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Christmas shopping for little Catholics

Are you looking for the perfect gift for a young child in your family this year? Spread the Gospel and give them a gift they’ll love.

You may have heard it before, but it is worth repeating: If you have been baptized, it is your duty to spread the Gospel, and your family is a great place to begin. Your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and godchildren are all going to be expecting gifts this year, so let’s give them something that will make them smile and will feed their soul.

My Pick:

My first suggestion is a new book: "King of the Shattered Glass" by Susan Joy Bellavance. It’s a tale about a young kitchen maid and her courageous encounter with the King. The story is compelling, the pictures are beautiful, and the conversation created between parents and children is priceless. This book will lead children and their parents to consider God’s mercy in a whole new way. Don’t be surprised if you have tears in your eyes by the end. The author also has free-downloadable worksheets, coloring pages and discussion guides on her website – especially useful for a catechist who would like to use this book in the classroom.

Children’s Bible Story Book:

My second suggestion is to pick up a children’s book of Bible stories for your little one. I still have good memories of my own growing up. I remember how foolish that man was for building his whole house on sand – and how joyful the woman was when she found just one lost coin in her house. Growing up with these stories is a great way to be introduced to the Bible and makes for a great conversation starter between children and their parents. Ignatius Press offers "A Child's Treasury of Bible Stories."

For slightly older children, try "The Picture Bible" by Iva Hoth, which reads like a comic book. In the words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “This picture Bible for all ages is an excellent introduction to those who do not know the Bible and an excellent review for those who do.”

Bible Playsets:

Maybe the child you have in mind doesn’t want a book – you’re still in luck. Sometimes children need more than pages in their hands. Bring the stories of the Bible alive with the gift of a Bible story playset. Allow your children to set up their own Noah’s ark with the BibleToys Noah's Ark 18 Piece Playset or put the apostles on their boat with the Galilee Boat 15 Piece Playlet by BibleToys. If you’re handy, you can always make and paint your own wooden figurines.
All books and toys can be found on-line at Amazon* and other on-line retailers

*If you're shopping on Amazon, consider using AmazonSmile to donate a portion of your purchase price to Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. or another favorite charitable organization.

Michael Hagan is the coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

  • Published in Diocesan

Christmas Day Fire in 1905

Fairfield, Dec. 26, 1905

Dear Bishop –
I have a most calamitous news to tell you. The church and the house here were destroyed by fire yesterday – nothing but some house furniture was saved. I cannot account for it. At about half past twelve, I looked in the church to see that the outside doors were closed, to keep the heat in – and I saw nothing out of the way, hardly more one hour after the smoke was coming out in heavy clouds from the steeple. This took place at about two o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yours in grief, N. J. LaChance

St. Patrick’s parishioners had decorated the church beautifully for Christmas with evergreens and candles – which were left to continue burning around the altar after the last Mass was over. Fairfield had no firefighting resources readily available and little could be done to save the church, rectory and stable. The fire burned through and completely destroyed the structures. At the time, it was said to have been the worst in the town’s history. Damage was valued at about $25,000 by Father Napoleon (Norbert) J. LaChance. The wooden church, complete with a wooden steeple, had been built about 40 years prior, replacing the first St. Patrick’s, which had been a brick structure with a small belfry, originally erected in 1847.

While the Catholics were displaced from their own church building, the Congregational church building was made available for their use for as long as necessary. Thanks to Father LaChance’s direction, the generosity of parishioners and some funds from the church’s insurance policy, the current St. Patrick Church was under construction within a year of the fire and dedicated on Sept. 20, 1910.

Kathleen Messier, Archivist
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington 

World must welcome prince of peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The song of the angels that heralded the birth of Christ urges men and women to seek peace in a world divided by war, terrorism and greed, Pope Francis said. 

"Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace," the pope said Dec. 25. 

Migrants, refugees, children suffering due to hunger and war, victims of human trafficking as well as social and economic unrest were also remembered by the pope.

"Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery," he said. 

An estimated 40,000 people slowly made their way through security checkpoints into St. Peter's Square to attend the pope's solemn Christmas blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world). 

