Church of the

7580 Clinton Street
Elma, New York 14059


December 25, 2021


Deacon Jim asked if I noticed the engraving on the marble square coming into the parish office. It will be the cover on a niche in the Committal Chapel in the cemetery. I didn’t. Looked again. It reads: “Rev. Eugene P. Ulrich, 1948 +     .” No year of my death. Immediately I thought of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Ebeneezer Scrooge his tomb stone. Deacon Jim was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I was Ebenezer Scrooge looking at my own cemetery marker. I smiled -- right before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I have a reminder of my own death.

We have been on an Advent retreat reflecting on “The Redemption of Scrooge” by Methodist pastor and author Matt Rawle. We know Scrooge -- that cranky, and lonely miser who on Christmas eve is visited by the Ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and in succession the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. After Scrooge sees his own tomb stone, he isn’t sure he wants to see the rest of his story. He shouts to the spirit: “Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been…Why show me this, if I am past all hope? I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” After Scrooge sees the person he has become and is reminded of his own death, he experiences “redemption.” Not something he could buy. It is a gift. He is touched by grace. Reborn. He wakes up on Christmas morning, opens the window and says to himself: “It’s Christmas Day. I haven’t missed it.” The awakening brings Scrooge redemption and transformation.

Christmas is much more than celebrating the birth of Jesus long ago. We return to Bethlehem each year to celebrate the birth of Christ in us. Giving birth is risky. Women know physically and emotionally the risk of giving birth. Jesus speaks of the spiritual cost in giving birth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:20)

In our Gospel, the angel of the Lord appears to shepherds announcing good news of great joy for all people. “Today in the City of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. They are given a sign: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” “Swaddling” is wrapping the baby with strips of cloth to keep the baby warm. A manager is a trough or box for grain to feed animals. Mary’s wrapping the child and tenderly placing him in a manager is a gesture of maternal love. It is also sacramental and sacrificial.

There is a legend about the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, in the Creation Story, Book of Genesis. The tree of life provides the wood used to construct the manger, the table of the Last Supper and the cross on which Jesus is crucified. St. Luke and St. Matthew, who tell us some things about the birth of Jesus, both know the whole story of Jesus -- his adult life and ministry, his giving of himself to us in Holy Communion at the Last Supper, his dying on the cross for the redemption of many and his resurrection from the dead. We cannot celebrate the birth of Jesus without entering the Paschal Mystery of his life, death, and resurrection.

At the end of A Christmas Carol, the storyteller notes of Scrooge: “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” We can only hope and strive “to keep Christmas well” when we come to know Jesus as our Lord and savior and invite him, the Christ, to be birthed in us.   

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Holy Family


Stewardship is having the wisdom to understand that everything we have is a gift from God.

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