HOMILY: THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT ‘C’ 2018
‘Happy Christmas! That is surely the Christmas greeting we hear more often than any other. But although it is often meant well, this greeting does not get it quite right. Christmas is not meant to make us just ‘happy’. And in fact we know that, for all sorts of reasons, Christmas can be by no means an easy time for many people. Rather, Christmas is meant to be and always can be the source of JOY for us.
Joy is a reality that goes much deeper than happiness. Even when our life is difficult or overshadowed by anxiety or bereavement, we can still know joy. How is this so? We can begin to grasp the reason why when we remember how joy is born in us – and becomes ever more deeply rooted within us – thanks to our relationships with others. And following this insight, we can see how the potential for joy is there in a very special way in the Christmas tradition of giving and receiving of presents.
The whole process of giving and receiving presents means that whoever is doing the giving needs to go to the trouble of thinking carefully about what present to choose for this or that particular person. If we reflect on our own experience, we’ll perhaps recall the beginnings of a certain murmur of joy within us, when we are fairly sure we have chosen the right present for this particular relative or friend.
But that is only the beginning. We need to know, see, hear when the person receives our present that they are pleased: when they smile and say ‘thank you’ in a way that shows they mean it. That is the moment when joy really springs up. But if the gift chosen and offered is met with non-enthusiasm – or if there’s an ungracious response like ‘Where did you get it?’ ‘Will they change it?’ – that is the death of joy. All that is left is emptiness, disappointment and frustration.
This Sunday is the Sunday of joy: ‘Gaudete Sunday’. Today we in a way anticipate our celebration of God’s unique present to us: God’s gift to us of his only Son – Jesus’ Birth at Bethlehem, which is now so near.
As with the giving and receiving of presents on the human level, so it is with this miraculous exchange between God and ourselves. There are first of all the beginnings of joy in the Heart of God as he purposes to send his Son to be born on earth and so make us sharers in his divine nature. But for our part, are we ready to make God’s joy complete – and so find joy for ourselves? Am I ready to receive with great gratitude God’s gift of himself to me in the Christ Child? Do I realise the true significance of the Birth at Bethlehem – do I joyfully respond in ‘wonder, love and praise’? Or is my response no more than a formal, even grudging and joyless attendance at Mass, with my sights fixed really on the extra food and drink – or, yet worse, is my response a rather Scrooge-like contempt for all that goes on at Christmas in the world around me?
May this ‘Gaudete Sunday’ prepare us to keep Christmas well – so that when at Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning, we celebrate God’s infinitely generous gift to us, our hearts may overflow with joy and so bring an increase of joy to the Heart of God himself, the gracious Giver of all good gifts.