Jim Mayzik SJ                   Everything Matters

Current homilies

Nativity Story Duet



It was a very cold night, and a very dark night, and Joseph and Mary and Rita were crowded into the small cottage out in the country.  Rita was helping Mary, who was lying in bed, in the midst of contractions.  There was a baby about to be born in that cottage, Joseph and Mary’s baby.  It was a mess of a situation.  She was young, he was much older, they weren’t married, and their families didn’t even know about the pregnancy.  And here it was, the 24th of December, and suddenly the baby wanted out, it wanted to be born. They had found this place, and their friend Rita, who was nurse and a midwife, agreed to help. 

Joseph was having the most trouble with it.  He was too young, too unsure of his life, unwillingly to accept the responsibility for raising a child.  He had tried to stop Mary from having the baby at all, but she insisted, she wanted it.  “Maybe we’ll have a son,” she had said, and Joseph shuddered at the thought.  There was a fleeting vision of his father, not very clear, as best as he could remember him.

Rita needed some rubbing alcohol, and some special medications, and she asked Joseph to get them at the store.  Mary was beginning to have some strong pain, and she was moaning at times in the bed.  Joseph went out into the cold night, and started the car.  His mind was numb from the whole  drama unfolding before him, and he drove the car towards the drugstore in the nearest town.  When he got to the store, he stopped the car, but he didn’t turn it off.  He sat there, just looking at the drugstore, making no move to get out.  And then, without even realizing it, he was driving away—in the opposite direction from the cottage.


Joseph didn’t know where he was going,  or what he was doing, except that he was fleeing, he was getting away from it all, getting away from the whole mess.

As he drove along dark country roads he had never seen before, it began to snow lightly.  But the wind picked up, and so did the snow, and within a short time, it was snowing so hard Joseph could hardly see the road.  His headlights seemed to pierce only a few  inches ahead of him on the road.  Suddenly he hit a bump, and he braked hard, and the car started to slide sideways, and in the next second he went into a ditch on the side of the road.  

He couldn’t get the car out, no matter how hard he tried to rock it back and forth: there was no way to get any traction.  He got out of the car, and decided to walk down the road, although he had no idea at all where he was.  He was in the middle of nowhere, snow flakes were swirling all around him, seeming to fly as randomly as his life.  He fought the sudden urge to cry, but felt very much like a little boy, lost.

He walked for a long time through the storm, and then all of a sudden the wind died down, the snow  stopped, and he was facing the huge brown eyes of a cow.  It was so unexpected, and so large, and the cow gave out this enormous MOOO, that It scared him.  Before Joseph had time to even think about what to do, there was a voice: “Well, don’t just stand there like a big buffoon, help me get this little lady off the road.”  


It was a tiny woman, wtih a deeply wrinkled face that looked about 100 years old.  She was marching around like a teenager, pushing at the cow from behind, a big stick in her hand.  “Come on,” she said again to Joseph, and he although he was completely baffled by her appearance (and the cow's), he got beside her and pushed the cow towards the side of the road.  

That’s when he noticed the barn.  From what he could make of it in the dark, it was big, and old, and as wrinkled as the woman, and that’s where they pushed the cow.  


Inside, it was like a zoo.  There were chickens in there, and a horse, two more cows, and a couple of pigs.  They were all making noises, neighing and snorting and squawking and mooing.

“Take a look at this,” the old woman said, and brought Joseph over by the arm to a corner of the barn.  

There was a dog lying in the hay, and she had four puppies feeding from her.  Next to them was a little girl with blonde hair kneeling on the ground. She looked up at Joseph for a moment, and then she turned her attention to the mother of the puppies, petting her.  

The old woman smiled a toothless grin at the puppies, and then at Joseph.  “Christmas puppies,” she said, “the best!”   She looked around at the whole zoo of a barn and opened her arms.  “My children!”, she said, looking proud and very content.  There was an extraordinary glow about her.  It came shining out, through all the folds of wrinkled skin. 


She looked at Joseph again.  “And shouldn’t you be with your children tonight?  You know it’s Christmas, my dear.” And with that, she turned around, and as quickly as she had appeared, she disappeared out through the barn doors.  

Joseph was dumbfounded at what she had said.  How could she have known?  What did she see in him?  And who was she?  He looked around the barn.  The little girl wasn’t there—she had disappeared as well.  Joseph walked to the door of the barn, and opened it. It was snowing again outside, but gentler now, and in silence.

There was no sign of the old woman.  There was nothing else around but the snow and a path.  As he walked down the path in front of him, he heard a cow moo, and he turned around to look back at the barn.  The little girl was standing in the doorway, looking at him, and smiling, and then she closed the door.  It was all so strange.

