Are you ready for Christmas? No, I’m not asking if you have all your gifts bought, and the house decorated, I’m asking if you are truly prepared for Christmas. In fact, I dare say if our definition of being prepared for Christmas is having the gifts bought and the house decorated, then you we not actually ready for Christmas. Instead of focusing on the outward appearance of Christmas, today the Church invites us to pause in the midst of our holiday hustle and bustle to look inward towards the true meaning of this season.
Perhaps one way of seeing how prepared we are for Christmas is to look inwardly season truly brought us peace and true rejoicing? For you see, when we truly believe the Christmas story, we can’t at our own attitudes. Are we focused on our stress or sadness or has this help but rejoice. In fact, it is only when we have truly prepared for Christmas that St. Paul’s statement to rejoice always truly makes sense.
Believe it or not, St. Paul is not commanding us to the impossible, when He commands us to rejoice always. True, every life contains some sadness, but when we view our lives through the lens of the Christmas story, we realize there’s always a reason for your joy. For when our joy is rooted in the Christmas truth that God became man, we can truly rejoice regardless of where we find ourselves in life. After all, the Christmas story makes clear the beautiful poem attributed to St. Patrick, “Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me.”
At the 1st Christmas God entered into human life, He experienced the joys and sufferings of life. God left the comfort of heaven and vulnerably entered into the trials of life to bring joy to this world, the joy of eternal life. That child laying in a manger, which we will see in our nativity set, on Christmas and the man hanging on the cross over the altar both boldly proclaim that God cares. He came into this world in less than ideal circumstances out of love, to live for us, now we must live for Him. 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.”
While I think we know this intellectually, it often takes life experiences to move this knowledge from our brain to our heart. I had one of those experiences last spring when I met a 1st grade child at one of our local hospitals who we’ll call John. John had a very rare form of cancerous growth on his brain for which there really wasn’t any treatment. I was asked to consult on his case for the ethics of a particular surgery to try and remove some of the growth. There was a significant risk that he would not make it out of the surgery, but without the surgery he would have faced a very slow and painful death. The case came to me for an ethics review after one surgeon was begging me claim the surgery was unethical while another was insisting it was perfectly ethical. Normally ethics cases don’t affect me personally, and while this was a very simple ethics case that probably didn’t need review, for some reason, I felt personally responsible for this case. The morning of the surgery I went to the child’s room and found myself standing with one of the nurses outside the room looking through the glass door watching John sitting in his mom’s lap saying nothing. Without saying anything you could sense the fear and anxiety through the glass door. Trying to break the tension the nurse started a little small talk asking what I was going to preach on that Sunday to which I reminded her it was only Friday and so I still wasn’t sure. Eventually we summoned the courage to enter the room and as we concluded our final discussion with the John and his mom and dad, I asked John if he wanted to walk with his mom and dad towards the elevator. Timidly John grabbed his mom and dad’s hand and started to walk down hallway toward the elevators while I followed behind with the nurse. As we approached the elevator, the nurse turned to me and said “I think I just found your Sunday homily.” Not sure what she was talking about I just stared at her until she responded “Isn’t that how our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be.” For the next few days I couldn’t get that image of us walking to the elevator out of my mind and the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that slow walk with John and his parents is exactly what Christmas is all about. For Christmas reminds us that no matter what is going on in our life, Jesus entered this world to walk with us through life.
Regardless of how far away Jesus seems He is always near to us. If God feels far away perhaps we need to make a radical shift in how we view the world, we must view the world through the lens of the Christmas story and rejoice because Christ has entered into humanity and experienced the same joys and hardships we endure. He is always present waiting for us to encounter Him, if only we are willing to risk running to Him. “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there waiting for us with open arms.”
Jesus came to save us, He remains with us as we journey the pilgrimage of life and He will come again to lead us to eternal life. My brothers and sisters we have every reason to be joyful. We rejoice because we know that Jesus is behind us, he has entered into human life and shared it to the fullest. We rejoice because Jesus is always with us: never distant, even when we stray from Him and we rejoice because Jesus is ahead of us, for every tick of the clock brings us closer to the greater eternal encounter with Him who is the fulfillment of all our desires.
 Kowalska, St. Faustina. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge: Marian Press. (2011). pg. 161.