Heightened security following the Dec. 19 terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany was evident as police cordoned off streets and established multiple checkpoints throughout the area. 

While police presence is standard for major events in St. Peter's, the added security was a sign of the times where crowded areas have become a target for terrorists.

The pope prayed for "peace to those who have lost a person dear to them as a result of brutal acts of terrorism that has sown fear and death into the hearts of so many countries and cities."

Countries ravaged by the scourge of war were also in the pope's thoughts, particularly in "the war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled," especially in the city Aleppo. The pope called on the world to support the people of Syria with humanitarian assistance and to put an end to the conflict.

"It is time for weapons to be silenced forever and the international community to actively seek a negotiated solution so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country," he said. 

The pope appealed for peace for the people of Ukraine, "who to this day suffer the consequences of the conflict." 

The Vatican announced Dec. 23 that the first installment of 6 million euro ($6.3 million) would be distributed on Christmas Day to assist in relief efforts in Ukraine. Earlier this year, the pope called for a collection across churches in Europe to help the people of the war-torn country.  

Iraq, Libya and Yemen, "where their peoples suffer war and the brutality of terrorism," were in the pope's prayers so that they may "be able to once again find unity and harmony." 

The pope also remembered Africa, especially Nigeria where fundamentalist terrorism "exploits children in order to perpetrate horror and death" as well as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on their leaders to choose the path of dialogue rather than "the mindset of conflict."

He also prayed for peace in the Holy Land and that Israelis and Palestinians turn away from hate and revenge while having "the courage and determination to write a new page of history."

Praying for an end to current tensions, the pope also called for peace in Venezuela, Colombia, Myanmar and the Korean peninsula

Christ's birth, he said, is a sign of joy and a call for the world to contemplate "the child Jesus who gives hope once again to every person on the face of the earth."

"'For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.' He is the 'prince of peace;' let us welcome him."

After his address, the bells of St. Peter's rang loudly, pealing throughout the square as they did in the evening Dec. 24 following the proclamation of Jesus' birth during Christmas Mass.  

The darkness of the night sky over St. Peter's Basilica was broken by the bright lights emanating from the colonnade and the Christmas tree from the square.

Temperatures just above 40 degrees didn't stop thousands of people unable to enter the packed basilica from participating in the Mass, sitting outside and watching the Mass on giant screens in St. Peter's Square. 

In his homily, the pope said the love of God is made visible at Christ's birth on a night of glory, joy and light "which would illuminates those who walk in darkness."

The shepherds are a witness to "the enduring sign" of finding Jesus when they discover him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger;" a sign that is given to all Christians today, the pope said. 

"If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes. God is there," he said. 

This sign of humility, he added, also reveals a paradox: God who chose not to reveal himself through power, but rather through the "poverty of a stable" and "in the simplicity of life."

"In order to discover him, we need to go there, where he is: we need to bow down, humble ourselves, make ourselves small," the pope said. 

The image of the child in the manger, he continued, is a challenge for all Christians to "leave behind fleeting illusions" and "renounce insatiable claims." 

It is also a calling for the world to respond to the sufferings of children in this age who "suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity: hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants," the pope said. 

"Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do not have toys in their hands, but rather weapons," he said. 

Christmas is not only a mystery of hope but also of sadness where "love is not received and life discarded" as seen by the indifference felt by Mary and Joseph "who found the doors closed and placed Jesus in a manger."

That same indifference, he said, exists today when commercialism overshadows the light of God and "when we are concerned for gifts but cold towards those who are marginalized."

"This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed!" the pope said departing from his prepared remarks. 

However, the hope of Christmas is the light that outshines this darkness and "draws us to himself" through his humble birth in Bethlehem," he said. 

Noting that Bethlehem means "house of bread," the pope said that Jesus was born to nourish us, creating a "direct thread joining the manger and the cross." 

"In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. He does not come to devour or to command but to nourish and to serve," the pope said. 