And suddenly a flood of emotions filled him.  All at once, his whole life was playing itself out.  All the struggles of his childhood, all the questions, all the hurts, they all came back, and his father, whom he had never known, a vision of his father took over his soul.  He got in the car, drove it right out of the ditch, and turned it around. 

He drove as fast and as sure as he could, retracing the steps of his flight, his heart pounding and almost unable to contain all it was feeling—most especially gratitude.  He had been given a gift this night.  He had been shown the meaning of his life, of all life, he had been visited by an angel who had brought glad tidings of great joy to him, and to the world.  He arrived at the cottage, rushed out of the car, and ran to the door.  He flung it open, and there, beside the crackling fire, within her mother’s arms, was his newborn baby daughter, mother with child sleeping in heavenly peace.  Mary looked up and smiled at him, and Joseph knelt down, put his face upon her lap, tears streaming down his cheeks.

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Silent night, holy night All is calm and all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace 

Silent night, holy night Shepherds quake at the sight Glories stream from Heaven afar Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah Christ the Savior is born Christ our Savior is born


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This is a story about one Christmas Eve not so long ago that happened right here in this neighborhood.  It’s a story about the family that Christmas makes of all of us, about the baby that we need to bring to one another especially at this time of year.  

Like every good Christmas Eve worth its salt, there was a prediction that it would snow. The last hours before Christmas were hectic, as usual. Mothers and fathers were trying to get out of work early, stores were packed with people buying last minute provisions for the family meals, the last Amazon packages were being delivered all over the city.

And of course, everyone was still trying to be good, waiting for Santa’s visit in the wee hours of the night.

So there was a boy named Joey who lived with his sister and his mom and dad in Stuyvesant town, right near the Oval. Joey was an exceptional child, an old soul, some would say, because at a very young age he revealed an unusual compassion for anyone or anything in need: a kid being made fun of in school, an elderly person trying to carry a package into the lobby of his apartment house, or even a bird who was struggling with an injury on the sidewalk.

And on Christmas Eve morning, as he and his mom were coming home from Trader Joe’s, Joey gave a dollar he had in his pocket to a woman who was lying under a scaffold at Duane Reed. She had a small child asleep next to her on the bed of cardboard and dirty blankets. Joey asked his mother what would happen to them if the predicted cold and snow came later in the evening.

“I don’t know,” she said, wondering if his sensitivity and kind heart would hurt him in the end. “These people”, she said, holding his hand and rushing to catch the light at the corner, “all we can do is pray for them.”  


Joey looked back at the woman and her child as he and his mom crossed the busy street.

As evening came, the snow began to fall. At first it came down gently, silently, laying a white blanket upon the streets, on the unsold Christmas trees lining the sidewalks, on the tables at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, in the narrow lanes and paths of Peter Cooper.  It was beautiful. 

The warm apartment smelled of fresh cookies and cinnamon, there was Christmas music playing in the living room, and everyone in Joey’s family was busy getting ready for all the festivities to come.

His mother was in the kitchen cooking a turkey, his father was untangling some Christmas lights for the tree, his sister was setting up the manger scene beside the dog who was chewing on a plastic angel under the Christmas tree.

Joey was in his bedroom, sitting on his bed, holding onto the baby Jesus that they would put into the manger in the morning, after Jesus was born. He looked out the window. The snow was falling heavily, and the streets and paths down below were deserted. He looked across at a neighboring apartment and saw a family gathering around a table for dinner, their Christmas tree in the background.


About an hour later Joey’s father called out to him from the living room.  “It’s time to go!” Joey had a special role at the Mass—he was going to be Joseph in a living Nativity scene right up on the altar. When he didn’t answer, his father went to his room. No Joey.

His family checked every room, and in fact he wasn’t anywhere in the apartment, and they were immediately worried. Joey’s mom called the parents of his friends in the building, but he wasn’t there. She went to the closet and discovered that his winter coat, hat and mittens were missing. That’s when his whole family got frantic. Why would he leave without asking anyone, and where could he have gone?  

They grabbed their coats and went out into the near blizzard conditions, desperately looking for Joey anywhere and everywhere: the Oval, his favorite toy store, the diner on 23rd and 2nd, even Mike’s Pizza. There was a police station nearby, and a firehouse, and his father stopped at both of them and asked for help.  The police immediately sent out several groups of partners in their cars to roam the neighborhood, and the firemen also sent a firetruck and an emergency vehicle out into the snowy night to look for Joey.   

One of the policemen went into Seven Eleven, and a bunch of people there decided to join the search. People who were going into the Lutheran Church on 22nd Street heard about it and immediately turned around to lend a hand. Some medical staff still in their scrubs coming off their shift at the hospital joined the search party. An Orthodox Rabbi with a big black hat and a wonderful beard with icicles forming in it was trudging through the wind and snow and someone stopped him and asked if they had seen a little boy wandering around.  He hadn’t, he said, but he decided to join the search party.

