Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Powerful emotions are expressed in today’s readings – young love, shouting for joy, exulting, leaping for joy. For many of us, a well-told love story, no matter how unrealistic, is a moving reading or viewing experience (and perhaps it is even more entertaining the more unrealistic it might be!). We have known people like Elizabeth and Zechariah who have waited so long to be blessed with a child, and who then light up the world of all they encounter with their joy of parenthood.
We probably use the word “joy” more times during this season than any other time of the year. We can see the joy on the faces of young children as they open their treasures on Christmas Day. We sing of joy, we write it on (or it already is written for us) on greeting cards we send in the spirit of the season.
But what is joy, and why do we have it at this time of year? And is it joy for the right reasons? And do we really feel joy?
Joy is an emotion of great happiness. We can experience happiness for many reasons – a commitment to another in a relationship, a promotion at work, a significant accomplishment by a loved one, the birth of a child (or grandchild, as happened to us a few weeks ago!). But these events can and do happen throughout the year. They are not the “joy of the season” that is upon us.
We believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world by taking on the human condition. We can’t demonstrate with certainty that He was born exactly on December 25th, but we do believe that He was born to a human mother. And because His birth is so important to us, it is proper to celebrate it on a regular basis. By tradition we happen to have selected this time of year for that celebration. And so we can feel joy at this time of year because we celebrate our belief in the birth of Jesus annually at this time of year.
But WHY should we feel joy? We have this event in which we believe the Son of God is born as a human being in our midst. Our God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, the God of the prophets, the one, true God, sent His Son to be one of us, to be human, to experience what we experience, to live as we live, and to die as we die. What does it say of the love God must have for each one of us that God would send His Son to live this life of ours? How can we doubt God’s love once we understand this priceless gift?
But knowing is not the same as feeling. We might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but how does that make us feel? Do we really feel joy at this time of year, the joy of knowing that God is in our midst? Or are we so distracted by the trappings of celebration, by the bustling of buying, by the hurrying about to get to this or that event, to shut down business activity for year end, to balance the books, to make year-end resolutions for next year, to relax with family and friends, that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to feel the wonder, the awe, the incredible joy of knowing that this baby, Jesus, is the most unique baby in the history of humankind, because this baby, Jesus, is the Son of God.
My challenge for myself, and you if you wish, is to go off by myself for a small piece of time to reflect on the awe of God in our midst in the form of the baby Jesus. My hope is that by being separate for a time from all that makes this season so special for us as humans, I can feel the divine in my life that is the baby Jesus.
And so my prayer today is for the grace to look beyond the pleasant distractions of this season of celebration, however wonderful they are, so I can feel the true joy of knowing that Jesus has come into the world for me.
By Tom Purcell