Pope Francis said that like the shepherds, who although marginalized are chosen to witness the birth of Christ, Christians are reminded of God's closeness and can enjoy the true spirit of Christmas: "the beauty of being loved by God."

"Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us say to him: thank you, thank you because you have done all this for me," the pope said.
  • Published in Vatican

A Catholic Christmas and new year

This will be my second celebration of Christmas as the bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. I feel very much at home here. Over the past two years, I have met a lot of very wonderful and good people, some who share our Catholic faith, others who do not. There is a large network of men and women in our state who are dedicated to doing good works, whether it is helping the neediest and most vulnerable in our midst, striving for affordable housing, feeding the hungry and the homeless, providing resources for people and families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet or working tirelessly to protect our water and our environment. Much of this is reported in the 2016 winter issue of Vermont Catholic in which we acknowledge the good deeds and works that are being carried out by faithful Catholics here in Vermont.
This is what we Catholics do. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowing, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and clothe the needy. We do it because we know the meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...” (Jn 3:16). The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb and His later birth in the manger which we celebrate at Christmas remind us that God was born among us to bring reconciliation between God and man and reconciliation between all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ later preaching of the Kingdom of God was a call to communion with Him and with one another. That communion calls us to be merciful, doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves.
So, I wish you all a merry Christmas as we contemplate the merciful love of God for each of us, and I wish you all a new year of faith in which we renew our call to serve God through loving acts of mercy for others.
On another note, I invite you to join with me in celebrating 2017 as a “Year of Creation” in our diocese. On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical on the environment entitled “Laudato Si’” subtitled, “On care for our common home.” In this encyclical, he states that concern for the natural world is no longer “optional” but is an integral part of Church teaching on social justice. While it has been nearly two years since its publication, I think it is time for the Church here in Vermont to study, ponder and begin to implement much of what the pope calls for in “Laudato Si’.” As such, a number of resources, events and programs have been created for both parish and diocesan venues to help us do so. More will follow over the next few months, but I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
Yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
Bishop of Burlington
  • Published in Diocesan

Refugees place importance on keeping in touch with displaced families at Christmastime

ISTANBUL (CNS) -- Sami Dankha, his three brothers and their families used to kick off Christmas celebrations by attending a packed Christmas Eve Mass at St. Thomas Church in Baghdad. Wearing brand new clothes and sporting fresh haircuts, they would spend the night chatting, singing and eating pacha, a dish made from sheep's head that Iraqis consider a delicacy and a staple of Christmas.
But that was 20 years ago. Today, Dankha, 51, his wife, Faten, and their five children live in Turkey as refugees, far away from the rest of their families. They are waiting for an answer to their resettlement application to Australia.
"If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven't gathered," said Dankha, whose brothers now live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.
Years of instability, violence and discrimination have forced Iraqi Christian families to leave their homes. Christmas, traditionally celebrated with loved ones, is a reminder of the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the Middle East to countries throughout the word. Despite the distance and across different time zones, families keep the spirit of the holiday alive.
"The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure," Habiba Taufiq, 69, told Catholic News Service.
Taufiq was born in Aqrah but has lived most of her life in Ankawa, a Christian enclave in northern Iraq. She is now a refugee in Turkey, where she lives with one of her 10 children. The other nine are split among Australia, France, Sweden and Iraq.
"We danced and celebrated because of Jesus. Not only us but also with other families," Taufiq said, remembering Christmas back home. "Now there is a big difference because we are in different countries and that affects the occasion."
To stay connected, families rely on messaging and calling apps. "I call them on Viber video," said Dankha, mentioning one the most popular apps among the Iraqi community in Turkey.
Last year, Dankha spent at least four hours glued to his phone as he virtually celebrated Christmas with family and friends in 10 different countries. At some point he had to connect his phone to a power adapter after running out of charge. But seeing and hearing what is happening on the other side of the call is no replacement for being face to face.
"I see them celebrating in parties, and I feel sorrowful because I am here and we are separated, in different countries," Dankha said.
Nearly halfway around the world, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Nesrin Arteen, 42, also uses a messaging app to keep in touch with her family. "I talk to them often; with the internet, it is easy. But back when I arrived, it was very different," she told CNS.
Arteen is from Zakho, Iraq, and moved to Canada in 1994 before smartphones became ubiquitous. At the time she had to use a call center and wait in line before she could speak with her family. And when it was her turn, the quality of the connection was not good, and the calls frequently disconnected.
For Arteen, Christmas meant attending the Christmas Eve Mass and staying up all night with her family. She fondly remembered klecha -- a traditional cookie usually filled with nuts, coconuts or dates -- which she could not have when she first arrived in Canada. Back then Saskatoon did not even have a Chaldean Catholic church, which made her feel removed from her Christmas traditions.
"It was a different feel, different from home. I didn't feel the spirit of Christmas," Arteen said, remembering the first Christmas she spent in Canada.
Over time things changed. Today there is a Chaldean church in her city, and Arteen has started to create her own Christmas traditions. "I feel that the spirit of Christmas is here," she said. "My children go to a Christian school and are also part of the choir. There are places where they sing Christmas carols."
Taufiq hopes to reunite soon with some of her family in Australia. As she navigates visa procedures, she said she feels at peace that her children continue the traditions she started. "The circumstances separated us and now we are in different countries. But we still continue living with love," she said.
Dankha told CNS this Christmas will be special. His younger brother, Yalda, will visit him in Turkey from the Netherlands. They haven't seen each other since 2000.
That makes one less person on his list of people to call on Christmas.
"There are so many friends I don't know if I will ever see. Maybe one day when my country's situation is OK, maybe then we will get together. But I don't know if that will happen," he said.
  • Published in World

