On this third Sunday of Advent we are urged and even commanded to rejoice. The first reading from the prophet Zephaniah and the second reading from St Paul both speak of rejoicing. But we need to ask ourselves honestly: Have we developed a sort of immunity to rejoicing? And what keeps us from rejoicing in the Lord always?
Time is a powerful force in our lives. It tugs at us constantly, pushing and pulling us, like the movement of a powerful tide, now to the past, then to the future. The force of time makes it difficult for us to remain in the present, which is where we need to be if we are to rejoice in the Lord.
Sometimes, during Mass my mind wanders. It may wander to what I will be doing later that day. Or I may begin thinking about what happened to me the day before. Let me tell you, this is not a good thing when you are up on the altar. On more than one occasion I have almost missed saying or doing something because I was daydreaming.
Does this ever happen to you? I suspect it does. It is natural to be reminded of other things that we need to do: that perfect gift we still have not found, that party we have to prepare for. Or we may be thinking of something that happened to us. Maybe we are replaying an event over in our minds and wishing that we had done things differently.
Right now, nine days before the coming of the Lord on Christmas Day, we need to focus on the present, not the past or the future. This season of Advent is all about staying in the present and waiting. The people that John the Baptist preached to in today’s Gospel knew all about waiting. And St Luke says that they were filled with great expectation, thinking that John himself might be the long expected Messiah. And then Christ did arrive but for many it was as though the waiting had not ended. And two thousand years later, many still live as though Christ had never come.
We say that Advent is about the coming of Christ. And we think that means just the coming of Christ on Christmas Day. But in truth Advent has more to do with experiencing the reality that Christ has already come. It is the experience that Christ has been born in us. For what good is it for the Creator to give birth to his Son, if we don’t also give birth to him in our families, our parish, and our nation?
Last Sunday we had a birthday party for my youngest grandchild, Josie. Well, Josie was all excited when she was opening the presents. After she opened each one she would tell us all what it was. She would say “ a pair of pants” or “ princess doll”. Then she took one gift from the gift bag and she didn’t know what it was. She said: “It’s oh, oh, oh, something!” And we all laughed at her excitement at receiving something. Then, Lynn, her mother, told her that it was a jewelry box and she opened it for her. And Josie was even more excited as she opened the jewelry box and it played a tune.
When it comes to the gifts that we receive from God, we are sort of like Josie. We know that we are receiving something but we can’t really appreciate it until someone explains it to us. And even then we can’t fully understand what we have received.
This is why we aren’t as joyful as we should be as we await the coming of the Lord at Christmas. We may know that we are receiving some great gift, but cannot comprehend how important that gift is for us. Of course, we have our Church, who can unwrap and explain the gift of the Son of God becoming man to us.
We can be too busy to find the only gift which really matters this Christmas. We can be checking our email, texting, Christmas shopping, watching some sporting event on TV, or just getting lost in our day to day tasks. When that happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to experience the reality of Christ having already come. We don’t have time to just be, to spend some time in prayer or in reflecting on the many blessings in our lives, or maybe even writing a letter to a family member telling them that we love them.
There is often increased tension and anxiety in households as we prepare for Christmas. The season of Advent is a beautiful counter to anxiety and busy-ness by providing us an opportunity again each year to make sure we are on the right path to draw closer to God. And it’s also an opportunity to help those most dear to us draw closer to God as well.
And what do you suppose God is doing during Advent? The answer is found in the first reading: “The Lord, your God is in your midst, rejoicing over you with gladness, renewing you in his love, singing joyfully because of you.” Even if we do not have time to rejoice, God does. Why not rejoice with God this day and just listen to His joyful singing as you patiently wait to unwrap the precious gift of the Baby Jesus?