During this Advent season, as we move closer to Christmas, it helps us if we really try to rediscover the meaning of Christian joy. We should remember that, unlike the “joy” offered by the world, Christian joy isn’t rooted in the circumstances and the struggles of our daily lives. Rather, it finds its root in the relationship we have in and through Jesus Christ. So, we rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday, which gets its name from one of the Latin words for “rejoice,” because we know that the Lord is always near to us.  Throughout the liturgy of this Sunday’s Mass, we’re reminded constantly of the need to rejoice in the Lord. In our first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah say, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD; in my God is the joy of my soul.” The prophet also tells us why: “for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation.” In the responsorial psalm, we recited the Canticle of Mary, also known as the Magnificat, where we hear Mary rejoicing in God her Savior. In our second reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the community in Thessalonica, the apostle instructs them to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Even in our Gospel, we see John the Baptist offer us a model of rejoicing in the acceptance of who God made us to be.
But, as we take time to rejoice in the realization that our Lord is always near, let us also take stock of our Advent preparation for the coming of Christ. Have we taken the time during this Advent season to recognize the presence of our Lord around us, or have we gotten caught up in the commercialism of this pre-Christmas season? If we fall into the latter group and have not taken the time to make a straight way in our lives for the coming of Christ, let us renew our commitment to opening ourselves to receive the grace that God is offering us this Advent season, so that we might more perfectly come to know the joy of realizing the closeness of our Lord to each of us as our Divine Savior who redeems us from our sins.
One of the most familiar hymns for these final days of Advent preparation for Christmas is the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The word ‘Emmanuel’ means “God is with us.” This is the great message of Christmas! It is not just a remembrance of an event in the past where God was with us when He was born, and stayed for the next 33 years of his life on earth. Nor is it just our hopeful anticipation of His coming at the end of time. Christ is with us here and now, at all times and in every circumstance. Just before He ascended into Heaven, He made a promise: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” God is faithful to His promises. We, in faith, are called to trust those promises, especially when we don’t understand or cannot see His presence in the midst of those difficult circumstances.
In this regard, we should turn to the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For when she found herself in the seemingly impossible situation of being the mother to the Son of God, she did not fall into doubt or despair; rather she opened herself to this great gift from God and was filled with the joy that comes from being close to Him. Following the example of Mary, when we find ourselves facing that which is seemingly impossible, we, too, should open ourselves to God’s grace, trusting that He is indeed with us and that with God all things are possible!
As we draw closer to the celebration of Our Lord’s birth, let’s be reminded that, by His entrance into the world, He has come to remain with us. His birth has brought a great light to the people who walked in darkness.  As we will hear in the Gospel on Christmas morning, that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. No darkness will overcome the light of Christ dwelling among us.
Christmas is a time for us to renew our faith in that promise and to remain steadfast in following that light which leads us to Him in Heaven. During these final days of Advent, to help us open up our hearts so that we might be better prepared to welcome EmmanuelGod with us, I welcome you to come and join us this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in our church, with a musical presentation of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” It’s a beautiful story of God’s love for his children, especially those who can barely eke out an existence during difficult times and  that allows us to view what a poor shepherd boy and his widowed mother came to appreciate when visited unexpectedly by the Three Kings. I salute our cast members and our director and “behind-the-scene” workers who make this annual presentation possible. Thanks to a generous grant from a parish-affiliated family foundation, there is no admission charge this year. A free-will offering will be taken up for the benefit of our Diocesan Birthline-Birthright program that helps mothers to keep their unborn children alive and ready to be born to life on earth. What a joyous thought!