The Jesse Tree: An Advent Tradition

The Jesse Tree is a wonderfully simple way for individuals or families to take a few minutes each day to prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
The Jesse tree, named after the father of King David, is an Advent tradition dating back to the 11th century that depicted the family tree of Jesus. It served as a way for people to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth by remembering those who came before him. Today, the Jesse Tree allows the faithful to put the story of Jesus’ birth in the larger context of the Christian story – starting with Creation and moving through the major biblical events leading up to the Nativity. It is, ultimately, a story of God’s love.
Follow #JesseTreeVT on the Diocese of Burlington Instagram account (@DioBurlington) and download the attached reflections and ornament printables to decorate a Jesse Tree in your own home! On each day of Advent, read the scripture passage and ponder the short reflection assigned to that day, below. Cut out the matching ornament and hang it on your Jesse Tree or paste it on a Jesse Tree image posted somewhere in your home. Happy Advent!
November 27: DOVE; CREATION
Read: Isaiah 11:1
God created the world to be in harmony. God looked at what he created each day and saw that it was good and that the human being created was very good. This harmony was disrupted and is to be restored by Jesse’s descendant, Jesus. In Jesus, the prophesy of Isaiah comes to light: “The world shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

November 28: APPLE; ADAM AND EVE
Read: Genesis 3:6-7
The harmony God intends in the creation of the world is disrupted by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, represented by an apple. A sign that this harmony was broken was that Adam and Eve were afraid of God – who walked in the garden among his creation – and they hid themselves. This broken harmony causes division between people, God, and creation. Jesus overcomes this division and bridges the divide between heaven and earth.