It was not an easy search: the wind was strong and the snow was heavy, but they all kept at it. They wanted to find the missing boy.  They searched and searched but Joey was nowhere to be found.  


Meanwhile, at the church, Christmas Eve Mass was about to start. The church was packed; many had braved the storm to be together there for Christmas. The priests and the altar servers were running around frantically trying to get everything set. Finally Father gave the signal to start the Mass and the procession began.

There were the usual greetings and first prayers, and then the time came for the children to come up front to create the living manger scene. The girl who was playing Mary hesitantly came up to the front of the altar, and the Narrator went to her assigned spot, but there was some confusion because there was no Joseph. Mary stood there looking somewhat awkward, not exactly knowing what to do. The Narrator looked anxiously at the adult directors, wanting to know if she should start.

Out in the snowy night, Joey was wandering the empty streets, calling out to his mom and dad, but his words got swallowed up in the wind.  It was hard to see, the snow was getting in his eyes, and his tears were freezing his eyelashes.  He had gone out in the snowstorm because he was worried about the woman and her child whom he had seen at Duane Reed. In his pocket were the gifts he wanted to bring to them: the little baby Jesus from his family’s manger scene, and some of the Christmas cookies his mom and sister had made.  

He thought he remembered where the woman had been, but everything looked different with the snow. He kept walking, and walking, but he got confused about where he was, and eventually he realized he was lost. There was no one out on the streets, and all the stores were closed, and he didn’t know where to go or what to do, and he was freezing.

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He started to cry. It started out just like a whimper, but then it took over and his whole body was shaking and it suddenly all came out of him, a really big cry.

That’s when something jumped right in front of him. It scared the heck out of him.  His eyelashes were frozen so it was hard to see, but suddenly there was a warm tongue licking him on the face, melting his eyelashes, and he saw that it was his dog!  His dog had found him in the snowstorm!

The dog jumped off him, barked a bunch of times, and started to run towards the corner of the street, stopping every few seconds to see if Joey would follow.  Joey did follow, and when he got to the corner, he saw--through the blinding snow--a firetruck with all its flashing lights on, and a couple of police cars, and a lot of people standing there: adults, teenagers, old people, and…his mom and dad and his sister.

Everyone turned in the direction of the barking, and saw Joey.  His parents raced over to him, and his sister too, and the whole crowd came together around the family.  Everyone was smiling, and everyone was congratulating each other, hugging each other, giving high fives—even the Rabbi. In a few minutes, the entire group—led by the police cars and the firetruck—were moving towards the church, which was just a few blocks away.  

They all entered the church, but it was so packed they could barely get inside the door. Joey’s mother found a side door and brought him inside. Mary and the Narrator were standing awkwardly on the altar, and suddenly Joey ran up to the front, his dog in hand. One of the directors of the Nativity scene approached Joey, hugged him, and helped him change into his Joseph costume. Everyone in the church realized what had happened, and began to laugh and clap that Joseph had been found.  And as soon as he was dressed, the Nativity scene began.

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It might be good to let you know the end of the story.

Of course everyone loved the Nativity scene--the children did an outstanding job telling the story of the first Christmas Eve.  And it’s hard to adequately describe the amazing spirit that filled that church throughout the whole Mass.  Everyone felt it, the families, parents and children, grandparents, aunts uncles, parishioners and visitors alike but also the large crowd of rescuers---the medical staff, the policemen and firefighters, the customers from Seven Eleven, the Lutherans, the Rabbi. The church was filled with people of every color and race and sexuality, old and young, rich and poor, women and men, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they felt like one big family. 

When the last communion song was being sung, someone pulled Father aside and explained what had happened to Joey.  And just before the final blessing, Father came up to the pulpit and told everyone about Joey’s blizzard mission to the woman and her child.

And you know what happened at the end of the Mass?  A whole bunch of people decided to go out right then and there into the neighborhood to bring the baby Jesus---and his love---to the homeless people who were suffering out in the snowy night.  

Because you see, that’s what this night—and every night---is all about.  Jesus was born on this night to bring us together as brothers and sisters--all of us at times selfish, defensive and deaf, many lost, all of us broken. He came down to show us how to live together, to love one another… and to take care of one another, and not just on Christmas Eve.  On this night, we remember who we are meant to be in Him, on this night most silent and most holy.  Shall we finish the Nativity?


Silent night, holy night All is calm and all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace 

Silent night, holy night Shepherds quake at the sight Glories stream from Heaven afar Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah Christ the Savior is born Christ our Savior is born 

Silent night, holy night Son of God Love's pure light Radiant beams from thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace Jesus Lord at thy birth Jesus Lord at thy birth.


James MayzikComment