The Scripture Readings for Christmas Eve/Day

There are different readings (and prayers) for the "Four Masses of Christmas" celebrated at: the Vigil, in the Night, at Dawn, and in the Day.  Check here for the texts for each and commentary on them. (Note, however, that some pastors will choose to use these texts interchangeably.)

One way to prepare for celebrating Christmas is to take a look at how the four gospels present the birth, the origin of Christ.  This post provides those texts for you, below.

Did you know:
- that Luke's account never mentions the wise men?
- that Matthew's account doesn't mention the shepherds or a manger?
- that Matthew's Joseph had three significant dreams regarding the Nativity?
- that both Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch. 3) include a genealogy of Jesus
       and that they're different?
- that neither Mark nor John includes the story of Jesus' birth at all?

 A little comparative study here may provide some surprises - and give you some good trivia questions for Christmas gatherings!

The gospel texts of the Christmas story follow here:

St. Luke by Peter Wilke
Chapter 2
(preceded in Chapter 1 by the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son, John the Baptist; and the story of the angel appearing to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, announcing that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit.)

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 Messiah 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."
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,"
and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

St. Matthew by Peter Wilke 
Chapter 1
(Preceded by the genealogy of Jesus)
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, 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.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
Chapter 2
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."
He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.
He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean."

St. John by Peter Wilke
Although there is no Nativity narrative in John, his gospel does treat of the origin of the Word made flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
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.

St. Mark by Peter Wilke
There is no Nativity narrative in the Gospel of Mark.  It begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.

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Monday Morning Offering: 12/17

Image: George Mendoza

Good morning, good God!

You ask me to rejoice - in good times and in bad.
You ask me to pray - all the time.
You ask me to be grateful - no matter what.

You ask a lot, Lord, so, in turn,
I'll try to offer a lot this Monday morning...

I offer you my desire 
to rejoice even when times are tough...
I ask you to stir up within me:
the joy that's yours to give;
the joy that only you can give;
the joy that can't be quelled by fear;
the joy whose source is deeper
than even my deepest grief...

I desire a joy greater than any loss I've known,
deeper than all my wounds
and stronger than all my fears...

Give me a joy that survives
my moods, my feelings,
my ego and my thin skin...

I pray for a joy that lasts,
endures, suffers through
and comes out on the other side
whole, true and intact...

When my heart is dry and my soul cloudy,
plant within me, Lord, seeds of joy
to blossom in seasons when my happiness
depends upon you alone...

I offer you my desire, Lord,
to know, to sense, to respond
to every nudge of your Spirit
prompting me to pray...

When I'm too tired or too busy,
when I'm angry or disappointed,
when I'm forgetful or self-centered,
just plain foolish or too lazy to pray,
send your Spirit to wake me up,
to turn my heart around,
to give me the wisdom to turn to you in prayer...

Open my eyes, Lord, to all the blessings
I've received from your hand,
all reasons to be joyful:
the blessing of life and the blessing of freedom;
the blessings of a place to live, water to drink,
food to eat and friends to love;
the blessings of your mercy, your grace,
your Word and even yourself
in the sacrament of the table
where we gather to give you thanks...

Free me of envy, Lord,
and jealousy of others:
make me grateful for what I have
and help me find my joy
in all that is already mine...

I offer you my desire, Lord,
to rejoice always,
to pray without ceasing
and to give thanks in all circumstances...

Remind me of all the joy you've given me, Lord:
help me hold those memories in prayer,
and give me a heart grateful
for all you've given and all you promise me...

Hear my prayer this Monday Advent morning, Lord,
today and through the week ahead...



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One of my favorite Christmas images

Photo by RMH

Just a happy Christmas image, one of my favorites:
my sister's grandson, Austin, peeking in at her window in Georgetown, Colorado...

This was taken six years ago  - but  that only makes it more special!

Joy to the world!

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Pause for Prayer: SUNDAY 12/16

In these days before Christmas we find ourselves surrounded by the happiness of others who might seem to have a joy in their hearts we have trouble finding in our own.  When it's hard to find the joy, difficult to rejoice, we might pray this way...

I will rejoice, Lord -
in every joy I've ever known...

I rejoice in joy forgotten:
help me remember and savor it...

I rejoice in the simple joys of youth
even if my youth was not always joyful...

I rejoice in the good times:
let me not forget them
or lose them among lesser memories...

I rejoice in hope that lifted my spirits -
even if sometimes hope left me disappointed...

I rejoice in those who've loved me:
family, friends and each kind stranger
whose path has crossed my own...

I rejoice just in knowing
you want me to be happy, Lord,
in mind and heart, in peace...

I rejoice in knowing you forgive me, Lord,
each and every time I fall and turn to you
for pardon...

I rejoice in all the second chances
you've so generously granted me
and all the new beginnings I have known...

I rejoice in knowing that even when I'm sad
your gifts of peace and joy are there for me,
they wait for me...