November 29: ARK; NOAH
Read: Genesis 8:15-17
The ark – recalling the story of Noah and the Flood – symbolizes that God’s love overcomes our divisions and our sinfulness. Even though we sin and turn away from God, God always loves us and calls us back into relationship, promising never to “curse the ground because of humankind” (Gen 8:21). But God’s love is even greater than that; his love doesn’t simply save us from destruction, but gives us new life through Jesus.
Read: Genesis 15:5-6
On a moonless, cloudless winter night, go outside and try counting the stars. Imagine then, how childless Abraham felt when the Lord promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. God later promises the land to Abraham’s descendants. Creation itself becomes a sign of God’s promise. Through these promises and miracles, God continues to move us toward restoring the harmony lost in original sin, rebuilding our relationships with each other, God, and the world. This restoration finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
December 1: RAM; ISAAC
Read: Genesis 22:11-12
Today’s symbol of the ram recalls Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. As we prepare to celebrate with joy Jesus’ birth, we pause to reflect on the deep angst Abraham must have felt and recall another person afflicted with deep sorrow in her life – Mary, the mother of Jesus. The prophet Simeon’s words to her, “a sword will pierce your own soul,” foreshadowed her time at the foot of the Cross. This work of redemption is not without sacrifice.
December 2: LADDER; JACOB
Read: Genesis 28:12-15
A continuation of the story of God’s promises, we see the symbol of the ladder to heaven – a physical connection to the divine. In the person of Jesus, God-with-us, humanity and divinity meet, and the gap between heaven and earth doesn’t seem so large anymore. The promises God made to Abraham and Isaac are made complete in Jesus.
Read: Genesis 41:47-49
Today, we turn to Joseph, the son of Jacob. Joseph, in a terrible act of sibling rivalry at its worst, is thrown out of his family by his brothers. But, God has different plans for him. He finds favor with the Pharaoh of Egypt and eventually lands himself a pretty good position in the Egyptian government. Joseph uses this authority wisely, saving the people of Egypt (and neighboring areas) from famine. May the story of Joseph help us recall the humble beginning of Jesus, and what the reign of God means: “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk. 1:52-53).
Read: Exodus 3:2-10
God speaks to Moses and commands him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into their promised land. A bush on fire but not consumed must have been an awesome sight to Moses, a sign that this was holy ground. Perhaps the burning bush can also be a symbol of God’s love for us – love that envelopes and purifies, but does not destroy. Our Advent and Christmas celebrations are indeed a celebration of God’s love for us – in the person of Jesus.
Read: Exodus 12:11
The lamb, an early symbol for Christ, is a reminder of the first Passover, when God commanded Aaron and Moses to sacrifice a lamb for the Passover. This event signaled the beginning of the Passover for the Israelites – where they fled from slavery in Egypt and into the land promised them. Jesus is our Lamb – bringing us from death into new life, and leading us – if we choose to follow – to the promised land of heaven.
Read: Exodus 20:22-23
Sometimes, it seems that being Christian is about following rules – the commandments being the basic, foundational rules to live by. But our faith is about following a person – Christ – who “is the fulfilment of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith” (Rom. 10:4). In the end, we cannot depend on ourselves to bring back harmony to creation; we will always fall short if left to our own ways. But the gift of Jesus is that he fulfills the law and thus restores harmony. This Advent, reaffirm your commitment to follow Jesus.
Read: Joshua 6:20
The trumpet recalls Moses’s assistant Joshua taking the city of Jericho – where the walls came tumbling down (some may remember the song – “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho”). God promised the land to the Israelites, and Jericho’s destruction is symbolic that the old ways of the society in Jericho were being replaced by the Israelites. Likewise, in Jesus, the old order of sin and death gives way to new life.
Read: Judges 7:20-21
Moving along Jesus’ family tree through the Old Testament, a jar recounts the story of Gideon found in Judges 7. Things were looking pretty bad for the Israelites; they had turned away from God, and armies would constantly fight against them. But then came Gideon; a man of faith. He had faith in God that despite his small army, only 300, he would conquer the Midian army of over 100,000. The jars were used to surprise the Midian army that Gideon fought against; each of his soldiers carried a jar hiding a torch, and upon breaking the jars revealing the flames and sounding the trumpets, the Midian army fled in fear. Through faith, Gideon subdued kingdoms and armies. Through his faith, God worked miracles, and the Israelites, once again, came to believe in the power of God.
