Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7

Fourth Week of Advent & Christmas: Dec. 22-28, 2013

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The Fourth Week of Advent & Christmas

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we read in Matthew's Gospel about Joseph and his decision to divorce the pregnant Mary. An angel comes to Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Luke's Gospel is our guide this week. Monday is the naming of John by Zechariah. Tuesday, during the day, has Zechariah's prayer of praise after being allowed to speak again. The scenes and canticles, or songs, which are part of the story, are so well known to us that we can miss hearing them with an open heart.

If we celebrate the Vigil of Christmas on Tuesday, Matthew's Gospel (though any of the gospels for Christmas may be used at any of the Christmas liturgies) offers the history of Jesus' family.

The first celebration of The Nativity of the Lord is the Mass at Midnight. The first reading is from Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” This powerful reading deserves a slow contemplation. The Gospel is from Luke: the journey to Bethlehem, the birth, the angels announce the birth to the shepherds. The second celebration of The Nativity of the Lord is the Mass at Dawn. The Gospel is from Luke: the shepherds visit the newborn child. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” The third celebration of The Nativity of the Lord is the Mass during the Day. Here the Gospel is from the beginning of John's Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

December 26th celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr. December 27th is the feast of the Beloved Disciple, St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

The Sunday that follows Christmas is always the celebration of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is also the second day in the eight days of celebrating Christmas. There are wonderful readings from the Book of Sirach, the First Book of Samuel, Paul's letter to the Colossians or the First Letter of John. The gospel from Matthew is the story of the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream, telling him to flee with Mary and their newborn son, Jesus, to Egypt so Herod could not find them. After a time, they returned and lived in Nazareth, “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, he shall be called a Nazorean.”

 

 

Daily Prayer This Week

This may be one of the most difficult weeks to be reflective throughout each day. This weekend may be quite full for many of us. Others of us may be alone although we may be a part of the faith community on Tuesday or Wednesday, or perhaps daily this week. While some of us have guests staying with us and a house to clean this week, others of us will be reviewing memories and struggling, even a little, with being alone.

Even though this may be a very busy week, with final Christmas preparations, or perhaps travel to visit family, it can be a contemplative week if we focus our desires each morning. No matter what our days hold, we can take a few minutes in the shower or while getting dressed to consciously ask for the grace to approach Christmas with faith and with a heart open to the graces offered us. “Lord, help me today to stay focused on your coming in the flesh to be with us. While I'm busy about this and that, I ask your help. Keep reminding me throughout this day about Mary's acceptance of your plan for her, about the poverty into which Jesus was born.” We will use our own words to connect these stories of our Salvation with the concrete interactions and events of our upcoming day.

Then, throughout the day, we will be able to let familiar parts of the story sustain us this week. All of us can relate to Zechariah's hesitation. We can look for and notice the times when we are hesitant to place our trust in God and how little we have to say about faith. But, when Zechariah could write “His name is John (God is gracious),” Zechariah could speak again. As we rush from one place to another, we can pray, “Lord, I know you are gracious, even when I act like I doubt it. Let me place my trust in you.” A number of helpful contemplations are available on the Praying Advent site.

Mary herself can be a wonderful guide for us this week, and we can be bold in asking her to show us the graces her Son wants to give us this week. The one who says “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” and “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord” can help us find words for our “yes” and for our giving praise to God this week.

It could be a great grace to pause before going to church, Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, as individuals or for a brief prayer as a family, to ask for the grace to be touched by how he came in history for us and how he comes now among us still, to set us free.

From now until the celebration that closes the Christmas season - the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th -- we can enter more fully into this sacred season with the Celebrating Christmas section of our website.

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