It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many people the holidays are some of the most difficult times of the year. Whether it is the business of preparing for the Christmas that saps our energy, the stress of financial pressures that seem to be highlighted this time of year, the anxiety of spending time with extended family, or the anguish of missing a deceased love one, for many of us the Christmas season can seem like a burden to be endured rather than a joy to celebrate. Yet it is precisely against this backdrop that we hear St. Paul command us to rejoice always.
All of us have times of difficult so how then can we truly follow St. Paul’s command that we just heard to rejoice always? Certainly if we are looking for a sense of joy that just makes us feel good this is impossible, because that joy comes and goes. Our real joy on the other hand comes, not from what we are feeling at the moment, but from what Jesus promised to us. As we move closer to our celebration of Christmas, we must stop to take the time to recall that God entered into human life, that is to say our God experienced the joys and sufferings of this life. Thus we can rejoice even in the midst of our trials because God left the comfort of heaven and vulnerably entered into the trials of life to bring joy to this world. He came to bring the joy of eternal life into this passing world.
That child laying in the manger which will greet us in our nativity set on Christmas and the man hanging on the cross above our altar boldly proclaims that God cares. They remind us that Jesus came into this world under less than ideal circumstances to live for us. The only proper response to that gift is to live with the joy of knowing that we are never alone.
My friends, the season of Christmas invites us to recognize that God entered into human history to meet us where we are at. It invites us to step back and recognize that nothing in our life is the result of chance. Each of our lives are willed by God, willed to the point that He came to live with us. Every life is given by God to accomplish His purpose, to bring His presence into a fallen world. Christmas is proof that no one is an outcast and no one is beyond the reach of God’s love.
This season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas we must take the opportunity to step back and recognize the tension in our lives. The tension between the already and the not yet, between what already is and what will be. Advent is the time to recognize who we are and who we can be. It is the time to honestly assess what has already been accomplished in our life and what still remains to be accomplished. This season of Advent gives us hope that regardless of where we find ourselves, God has already worked miracles in our lives and God still has more miracles to accomplish in our lives.
Today we are confronted with this message of joy and hope, but it is so easy to be distracted by our problems. There are so many things that can get in the way of recognizing the good news of this season, but if we can find just a few moments this week to step back from the messiness of our lives to hear the message of that child laying in the manger and wrap ourselves in that loving freedom, we can come to see the true beauty of the season. That beauty, which is born from the truth that Jesus wants to come into our lives to bring healing and peace, to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, and proclaim liberty to captives. My friends this is the true joy this season offers. It is a joy which does not sit on the surface of emotions but a joy that penetrates the darkens areas of our lives if we let it. So then today we have to ask ourselves what is keeping us from celebrating this season with authentic joy?