The season of rejoicing approaches. In a matter of days we will celebrate the Lord’s birth. In the midst of life today we might feel overwhelmed with fear, sorrow and anxieties. The horrendous act of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week can weigh us down. Our concerns that our children and fellow human beings have the opportunity to live lives free from fear and in safety are heightened when this life is taken or threatened.
It is into this very real situation that the light of Christ, which is the only power that can dispel this darkness, comes and delivers us. And we rejoice in His love, His mercy and His peace.
The Gospel for today’s Mass is the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The visit occurs right after Mary herself learns that she will be the mother of the Savior. At the end of the Annunciation, Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth is in her fifth month of pregnancy. She who was once barren is now awaiting the birth of her child.
Mary’s joy at Gabriel’s news propels her to charity. She immediately goes to be with her cousin Elizabeth. Here Mary gives us an example that rejoicing leads to an act of love. Mary provides us an example of charity, which is her response to the proclamation of this great news.
The Visitation account is full of joy. St. Luke tells us that Elizabeth cries out in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The baby in her womb, who will later be named John, leaps for joy when Mary’s greeting is sounded. The rejoicing of these two women has been echoed in the hearts and voices of Christians throughout the centuries whenever we remember the Lord’s advent and birth.
Today the celebration of Christmas has so many peripheral celebrations, and sometimes meanings, associated with it that it can be distracting. While all the decorations, gift giving, parties and gatherings are wonderful ways to celebrate, we should be wary to associate the joy of the season as having their source in these events.
There is certainly a “fun” aspect to Christmas and all the celebrations; but this is not “joy.” The joy that comes from celebrating the Lord’s Nativity is a spiritual reality flowing from within one’s heart and the source of this rejoicing is God Himself. The joy experienced is akin to the peace that the risen Lord gives us, in that it is an interior gift that no external source or situation can rob us. It is a light that shines even in the darkness, and as St. John’s Gospel tells us in the Prologue, the darkness shall not overcome it.
We are encouraged by today’s celebration to rejoice; even in the midst of sadness and sorrow. The joy we celebrate is the love of God, the love of God for each and every human being. This love is made manifest in its fullness in Jesus Himself, who took on our flesh that we might live life to the full and to have the promise of eternal life. During these last days before Christmas we ask the Lord to let His light dispel the darkness so that we can truly rejoice at His coming and find peace in our hearts.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.