O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
The Church can learn a lot from the mall.
If you’ve been in a mall in the past month, you know Christmas is coming. For that matter, if you’ve turned on the radio, been on the internet, or even driven through your neighborhood, you know. The world is preparing for the joy of Christmas. They’re consumed by it. And it may be more about consumption than it is about Christ, but the fact remains that the secular heart is often turned more towards Christmas during December than is the Christian heart.
As in so many things, our world gets a lot right by accident. Just like people know that marriage is important enough to merit an enormous celebration, they know that Christmas is a huge deal. And they get that it’s about joy–joy to the world and all that. Watch Elf and tell me the message isn’t that Christmas is all about joy and love.2
But why must Christmas be joyful? Is there something about evergreens indoors, colorful lights, and excessive consumerism that triggers a release of seratonin? Is it just because we give gifts and spend time with family? Or maybe the world is recognizing something real here: the only joy of every human heart.
Christ is our joy, most especially at Christmas because this is the moment when his coming was declared to the world. For nine months, Mary kept the knowledge that God had come to save us in her heart, sharing it only with Joseph, maybe, or Elizabeth. But at Christmas, the angels sang GLORIA and shepherds bowed their heads in worship, the lowest of men chosen to bear witness to the humility of God. The magi bent their knees before a no-name child in a a no-name village in a no-name province. On Christmas, God who had come near cried from the rooftops that he was here for us.
And this is joy–because God loves you, my friend–not y’all, but you–so deeply, so desperately that while you were still in sin, he came for you. For 33 years, he breathed for you and sweated for you and endured taunts and bug bites and emotional teenage girls for you. For you he preached, for you he suffered, for you he died. But he rose for you, friend, and returned for you in the Eucharist. All for you–with joy, for you.
In this we rejoice–that the God of the universe, the creator of galaxies and molecules, the God who has no need of our praise, this God wanted you. Threw aside the 99 righteous sheep to scour the hillsides for you. This God glows with pleasure when he hears his name on your lips. The God whose ways are as far above ours as the heavens are above the earth seriously does backflips when you go to confession.4
Can you imagine? Can you even begin to fathom what Christmas means? Unending love that will stop at nothing even though he knows every nasty corner of your soul. My God saw you filthy and cruel and awful and came running, shoving aside every obstacle, fighting Satan to the death and beyond, so that he himself could clean you and tend you and teach you and nurture you and endure further mockery and mistreatment at your hands. And he rejoices to do it.
This is what it means to be a Christian at Christmas. Pure, unbounded, awestruck joy.
I know there’s so little time left for cleaning and cooking and shopping and wrapping and all the other little things that we really must do in order to bring Christmas joy to those we love.5 But if you’re not overwhelmed by this joy I’m describing, do something about it. Watch The Nativity Story or put on some hardcore Christmas hymns a few days early or take a nap or go to adoration or go to confession6 or buy Christmas candy before it’s on sale and enjoy it early–I’m all about the suspense, but if you need a running start to leap up to “in excelsis” where the angels will finally be singing the Gloria on Monday evening, you have my official blogger permission to do what you have to do.
Even my 3-year-old nephew seems to have some spiritual preparation yet to complete. This morning, he came downstairs to find his Little People Nativity set up in a new location. He ran to it excitedly saying “Jesus???” But Jesus is still hidden until Christmas morning, so he exclaimed (with some relief) “Ohhhh Mawy’s still pwegnant!”7 I don’t know what he’s got in the works, but apparently it’s important. Like most of us, he needs every bit of Advent he can get.
Because you can have the most perfect Jesse Tree in existence or know every verse to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by heart in Latin or wear liturgically appropriate colors all season8 and your Advent will be a failure if Christmas doesn’t find you exulting. Every last moment of his life was for you. Take a page from the Target ad and rejoice.
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!9
- via flickr [↩]
- Or just watch it because it’s awesome. And seriously read that article. [↩]
- Anybody know who painted this one? [↩]
- No, I will not let up. Come on, every Catholic Church in the whole world–or at least a whole stinking lot of them–has confession this morning or this afternoon. You can pick the time of your choice using www.masstimes.org. Just go! [↩]
- Believe me, I know it. Anyone remember why I decided to write a blog post every day and crochet multiple Christmas gifts for each niece and nephew and keep on babysitting non-stop and try to hang out with Jesus to get ready for his birthday? Basically, I have crocheted zero things in the past week which leaves me at .9 out of 9 gifts made. God help me, this is going to be a ridiculous weekend. [↩]
- Shut up. It’s my goal in life to convince people to go to confession. Why have a blog if not to do whatever the heck I want? [↩]
- Totally stolen from my sister’s facebook page, but I was with him for pretty much everything else he said all week, so I don’t feel even one bit guilty. [↩]
- Yeah, I wore a sparkly purple sweater for the first two Sundays and pink for Gaudete. Bring it. [↩]
- Really, I think both this and “O come, O come Emmanuel” go with tomorrow’s antiphon. But the best I can tell, the other is supposed to go with the”O Emmanuel,” so then there’s nothing left for today so…whatever. [↩]