Faith Matters

Rejoicing at the proximity of the amazing feast of Christmas

Michael Caine's Scrooge receives a gift of a scarf in The Muppet Christmas Carol
Fr Edward O'Donnell

EBENEZER is a key character in the Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge's response to Christmas cheer was "Bah, humbug!"

Today the spirit of Scrooge lives on in a different guise, for many greet the religious significance of Christmas with those same sentiments, Bah, humbug! They have deluded themselves into thinking that Christmas is only the glitz, the parties, and excesses of all kinds.

The traditional name for the third Sunday of Advent, is Gaudete Sunday - gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. We rejoice at the proximity of the amazing feast of Christmas, but what we have in mind is more than seasonal cheer. We will hear it said that Christmas is only for children. That is so very true, for Christmas is for the children of God, and that includes everyone, big and small. It is a celebration of our Christian faith.

In the Scripture readings of the Masses in Advent we encounter John the Baptist. John reminds us that what we celebrate at Christmas is more than the charming scenes of the typical Crib. The function of John the Baptist, the precursor, the one who prepared the way, was to point out Jesus, and he pointed, not to baby Jesus, but to the adult Christ, the one who fulfilled the prophecies, the one who died for us, rose from the dead and is present today in our world. He who is the Saviour.

John the Baptist, by the example of his own witness to Christ, challenges us to witness to the presence of Christ in today's world, even when life is far from straightforward. John dares us to look beneath the superficialities of life and to ask ourselves; what is the meaning of my life; what makes my heart rejoice; what is the deep down joy in my life?

The importance of these questions is underscored by a question sent from Herod's prison by John to Jesus: "Are you the one to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?" Coming from John this is a scandalous question, for John had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at the Jordan, and had himself said: "Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God."

This event had been one of deep joy for John, it had given meaning to his whole mission. Yet, now as he faced a cruel and senseless death, he becomes anxious not only about the success of his mission and the purpose of his life, but also about the truth of God's promises. John shows us that it is one thing to witness to Christ in the bright sunshine on the banks of the Jordan, quite another in the darkness of Herod's dungeon.

And so it is for us; there are times and situations when it is possible to experience the presence of Christ. These are moments when the truth of the Gospel, and the love of Christ, overwhelms us with its beauty and joyfulness, and it is easy to witness to Christ - for many, one of these moments is in the stillness and peace of the Christmas Night Mass.

But it remains our task to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, with all its disappointments, frustrations, complications and darkness. The fact that our world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it, and that his plan for the salvation of humanity has not been, and will not be, frustrated. We can be certain that all will be done according to his will. In a very bleak moment Jesus said to John, and he says the same to us: "Blessed are those who do not lose faith in me."

There is a real challenge in the Advent season. In the rush and stress of life it is all too possible to lose sight of what this season is all about. This is a good time to ask ourselves what is the point of Christmas decorations if our lives are not decorated with the Christian virtues? Christmas lights - are they not meaningless if the light of Christ is not the light of my life?

Isn't a truly Happy Christmas one blessed with peace of heart? Now, that would be something to really celebrate. This is why in Advent the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is of such significance.

:: Taken from an advent homily by Fr Edward O'Donnell, parish priest of St Brigid's in Belfast.

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Faith Matters