of the Day is the delightful description of the joyful encounter between Elizabeth and Mother Mary and the “joyful leap” of John the Baptist, in his first meet with Jesus, the God of Joy!
The Gospel is the beautiful meeting of Two to-be-Mothers, with Two Special Children in their wombs…
… Elizabeth, with John who would be called as the Baptist
… Mary, with Jesus, who would be called as the Messiah
This wonderful encounter begins on a Divinely joyful note:
“when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb” (Lk 1: 41)
This is an interesting word – “leaped”
The Greek word for “leaped” is “skirtao”
We find the usage of this word “skirtao” in different places in the Bible…
>> In Gen 25:22: Rebeccah’s twin children – Jacob and Esau – “struggled (skirtao)” within the her
>> In Ps 114: 4, 6: The mountains “skipped (skirtao)” like rams in the presence of the Lord
>> In Mal 3:20: Those who fear the Lord’s name will “skip (skirtao)” like calves.
>> In Lk 6:23: The chosen ones should rejoice and “leap (skirtao)” for joy
When the mother, Elizabeth, heard the greeting of the Messiah’s Mother, the babe John, “leaped for joy”
Later in his ministry, John would testify to this fact, when he would say: “… the best man, who stands and listens for Him, rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s Voice” (Jn 3:29b)
There is great rejoicing, in Divine Presence is a powerful message that we receive.
>> The presence of the Mother of Jesus, delighted Her cousin, Elizabeth
>> The presence of Jesus, delighted His cousin, John.
As we gear up ourselves for the Season of Christmas, this ought to be a reflective question that we need to ponder and make amends, if lacking…
… Is our Christian life, one that “leaps for joy”?
Things around us may seem confusing and uncertain…
… just as it was for Mary who conceived of the Holy Spirit and Elizabeth in her old age
>> Yet, they were able to rejoice..
… because, their trust was in the Power of the Lord Who had blessed them
People may sometimes reject us, misunderstand us or even humiliate or be indifferent to us…
… just as it was for Mary who would face misunderstandings and Elizabeth who had undergone a lot of shame.
>> Yet, they were able to rejoice…
… because, their strength was in the favourable Love of the Lord, Who, they knew, had accepted and chosen them, for His cause
Life may sometimes make a fool of us by taking us through roads which are illogical, unreasonable and irrational…
… just as it was for Mary who had to tread unknown paths and Elizabeth who had to take on new responsibilities as a mother at an odd age
Yet, they were able to rejoice…
… because, their hope was in the faithful grace of God, in which they trusted and to Whom they had pledged their life in fidelity and loyalty.
Joy is to be the hallmark of every Christian.
As St Francis de Sales says, “A sad saint is a sorry saint!”
>> Our lives ought to be a “Gospel of Joy”!
As we get closer to the celebration of the Birth of the “Cause of our Joy”, we need to look into this dimension of Christian holiness: the aspect of Joy.
It is not simply a joy that is manifested..
… by some “plastic smile”
… or with some artificial activism
… or with any created humorous traits
Christian Joy is…
… a result of trusting deeply in the Providence of God
… a felt experience that manifests, effortlessly, in every aspect of life
… an honest expression of the inner peace and serenity – a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Joy is to be the nectar that attracts others to experience the sweetness of Christ and Christianity.
May we always “leap for joy” with the Power of the Holy Spirit…
… and may our joyful and happy lives, attract and enthuse many people to embrace Jesus, the Lord of all Joy!