Sunday, December 11, 2011

Joy? Make mine a double.

Last evening, Brianna (one of our altar servers) said, "True men wear pink." 

I've never felt so manly.

   Third Sunday of Advent   B 

I’ve had a hard time getting in “the mood” for Christmas this year.
Now, I’m not exactly ready to declare, “Bah, humbug!”
but when I look at the next two weeks
and think about signing cards, decking the halls,
and shopping for—leave alone wrapping—presents…
…well, I tend to feel not so much merry as stressed.

I suspect I’m not alone.

This Third Sunday of Advent comes right on time.

That’s the clear message today—
from the Scripture readings we hear
to this rose-colored vestment I’m wearing
(which—I could see—instantly brought smiles to most of your faces).

There’s a smile-inducing movie in theatres right now
that I very much look forward to seeing: The Muppets.
(I grew up on their show,
and it’ll be a nice trip down memory lane.)
From a review I just read, it seems that the film
finds none other than Kermit the Frog also in a funk.
Attempting to pull him out of it, Walter, a longtime fan,
tells him, “You give people the greatest gift of all.”
“Children?” Kermit replies.
“Ice cream?”
“No.  Laughter,” Walter reveals.
“Laughter is the third greatest gift of all.”

While he might quibble with that ranking just a bit,
there’s another world-famous figure
who made a similar point a few years back: Pope Benedict XVI.
In the course of a rare 2006 TV interview,
the seemingly serious and scholarly Pontiff said:
I’m not a man who constantly thinks up jokes.
But I think it’s very important
to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension
and not to take everything too tragically.
I’d also say it’s necessary for my ministry.
A writer once said that angels can fly
because they don't take themselves too seriously.*
Maybe we could also fly a bit
if we didn’t think we were so important.  (August 5, 2006)

There are plenty of misconceptions about joy.
One of the most common among us Christians
is that our faith shouldn’t leave much room for it.
The work of paving a straight way for the Lord
that he might save our souls from hell
is, in fact, about as serious as it gets.
But spend too much time choosing to be miserable here on earth
and…well…I think you’ll find yourself a bit uncomfortable
adjusting to heavenly bliss.
As the great Saint Teresa of Avila once prayed,
“From sour-faced saints, O Lord, deliver us!”

Another mistaken notion about joy
is that it can’t coexist with struggle.
“Only after I work through all my problems,
only after I’m free from all trials and tribulations,
can I expect to find any gladness in life.”
So the thinking goes…
But notice how Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks.
Some of the most joyful and prayerful and thankful folks I’ve ever met
were living in deep poverty or confined to their sickbeds.

As the Pope reminds us,
living with joy comes from keeping things in perspective.
I know that my not yet being “in the spirit”
isn’t because I’m lacking for cookies or carols,
and can’t be fixed by a favorite TV special
or an extra cup of eggnog.
What I need is not to revive a holiday tradition,
but to refocus my attention
on why I’m doing any of this in the first place.
At this halfway point of Advent,
the Church encourages her children to rejoice,
not because Christmas is getting close,
but because Christ has come close:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.  (Entrance Antiphon/Phil 4:4-5)
Christ is close—not above or beyond the fray,
but right here in the middle of all our turmoil,
that his joy might be in us
and our joy might be complete.  (cf. Jn 15:11)

Experience has taught me that my doldrums will pass.
They’re a sign that I’m taking myself—
and my Christmas preparations—too seriously
and that—like those who questioned John the Baptist—
there is One among us whom I do not always recognize.
The trick, of course, is to let go of passing things
so that I might then cling more closely to Jesus.
In God—and God alone—is the true joy of my soul.

That’s a happy lesson,
not just for this special season,
but for every circumstance of life.

* "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."
G. K. Chesterton

No comments: