The ending of today's first reading tells us of the possibilities God sees in the remnant of his people. It's a combination of the beatitude of the meek (who inherit the land) and the story of the shepherds of Bethlehem:
I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly,Overall, the reading is a call to repentance and conversion; the predicted "remnant" are those left untouched by the purifying correction the Lord will visit on the people. The Gospel is also an encouragement to conversion, with tax collectors and prostitutes representing the newly-righteous remnant.
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.
Pope Benedict has said on more than one occasion that the Church may need to be a smaller, more faithful remnant if it is to fulfill its role, and he has been mightily criticized over that, as if he were consigning everyone else to Gehenna. He's not suggesting anything that the prophets--and Jesus--have not already said. The real question is: what is God proposing to you or me as a way to belong to that remnant? What does it mean taking on? What does it mean leaving behind?
*This was the year I realized that Mom and Dad were Santa's unremunerated assistants in the Christmas enterprise, and I was invited to join the team.