Today, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary – that Mary was conceived without original sin so that she could be the new ark – the bearer – of God in the child Jesus. Her faith demonstrates the power and the miracles of God, and her faith allows her to proclaim “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Mary’s faith is a model for us. How can your faith be a witness to the power of God in your life?
December 9: CROWN; SAMUEL
Read: 1 Samuel 3:19
Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel, and he appointed the first King of Israel, Saul. Samuel was called by God at a young age to be a prophet. Like the others who came before him, Samuel’s faith in God deepened, and he always worked to restore the relationship between God and the Israelites, who had a tendency of straying from God. In this story, we see an earthly kingdom formed, a kingdom consistently called to be in relationship with the Lord. Through his birth, Jesus brings to us the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom already here, but not fully present. How does your faith in God help bring the Kingdom of God into the world?
Read: 1 Samuel 16:11-13
David, before he was anointed king of Israel, was a young shepherd. God promises King David that his kingdom will last forever and that God will not take his steadfast love from him. Even though later in life David is unfaithful to God, God does not abandon this kingdom. God’s love endures forever and even in the midst of unfaithfulness—where our human thoughts encourage us to separate and divide—God draws ever closer to us in the person of Jesus.
Read: 1 Kings 18:36-39
The prophet Elijah calls the people to turn away from false worship. He builds a stone altar to the Lord and calls down on God to accept the offering on it, which God accepts by setting the offering on fire. Again, God’s power is demonstrated. As we move closer to Christmas, let us recognize and be grateful of God’s very power in Jesus – the power to conquer death and give life.
Read: 2 Kings 19:34-35
King Hezekiah was faithful to God, unlike his father King Ahaz, who disobeyed God. God saw Hezekiah’s faith and protected his people in battle. The empty tent represents an empty battlefield; King Hezekiah’s enemies fled the battlefield. As you can see in the history of the judges and kings of Israel, faith is fragile. For common, everyday people and for kings alike, it gives way too easily to temptation. Faith needs to be nurtured and protected. How are you taking this Advent Season to nurture your faith in God?
Read: Isaiah 9:1
Isaiah’s prophesies foretell of the coming of the Messiah, but Isaiah was hesitant about proclaiming the Word of God, fearing that he was not capable of giving prophecy. Isaiah’s mouth is touched with a burning ember – burning away, in a sense, this hesitancy, and he proclaims the coming Messiah. His prophecies built the hope of those who heard him as they were living in exile from their homeland. Those people heard the words of Isaiah: “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1). As Christians, we have heard and seen that light in Jesus, yet our world is still filled with darkness and gloom. How can we be a people bringing the message of Jesus – the message of hope – to those areas of darkness and gloom?
December 14: TEARS; JEREMIAH
Read: Jeremiah 8:23
The prophet Jeremiah weeps at the sinfulness of the people. He speaks out against the hypocrisy in worship: “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place” (Jer. 7:3-7).
This season, we often think of – pray for – peace. Today, am I a peaceful person? That is, am I one who brings peace to all whom I encounter? Do I allow others, especially those otherwise marginalized by society, to experience peace? Or am I an obstacle to their peace?
Read: Habakkuk 2:1
Advent is a time for waiting – waiting not only to celebrate God-with-us in Jesus’ birth at Christmas, but waiting for Christ’s coming at the end of time, and waiting for God to be in our midst today. The prophet Habakkuk waited. He watched as around him, the land and his people were consumed by violence and death. “O, Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen,” he pleads (Hab. 1:2). The symbol of the watchtower reminds us that in this Advent Season – although we may not experience our time of waiting as intensely as Habakkuk – we are still waiting. But we shouldn’t wait without faith and hope. Habakkuk had faith and hope, for he ends his prophecy with “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights” (Hab. 3:18-19). Let this be a season where we wait in joyful hope.
December 16: WALL; NEHEMIAH
Read: Nehemiah 1:8-9
Nehemiah was a governor of Judah after the Persians allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem after they were exiled during the Babylonian Captivity. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall surrounding Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Before Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and became governor of a people who were in the process of rebuilding the city, he lived a pretty comfortable life as a high-ranking official in the Persian Court. Nehemiah left the comforts of the Persian royal court to help the people of Jerusalem rebuild their city. As governor, he was among the people of Jerusalem. God, too, chooses to be among his people in the person of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Does this remind you of the original creation, as God intended it? God walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Our God – infinitely beyond us – chooses to draw close to us.