Help me claim what joy I've turned away
when I was hurt and angry, Lord,
or sinking in self-pity...

I rejoice in knowing
my burdens aren't forever
and that all shall be well, Lord,
that all shall be well,
that all manner of things shall be well...

In all times, Lord, in good and in bad,
I thank you for the joy
of simply knowing you...

And because I know you love me,
I rejoice, Lord, I rejoice...



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Homily for December 16

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
Scriptures for today's Mass


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, that’s what the song says - but for many,
the truth is something very different - and not so wonderful…

• When you tear off the bright ribbons and wrappings of Christmas,
you’ll often uncover, underneath, some sadness...
• If you look closely behind all the quick and easy holiday smiles,
you may find tears, moistening many faces…
• As you listen to Christmas music,
you might hear your own heart echo strains of loneliness and loss…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

But if you douse the candles and pull the plug on the lights on the tree,
if you take down the wreaths and the mistletoe…
You see, it’s not all that difficult to look a lot like Christmas -
for many, the really hard part is to feel a lot like Christmas.

Happy holidays!  Happy holidays!

But “the holidays” just aren’t a happy time for many people.
And even for those who do find the holidays to be uplifting
their happiness is often marked by some degree of sadness,
moistened with tears, laced with melancholy,
edged with a certain measure of sorrow.

So, a bittersweet experience - as it is for me this year.
This year I celebrate my 25th Christmas as a pastor in Concord:
my 25th and last Christmas in Concord.

Much of what this season purports and pretends to be
is, for many, just that: a posture, based on a presumption
that we’re all supposed to feel and act in a particular way,
-- in a particularly joyful way - every time December rolls around.
For many folks, that’s very difficult;
and for some it’s nearly impossible.

And yet, here’s St. Paul urging us in the scriptures today: 
Rejoice in the Lord always!  I shall say it again: rejoice!
Paul’s words might be hard for some of us to swallow,
especially if we find the holidays to be a difficult time.

But there’s also a truth, a wisdom, in Paul’s words
that can serve all of us well.
The joy St. Paul writes about is something quite different
than being “merry” in each year’s twelfth month.
The joy of faith is of far greater strength and substance
than “yuletide glee.”

Rather, the joy of faith is rather like a river
coursing through the depths of our hearts
even in those times when life, all around us,

may be desert-thirsty and  bone-dry:
times when we need, so desperately,
just one cool drop of water
to slake a thirsty sadness threatening to consume us.

The joy of faith is like a light, glowing,
somewhere deep within our souls
when everything around us is dark and cloudy,

that light does not go out.
When everything is over-shadowed by loss and disappointment,
that light still burns.
This is a joy within, waiting for the soul’s long, dark night to pass
and for a new day to dawn with light to shine on the path we walk
and lead us safely home to peace.

The joy of faith comes in that moment when,
somewhere deep within,  in a place we may have long forgotten,
we find a hint, a trace, a gift, a grace from God,
reminding us that there is another way,

there is another day;
that we’re not alone but that we walk with God,
who walks with us, who’s been with us,

every step along the way, all along our dark and rocky path…

The joy of faith isn't about being “merry.”
It’s about the peace that comes from trust in God,
in God’s abiding love for us,

even and especially in difficult and hard times:
in the hope that peace is waiting for us:
a peace that knows no sorrow, knows no pain:
a peace that has no end,

a peace that can reawaken joy in us.

And as if St. Paul encouraging us to rejoice always isn’t enough
he writes this, too:  Have no anxiety!    (Right!  “Have no anxiety!)
He says: In everything, make your requests known to God!

I know some people who are tired of praying.
They’re tired of praying because they’ve already prayed for so long
for someone, or for some thing or for themselves
and it seems that God’s not answering.
Sometimes it may seem that God’s not even listening.

But no prayer ever leaves our lips without God’s hearing it
and even our unspoken prayers, hiding in our hearts' silence -
are heard by God.

God’s doesn’t always answer quickly  - or in the way we want,
but prayer always draws us closer to the Lord,
who knew, himself, what it was to cry out
when it seemed no answer would come,
when it seemed that no one was listening to him.
We may not readily receive what we pray for
but every prayer can draw us closer to the love of God.
The presence, the companionship of God with us
is the first answer to every prayer.

And, St. Paul goes on to say:
If you rejoice always, and pray at all times,
then God’s peace will be yours.

What’s this peace Paul speaks of?
It’s more than the end of conflict. 
It’s more than a solution to my problems.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that God is with me,
in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that whatever I’ve done,
what ever my troubles may be, whatever tomorrow may bring:
God loves me as I am
and there’s nothing’s greater than God’s love.

This peace, then, isn’t a peace
I hope is somewhere “down the road”
at the end of all my difficulties and troubles.
The peace Paul writes about is the peace of God
accompanying me, on my rocky path, every step of the way,
through all my troubles.

Can we stop for a moment, then,
and maybe close our eyes and pray…
Can we put our problems in the Lord’s hands for a few minutes…

Can we remember something joyful in our lives:?
Can we remember a person, a relationship,
a place, a time, an event that brought us joy
– even something long ago?
Can we remember that joy and savor it, delight in it again,
for just a moment -  and thank God for it?
Can we hold that joy in a grateful heart,
and take in, drink in, the peace it seeks to offer us?

Let’s pray…

Lord, the jolly jingle's all around us but not in every heart...
Red and green are everywhere but some folks just feel blue...
The rushing 'round to buy and wrap disheartens lonely souls...

Plans for Christmas eve leave out those who'll be alone...
This “merry month” will be, for some - the hardest time of all...

So, help us, Lord, we pray...

Help us hear the tears that fall as Christmas bells are ringing...
Help us see the shades of blue that cloud a neighbor's joy...

Help us wrap our love to share with those who'll be alone...
And let your gentle touch rest upon hearts that know the ache

this season often brings,
let your blessing come, Lord, with grace,
to heal our hearts with peace,
on Christmas day...                         



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Pause for Prayer: SATURDAY 12/15

(Still shopping for Christmas?  Remembering gifts you've given and gifts you've received? Today's post is an annual one, intended as a "starter" for your own reflection and prayer.  It's the story of the best Christmas present I ever gave, the best Christmas present I ever received. My daily Pause for Prayer follows after the story...

The Best Christmas Present

Michael would stop by about once a month just to talk with a keen and critical eye on matters religious and political and an Irish-born sense of humor to match. Our conversations were equal parts spiritual direction and political debate, brotherly bantering.

By nature he was, and by nurture he became a self-sufficient man. One who ached to be loved, he longed to know that he was loved by God – with whom he had a life-long sparring match. Unfortunately, his early church experience had done little to convince him of God’s love and much to make him deeply doubt it.

Over a few years’ time he shared with me his personal oral history, recorded in my heart if not on tape. Especially sharp with detail were stories of his youth, his love affair with horses and the adventures of making his way in and around the world. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: his stories or the look in his eyes as he told them. His words told the tale while his eyes invited me into his soul which I found to be a sacred place to visit.

On a late October morning, complaining about the commercialism of Christmas items for sale alongside bags of Halloween candy, he segued to a remembrance of an early Christmas when his heart was set on only one gift: a copy of Boy’s Cinema Annual. He’d made sure his parents knew his wish but come the morning of the 25th he found several gifts under the tree but not the one he so dearly wanted. He was old enough to understand that even if Santa Claus hadn't known his desire his parents did and that they could have easily afforded the present he'd asked for. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a cherished hope had gone unfulfilled.

It’s painfully early in life that a child can learn to expect to be disappointed. Some of our earliest disappointments are the ones that shape our souls and how we see everything – even how we see God. My friend’s story joined my own soul-shaping memories in the place where my heart’s hopes and hurts are collected and guarded. Perhaps you have such a place in your heart, too.

Later that day, it took me only a few hours online to locate (at a used-book shop in Australia) an issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual dated close to my friend’s youth. I ordered it and was pleased with the condition in which it arrived. I remember wrapping it in red tissue paper and attaching a store-bought bow to top it off.

He stopped by in early December and we talked for about an hour. When he was ready to take his leave I produced the gift from my desk drawer. He was embarrassed not to have a present for me and I assured him that the wit and wisdom his visits brought me were more than generous gifts. He opened the package and for several long minutes simply looked at the magazine until his tears began to fall upon it. Then he looked up and, as so many times before, his gaze invited me into his soul. He asked me if I knew how much this meant to him. Through my tears I told him yes, I thought I did.

I believe a wounded corner of Michael’s soul was healed in opening that gift and I know a place in my own heart was restored in giving it. If only for a moment we both knew for sure that love finds a home between our hopes and hurts - the very place where God aches to be with us, to love and heal us.

An old, used issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual was the best Christmas I ever gave. And you know, it was the best Christmas gift I ever received.

Let's Pause for Prayer...


Teach me to recognize the true gifts,
the real gifts, the authentic gifts
that are ours to share with one another...

Preserve my heart, my soul and my imagination

from wanting what I don't need,
from desiring what I ought not have,
from seeking what's passing and unimportant...

Teach me, Lord,

to long for and to share with others
those inner gifts of love and patience,
kindness and generosity,
selflessness and mercy:
gifts that are always mine to give
and always needed
in others' hearts, both near and far...

Teach me to receive as well as to give, Lord:

give me an open heart,
never too proud to accept and welcome
all those around me who offer my heart gifts
shared from theirs...

May the gifts I offer others, Lord,

bring healing and wholeness
where others have walked roughly
and carelessly in tender places...

May the gifts that others offer me

find a home in my soul
and bring whatever healing and mending
my heart needs...

And always, Lord,

open my heart to the gifts you offer,
the gifts I truly need,
the gifts that bring your peace...




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