“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7)
This past Friday we started building the Nativity scene that greets parishioners when they walk into our church. I always chuckle when I hear a child point out that Baby Jesus is missing. Parents, and sometimes the priest, have to explain to them that we are waiting until Christmas when Jesus is born to put the figure of the Christ Child in the manger. Some children agree while some don’t buy it because they see a Nativity scene that is incomplete and missing the very reason why it is called a Nativity scene: there’s a newborn child that is supposed to be the center of attention. The missing Jesus in the manger is a wonderful lesson and image to prepare us during this Advent season. Since this is a penitential season, we have to realize that Jesus is missing in so many aspects of our lives when he should be the center of our life and, well, our everything.
Today we celebrate Gaudate Sunday or the Sunday of Joy as we rejoice because we are drawing closer to Christmas. As a priest, I am saddened when I see so many who live joyless lives because they are missing Jesus in their lives. They think they’re happy when they fill the holes in the hearts with the things of this world, but they’re just fooling themselves because without Jesus Christ there isn’t true and authentic joy in our life. Every Advent, my associate uses a beautiful prayer and meditation to light the Advent candles as Mass begins. This morning’s meditation goes to the heart of the necessity of joy in our lives and it reads as follows: “Today we light the candle of joy. This should be the one [that reminds us that] joy is all around us—in the children, the lights, the music, the gathering together. But how often do we let our preparations—or our memories—push joy to the side? Joy is like an underground spring that wells up within us, but joy is also a choice, an attitude. Like a muscle, it needs to be exercised. So today we open ourselves to joy trusting that God has already planted it in us. All we need to do is give it care and offer it to share.”
Of course God has given us cause for joy. That’s what we are preparing for this Advent because Christ is the cause of our joy! If joy is missing in your life, it’s probably because Jesus is missing in your life as well just like he is missing from our Advent Nativity scene. We gaze upon the manger and realize that we need this Child in our lives. We need the joy the Newborn Christ gives. So many walk through life like zombies in the darkness with no joy, no soul, all dead inside because sin has consumed them. This is when we must recognize that this Child, small as he is, is far more powerful than any sin or any darkness that may be consuming us. Just as a newborn child brings joy to any family, this Newborn Christ Child is the cause of our joy as a Church because he comes to bring light to the darkness and break the chains of sin once and for all. We must be open to this joy. As the meditation says, joy is like a muscle that must be exercised, and no matter what personal hardships we may be going through we must choose to be joyful because our Lord is more powerful than any problem we may have. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Show me the size of your problem and I’ll show you the size of our God.” We must be a joyful people who walk with Christ wherever we go. If he is missing from any aspect of our life, we still have 9 shopping days left to search for that missing Jesus who longs to reign in our hearts.