4th Sunday in Advent Year C

     Perhaps it is because we are in the midst of a presidential election, but it seems to me that we are living in a world, which is becoming more and more divided. While we are going to have our differences, it seems that as a society we have begun to lose the ability to find common ground with those whom we disagree with. It seems like our world is becoming too black and white. Either you agree with me or you are my enemy. While there are certainly a great number of things that many of us disagree about, there must be a common ground. As I watch this childish political notion begin to permeate our culture I find myself asking is their really something that unites us.

     At our core, I believe that while we may disagree on things, all of us are ultimately searching for true and lasting joy, and while we may not realize it, I think we are all ultimately searching for God. Now I’m sure many of you are asking how can that be, there are countless people who don’t seem to care at all about God. While people may not think that they are searching for God they are searching to be fulfilled and as St. Augustine famously surmised “our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.” If we look at the world around us we see this endless pursuit for lasting happiness in our desire for material pleasure, in the explosion of addictions and in the rampant consumerism that plagues our country. Yet, no matter where we look, no amount of material pleasure will bring any of us lasting joy because material things can never satisfy spiritual needs.

     As we move into the last week of the Advent season, and prepare for Christmas, the thought of Christ, the God – man coming into our world should fill us with Joy. As we prepare to gaze upon the little Christ child laying in the manger, we should find ourselves asking why would God come down to earth to become man. My friends the whole Christian way of life is rooted in the truth that God became man. That child laying in a manger and the man hanging on the cross both boldly proclaim that God cares. He came into this world in less than ideal circumstances out of love, to live for us. Regardless of the situations we find ourselves in we can rejoice because God shared it all, even His own son. Simply said “With Him everything. Without Him nothing. He is the Lord.”[1]

     While the Christmas season should be about joy, for many it can be hard to be joyful. We find ourselves running from party to party and buying gifts for loved ones. Perhaps we have lost a loved one this year, and this holiday season causes us to miss them more than ever. This season, can so easily become about stress and anxiety. So to experience that joy we need a radically new of looking at life, we need to look at life through the lens of the Christmas story, because Christmas demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives. When we look at the child in the manger we cannot help but recognize that He came to live for us, so now we must live for others. Just as Christ emptied Himself completely for us, so now we must empty ourselves of any self-seeking and imitate His example of living for others. Joy is not something we have only when our lives are in order, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which springs from a relationship with Christ, but that relationship with Jesus requires effort on our part.

     If we want to experience the true joy of Christmas we must live our lives like Jesus. We must imitate Christ who calls us friends. We must imitate Christ by laying down our lives for others, after all no one has greater love than this, to lay down, one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus shows us by the example of His life that the key to true joy is to keep His commandment, to love one another as He has loved us.

     Before we can truly imitate Christ and live for others we must first have a relationship with Him, who no longer calls us slaves, but friends. We have done nothing to earn friendship with Christ, yet He freely chooses to be our friend, so we must work to nourish that relationship. All relationships require that we communicate with the other. If we want joy we must take time to be alone with Jesus in prayer. If you don’t know where to start perhaps start small, make a concrete resolution tonight to improve your relationship one small step at a time and if you struggle with that make it your resolution to simply ask Jesus every day for the desire to deepen your relationship with Him. Talk to Jesus, listen to Jesus and allow Him to make you a man or woman of joy.

      When we make time with Jesus a daily priority our own priorities will sort themselves out. We will find the void in our life and fill it with what we were made for, a relationship with Jesus, rather than other superficial band aids like food, drink, complaining, or the many addictions that plague our culture. Even when all of the trials of life seem to be swelling up around us let us look to the child in the manger and be patient with hope for we know the dark night will give way to the light of true beauty. While no material success can lead to true joy, time with Jesus means joy, a joy that is addictive and will attract new followers to Christ and lead to peace on earth. Our “faith is joy, therefore it makes beauty.”[2] “Our faith, too begins with wonder at the very fact of creation and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.”[3] Friends, when we have a personal encounter with the Lord in the Nativity scene our lives can never be the same, for we become men and women of joy.

[1] St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg. 161.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 31.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 103.

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