|Photo credit: Zak Boazman|
An important date occurs next week, and no it’s not quite Christmas yet. Next week is December 21 and this date marks an important point in the Earth’s yearly journey around the Sun. We are halfway out of the dark. Generally, we call this the first day of winter. In science we call it the winter solstice. It is this day that marks our journey around the sun, after which the days will slowly get longer and be filled with more light. It is no coincidence that we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas at this time when it is so dark in our natural world. Nature around us mirrors the Advent and Christmas meaning. Just as we will go through the darkest day of the year and after begin to see more and more light as the days continue, Christ too entered the deep darkness of humanity to continuously bring more and more light out of the darkness of sin through the first Christmas!
Today in a special way we recognize the joy that awaits us in just a couple weeks at Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful expectation. We wear and see purple everywhere to remind us of our need to watch, to wait, and to prepare. We are preparing for Christ’s coming in Majesty at the end of time and so must prepare our hearts to receive him free from attachment to sin. This third Sunday is unique within Advent. We call it Gaudete Sunday (which comes from Latin and means Rejoice) and in a special way we let the joy of Christmas enter into the Advent season. For this reason we don’t see the color purple, but Rose.
Now, why Rose? Rose is a special color that is, in a sense, the lightening of purple with white. Symbolically, the white of Christmas is infused with the purple of Advent in a color that reminds us concretely to rejoice with hope of the coming of Christ! The preparatory aspect of Advent is still present, but the joy of Christ’s coming enters within that context. The color itself is a physical reminder to us that Christmas is coming, the white light of Christ is coming, and we are called to rejoice in that sure hope.
Now we all know what Christmas is, Jesus’ birth in human history, but if Christmas is the answer to the question of “WHAT?” regarding an event in human history, then Advent is the answer to “WHY?” We must understand advent if we are to understand the meaning of Christmas. So the question we must ask ourselves is this: Why are we rejoicing at the darkest part of the year?
The Mass celebration today is infused with the answer to this very question. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s annointed and how the Lord’s annointed will “bring glad tidings to the poor, and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication of our God.” We understand that this prophecy points to Christ himself as the Lord’s annointed. And Isaiah’s prophecy isn’t just nice words, aimed at making us feel good, but a real prophecy and this is exactly what Jesus does if we let him come into our lives. How many of us are poor, financially or otherwise, and need help? Or how many of us are brokenhearted and desire comfort? How many of us are slaves to the sins in our lives and need help breaking free and growing in virtue? How many of us are truly unhappy and don’t know how to change that? Each and every one of us needs a savior so that we live joyfully and ultimately get to heaven. We cannot do it on our human power alone. God knows this and that is why he sent us Jesus as our Savior, to save us from the darkness of sin and bring us glad tidings of salvation! And so we joyfully await Jesus’ coming during Advent.
But in order to fully allow Jesus to come into our hearts, we must prepare. And to help prepare for His coming in history and in our hearts, John the Baptist is our model. He reminds the people he preaches to that he isn’t the Christ, but he “came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” So in order to be ready for the light of Christ, John the Baptist preaches repentence. He calls for us to “make straight the way of the Lord.” Every sin breaks our relationship with God. When we turn in on ourselves by sinning, we turn away from God and prevent Him from entering into our lives. This leads us to misery and darkness, we just need to look at our own experience of sin to know this is true. Sin prevents God from entering our hearts because a sinful heart is a hardened heart, unable to receive. So, in order for us to allow Jesus to enter our hearts, our hearts must be empty of ourselves and our sins, and be turned toward God. This allows our hearts to be truly receptive to Jesus’ coming. Only when we are empty of ourselves can we let Christ fill us and save us. This is John the Baptist’s message to us today. Make straight the way of the Lord so that Jesus can truly enter our hearts and save us from darkness.
This, my brothers and sisters, is why we rejoice in the midst of this present darkness. We know the darkness of sin, we know the darkness of spiritual exile, we know the darkness of our own misery, and yet we rejoice, paradoxically, because this isn’t the end of our story! Hope is never lost! Our hope is fufilled in Christ’s coming into our humanity through the first Christmas. True joy and fulfillment is found when we allow Christ into our lives. Christ is the only one who can ultimately make us rich, who can heal our broken hearts and free us from our captivity to sin, who can save us as our savior. Once we let Christ into our hearts, we can then do what St. Paul encourages us to do: “Rejoice always! and Pray without ceasing! In all circumstances give thanks!” How can we not do these things when we are filled with Christ and His love? We will be like the Blessed Virgin Mary who never ceased to proclaim the greatness of the Lord in her soul (Luke 1:46-55).
So now we await Christmas day which commemorates Jesus’ coming in history, but we also don’t have to wait two more weeks for Christ to come into our lives. He comes to us each and every day in the Eucharist and we are able to receive him daily into our physical bodies and into our hearts. And so my brothers and sisters, as we approach the Eucharist today I encourage you to rejoice and give thanks, for Christ is coming in history but also in a special way to each of us today. Rejoice in the darkness of the natural world. Be strong and do not fear, and place your hope in our God who has come to save us. I pray that each of us leaves Mass today as a light of joy in the darkness of the world. Remember, the darkness of the world won’t last forever, Christ has come to bring light to the darkness. Rejoice! for we are halfway out of the dark.