As we have now passed the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday as it is traditionally known in the Latin Rite Church, we are less than two weeks away from Christmas Eve. Some of us were prepared for Christmas weeks or even months ago, with a few details to work out here and there. Others of us will be scrambling around until the last minute to do the things that we feel need to be done before Christmas arrives. Though perhaps the majority of us will find ourselves somewhere inbetween these two extremes, with the odd unexpected crisis or two to deal with at the last minute. For a time of year when we are told that we should be rejoicing, many of us are instead feeling rather miserable.
Take for example the fact that I know some of my readers are having a slow time of it right now with their own businesses, whether because December is simply not their busiest month, or because they are experiencing the economic slowdown firsthand. Others have been laid off and unable to find work for some time now, or had the unpleasant shock of being let go within the last couple of weeks, just as both the weather and tradition start to insist that we dramatically increase our expenditures. Christmas, for many of these people, does not seem to be much reason for rejoicing.
In my own life, professionally, I cannot simply use my superpowers to make sure that everything I would like to accomplish on behalf of my clients and employer comes to fruition before I take time off for Barcelona at Christmas, because so much of what I do is dependent upon the decisions of other people. This means that I have to spend a lot of time waiting around for others to make a decision, or trying to persuade them to do what I would like them to do. On top of which, of course, there is the double-whammy of trying to do all that I would like to on behalf of others in my personal life, while preparing to travel to another country. The reality of the former is that I cannot afford to give gifts or donations to every person or every cause that I would like to be able to. The latter creates all sorts of problems of its own.
Thus, I will be trying to get as many things done as possible over this week. At various points my nerves will be frayed and my temper will flare up, or I will experience waves of nauseating anxiety. And I will undoubtedly have a sense of failure to some degree, when I eventually realize that it is not all going to come together as perfectly or miraculously as I might hope.
And none of this – absolutely NONE of it – means anything, if I am not focused on the rejoicing brought about by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
In yesterday’s reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle to the Gentiles tells us: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is not a “when you feel like it” or “when things are going great” bit of counsel, but rather an exhortation to do so at ALL times. If it is the Will of God that you have a wonderful Christmas like something glittery off of a Hallmark card, then rejoice in it. If it is the Will of God that you have a miserable Christmas of watching your extended family members all arguing with each other, or experiencing feelings of loneliness because you happen to be on your own, or not having much merriment because times are tough financially or because you cannot afford to take any time off, then rejoice in that, as well.
How strange it is that we expect things to be perfect to commemorate the Birth of a Man who promised us that we were not going to have a very nice time of it on Earth at all. This is the same Man who said He did not come to bring peace and niceness, but division and final judgment, and who taught that we ought to rejoice if we suffered from poverty, hunger, and persecution, among other miseries. How very selfish we Christians have become, when it is more important that we get the “right” Christmas tree, or wrapping paper, or unnecessary gift, than that we spend time in reflection on what it means for God to deign to become one of us, in order that He might save us from ourselves and our focus on material nonsense – all of which will rot and pass away.
There are twelve days remaining until Christmas Eve, gentle reader, and you will no doubt have a lot to do in the run-up to that night. Yet if you are not taking time during this period of Advent for prayer and reflection each day to prepare for Christmas by rejoicing in your spiritual salvation, but are instead focused on preparing for Christmas materially, then frankly, you are doing it wrong. You are celebrating the Winter Solstice, or Saturnalia, or something else, but you are not celebrating Christmas.
While you are still able, make a point of spending a few minutes, each day, between now and Christmas praying and thinking about God and your relationship with Him – recognizing that your salvation would have been impossible without his Birth, Death, and Resurrection, and rejoicing in the fact that God loves you enough to have humbled Himself in this way, for you. You can read your Bible or a spiritual book or reflection; you can listen to or watch the many types of spiritual programming available 24 hours a day. And you can do all of this over the internet, since clearly you have access to it if you are viewing this post, which has already taken several minutes of your time to read.
Spending time rejoicing over the gift of God Himself at Christmas, and all that has meant for humankind, is not going to be difficult if you make a point of it over the next several days. It will be easier and ultimately more rewarding preparation than packing a suitcase, sorting out your bank accounts, or finding what to get for Aunt Phyllis. Be joyful that this is the case.