Read: Luke 3:16
The shell is a traditional symbol of our baptism. We are reminded of John the Baptist preaching about the coming of Jesus, and the baptism which Jesus offers to all: “one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Lk. 3:16). Baptism is our own entryway into the incredible work of salvation. Today, give thanks for your baptism, and renew your baptismal commitment to reject sin and live in the freedom of God’s children!
December 18: WHITE LILY; MARY
Read: Luke 1:30-33
Mary’s faith is a model for all of us. Throughout our Advent journey with the Jesse tree, we have seen many examples of prophets and kings calling their people to repentance after they’ve turned away from God. In Mary, we see a steadfast, consistent faith. Not that that faith didn’t encounter questions; Mary had questions. But in the midst of those questions, she kept faith. Just as she bore Emmanuel – Jesus – into the world, may our faith be steadfast, and may all we do be enlightened and informed by our faith, so that we can make God known and loved through the world.
Read: Luke 1:41-42
When Mary greets her sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth greets her with the greeting we pray every time we say the Hail Mary. Elizabeth, too, foreshadows the coming of the Savior: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk. 1:43). There is great joy in this encounter; the coming of the Lord is near!
Read: Luke 1:63
Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist. When asked about the name for his child, Zechariah, who was unable to speak, asked for a tablet on which he wrote, “His name is John” (Lk. 1:63). Immediately, Zechariah was able to speak and began to praise God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant” (Lk 1:68-72).
We are nearing the end of our Jesse Tree. Just as Zechariah recounted all the good things God has done in the past in his blessing (Lk. 1:68-79), so too do we by reflecting on the ornaments of this tree. Praised be God!
December 21: HAMMER; JOSEPH
Read: Matthew 1:20-22
The first chapter of Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus through Joseph back to King David (and even prior). Joseph was a carpenter, symbolized by today’s ornament. Although not a king, Joseph still had faith and trust in God, even in the midst of uncertainty. God chooses kings, prophets, and carpenters to bring about the heavenly Kingdom. How is God calling you to use your faith to bring about the Heavenly Kingdom?
December 22: CANDLE; MAGI
Read: Matthew 2:2
The Magi are strangers from the East and have come to pay this child – the King of the Jews – homage. But why? The Magi are not Jewish; the King of the Jews isn’t their king. Surely they must know that something is special about this child! Not much is said about the Magi in Scripture. After visiting with Jesus, they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod to report the child’s location. Scripture doesn’t tell us where they went? Perhaps they went back to their homeland and spoke of what they saw. Perhaps they began to spread the Good News without even fully realizing who this child was – a light for the whole world.
Our wait to celebrate Jesus’ Nativity is almost over. We’ve been waiting with joyful hope for the coming of the Savior. How will you spread the Good News of God’s Word in the days and weeks ahead?
December 23: MANGER; JESUS
Read: Luke 2:10-12
“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” (Lk. 1:6-7). Jesus is born in humble surroundings, surrounded by humble people. He is not born in a palace surrounded by royalty and the best doctors money can afford. Shepherds – those who work on the land among animals – come on the scene. Imagine strangers – men who smell of the sheep they tended, nevermind what they look like – coming into a hospital delivery room today. Police would be called!
The Nativity story is surrounded by humility – simple beginnings. The same is true for our life of faith. We don’t need to be perfect in order to have faith. Our lives can be – and are – often times messy, unorganized, cluttered. Jesus enters into that messiness. All that’s needed is an open heart.
But this doesn’t mean there is not work involved. Although Jesus was born in humble settings, Mary and Joseph did all they could to nurture…educate…raise…protect their child. Sure, he was God, but he was still their child. And so it is with us – God finds a way in, but we must constantly nurture our relationship with God. Rejoice that God comes to you no matter how messy or clean your life is. How do you work to deepen your relationship with God?
December 24: CHI-RHO; CHRIST
Read: John 1:34
Today’s symbol is a monogram of the first two letters of the word Christos – or Christ. John tells us that Christ is the light of the world. And that light gives us hope: “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God…from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:12, 16).
Great news indeed! Merry Christmas!

Josh Perry, Director of Worship for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington
  • Published in Diocesan
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