Daily Bread

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Ps 31; Mt 10:17-22

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
The Spirit guides Stephen to perform great works that infuriate his opponents. They fail to counter the wisdom and the spirit of his signs, so they stone him. Stephen persists and offers his spirit to the Lord. These varying uses of the word “spirit” echo Christ’s own sacrifice and the significance of the promise of an advocate. After giving up his own spirit — his physical being — Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit — the Advocate — to remain with the disciples and give them a spirit of boldness to spread the good news. The Spirit empowers and commissions Stephen; he cannot help but give testimony, even at the risk of his own earthly life. Stephen courageously offers his temporal spirit as witness to power of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, dwell within us that we may be courageous and steadfast.

Is 62:11-12; Ps 97; Ti 3; Lk 2:15-20

… not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy …
The loving Father longs to save us. When sin destroyed our communion with him, he planned his church to gather and dwell with him in heaven. God didn’t view humankind as irrevocably lost to sin; rather, he called all people to live in a special relationship with him through Jesus Christ, his Son — an extraordinary gesture of love and compassion. It’s the perfect gift; we should treasure it every day. May the spirit of this glorious season of giving inspire us daily to extravagantly offer love and mercy, not because others earn it, but because we are all heirs in the hope of eternal life.
Loving Father, on this Christmas morning, we rejoice in the priceless gift of your Son.

Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Ps 25:4-14; Lk 1:57-66

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.
Without Luke’s Gospel, Christmas would be impossible! Luke seems to think the same thing about John the Baptist. Now, is this a flub? “They made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.” Zechariah is mute, he’s not deaf! But you have to love this story; everyone expects that an only son will receive his father’s name, but there’s another Father involved. “John” in Hebrew is Yohanan, that is, Yahweh is gracious. So, this is it: one more “hold” till Christmas Eve. I feel as tingly as the attendees at John’s birth: “What, then, will this child be?”
O Emmanuel, our King and giver of the Law: Come to save us, Lord our God!

1 Sm 1:24-28; 1 Sm 2-8; Lk 1:46-56

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
A lot of Christmas carols are pretty sentimental. Why aren’t there more songs with lyrics provided by the original caroler, the Virgin Mary herself? A cynic might say she’s plagiarizing the Song of Hannah (used for the responsorial psalm today). But look closely. Mary is a social justice warrior, yes, but her real theme is mercy, a quality unmentioned in her source. So, sure, I’d love to see some fat cats taken down a peg and some humble folks catching a break. But that “mercy” thing, you see, it’s the bottom line. So sing, sing of the Lord who has “mercy in every generation.”
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: Come and save us, whom you formed from the dust!

Sg 2:8-14; Ps 33:2-21; Lk 1:39-45

Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Here it is only four more shopping days until Christmas and Mary is heading for the hills! Any chance we might follow her example? The malls have been “doing” Christmas for months, but the church moves at its own pace. Advent is a time for reflection, preparation, self-awareness, even if we’re already singing carols here and there. I recommend the posadas, our annual nightly visits to the poor in our little town here in Honduras, re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s quest for lodging in Bethlehem. We share and sing and pray for an hour or so, a treasured time of peace and quiet. Join us, at least in spirit!
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Is 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Lk 1:26-38

How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?
Mary “ever virgin,” expresses her uncertainty with this question. But she did have the baby we’d been waiting for! We had fun in some astonishing college classes on the Trinity at Boston College, where classmates and the professor unwrapped the depths of the question: “Was Jesus a human person?” We picked and we picked till we came up with: “Yes, Jesus was a human person, but the person who was human was the second person of the Trinity!” Mary knew that person, that holy child, because she was willing to say: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” And, her “yes” allows us to know him too.
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: Come and free the prisoners of darkness!

Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a; Ps 71:3-17; Lk 1:5-25

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.
After thousands of years, salvation history is finally picking up speed. John the Baptist — representing the long-anticipated return of Elijah — is on his way! Of course, there are still a few bumps in the road, such as when the angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah dumb for expressing a doubt, one which we’d all share: How does a couple in their nineties have a baby? But how many times have I doubted that God could bring life out of my withering sin? Impossible! I say. Shut your mouth! says the Lord. Like Zechariah, I will again be praising the Lord when God’s promises are fulfilled.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all people: Come to save us without delay!

Jer 23:5-8; Ps 72:1-19; Mt 1:18-25

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David.
We have begun the “O Antiphons, the “seven-day” novena, if you will, that closes the Advent season; I conclude the Daily Bread each day this week with its the appointed antiphon. Today we see things from Joseph’s point of view. His silence is golden, as his devotion to Mary saves her from the law that would have stoned her for adultery. You know what? It’s a love story! Really, the story is so simple and sweet and it continues to inspire.

O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: Come to rescue us with your mighty power!

Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Mt 17:9a, 10-13

Blessed is he … who falls asleep in your friendship.
I found it strange to pray for “the grace of a happy death.” Happy and death didn’t fit together in my mind. Although we know that death is inevitable, when and how it occurs can leave many devastated, angry or unable to find hope in life. After witnessing the death of friends and family who were given time to say goodbye, were at peace with God and those around them, and who felt they had accomplished something of worth in their life, I saw what a gift a “good death” offered those left behind. I now understand how it is the wish of all who must face its inevitable arrival.
Grant us peace and faith in your mercy and love now and forever.

Is 48:17-19; Ps 1:1-4, 6; Mt 11:16-19

I, the Lord, teach you what is for your good.
If we were to accept all that modern media would have us believe, our minds would be a muddle of confusion. The “must-haves” of today soon become derided as passé. The latest “cure-alls” become the diseases of tomorrow. Even the latest headline soon becomes tomorrow’s “fake news.” What are we to hold on to? Scripture reminds us that the values of our noisy world can often seem fickle and confusing, so it is helpful to follow the commandments and Jesus’ call to love God and one another. To focus our efforts on these values means we anchor our lives only to God who gives us all that we need.
Blessed are those who delight in the law of the Lord.