Christmas is just a week away. As we look around, people are rushing from one mall to another in a frantic effort to buy the perfect gift for a loved one. Even though Christmas is near, some do not seem genuinely happy. They seem to agree with Malvolio’s take on life as expressed in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Life is a tale, full of sound and fury, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” As David Thoreau wrote, “Many people live lives of quiet desperation.”
The message of the Savior is just the opposite. He comes to bring us joy. Unfortunately even Christians function under the wrong assumption that we carry heavy burdens in this vale of tears. There is a Christian prejudice against laughter and fun. Certain forms of Christian asceticism and spirituality claim that one should not laugh too loud or have too much fun. Some go so far as to identify everything pleasurable with sin. Others argue that Jesus never laughed and that the Church Fathers issue stern warnings against all joking and playing.
St Augustine, who had spent the first thirty-three years of his life tasting the forbidden pleasures of this world, warned Christians from sinking into frivolities. He wrote, "The pleasures of the table, of playing and joking, break down manly dignity and seriousness. Let us take care when we are seeking mental relaxation not to dissolve all the harmony of our good works." Probably no other thinker has stronger words in this regard than St John Chrysostom, the eloquent preacher: "This world is not a theater in which we can laugh; we are not assembled together to burst into laughter but to weep for our sins...it is not God who gives us a chance to play but the devil."
The Third Sunday of Advent, on the other hand, challenges us to be joyful because the Lord is near. The source of our joy is the Lord Himself who stays with us in good times and in bad. If God is for us, who can be against us? No one can take away the joy that comes from the Lord. Writing to the Philippians, St Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say again, rejoice! For the Lord is near.”
The message of the Scriptures is clear: As people of faith, we bear witness to the presence of the Lord among us by our joy. If we are convinced that God decided to become one of us just to manifest His love for us, how can we not be joyful? That is why at Jesus’ birth the angels tell the shepherds: “I bring you tidings of great joy. A Savior is born for you in the City of Bethlehem.” Before departing from this world, the Master assured His disciples: “I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” St Peter writes in his Letter: “God loves a cheerful giver.” The call of the Psalms is almost unanimous: “Serve the Lord in gladness.”
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls on all Catholics, especially during this sacred time to be joyful. He says that a Christian should “never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” In his apostolic exhortation, the Joy of the Gospel, he writes: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
The joy that we speak of has nothing to do with worldly pleasures or the fun that some of our contemporaries feverishly chase. It is the abiding sense of contentment knowing that we are loved by God. It is a sense of peace that fills our hearts. It is feeling good about life. It is the euphoria we feel when we are genuinely in love. There are no shortcuts to such joy. It is the by-product of living a life virtue. It is the consequence of a life lived in the Lord.
We will experience this authentic joy if we make room for Jesus. Our worldly pursuits for pleasure, prestige, wealth and fame can only leave us empty. Our hearts are made for Him and they will not rest until they rest in Him. Here are Pope Francis’s words in this regard: “[W]henever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”
Let me suggest some concrete ways by which we can make room for Jesus:
God bless you and get you ready for the birth of His Son!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...