Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joy for All the People

1. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced to them the joy that would be for all peoples. Throughout history, even to the present day, there have been plenty of promises of joy for everyone. But in every case, whether it has been the promise of a person or a program, a philosophy or an investment or a lifestyle choice, these promises have always come up empty except for this one. That is the promise of Jesus Christ.
2. The other promises fail for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because part of the plan is to crush or destroy someone. Not only does that not result in joy for everyone, but eventually the victims want to do the same. It’s true, Jesus did plan to destroy something: He destroyed the power of sin and death. But the lowly and the meek He lifts up. And those who are beset by sin, whether they appear mighty in the world, or lacking in power, He offers freedom from eternal death.
3. Other promises fail because they presume that happiness can be achieved through material possessions or pleasures of the body. It does not take long to learn that happiness does not come from those things. They fall apart, they break, they do not last. No matter how much you have, you want more. At the end, we cannot take them with us when we die. I have attended the deaths of many people. Not one person in that circumstance cared about their pretty things, their cars and houses and big screen televisions. They wanted to see the people whom they loved and that was enough. Maybe hold the rosary in their hands one last time. And today’s pleasures have a tendency to turn into tomorrow’s troubles - disease, illness, separation, sorrow.
4. On the other hand, the newborn King Jesus offers an eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. These treasures awaiting those who love God and obey Him cannot fall apart, they cannot break or fail. They will not make anyone sick. To possess them will not cause us grief or regret on our deathbed, but rather fill us with hope that will not go unfulfilled.
5. Still other promises fail because they require us to become something which we are not. That is to become our own god. Maybe they are Or even worse, because they are based on the notion that joy is caused by self-fulfillment. But Jesus said Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).
6. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that happiness consists entirely of the Beatific Vision- that is, seeing God face to face in the fullness of His kingdom at the end of the world. And in Jesus we see the face of God. As the angels announced to the shepherds, the good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10) is the Incarnation of Jesus the Son of God as a human being. Jesus is the one who brings true joy. Not economic systems, not politicians and government, not money, not possessions, not pleasures, not anything else other than God. Those things can be useful, but they will not get the job done. Only Jesus can.
7. So today we celebrate His birth. Not really His entry into the world, for Jesus had been hidden in Mary’s womb for nine months. Even now as a child, although His birth is announced by angels, very few people paid any attention. Probably not the innkeeper, probably not the owner of the manger. To most, Jesus was just another poor child born among the millions of babies born each year. Even now, though we celebrate His birth, five out of every six people in the world do not even know who Jesus is. Some know His name only as a curse word. And yet, He came to suffer and to save not only us, but everyone else too.
8. It is appropriate, therefore, for us to be joyful. This indeed should be a special time of the year in which we take stock of what is really important, in which we exercise generosity for the sake of goodness, in which we seek to reconcile with and spend time with our families and loved ones. It is time for us to refocus our attention on the One who does not just make Christmas what it is (after all, it is Jesus’ birthday), but who makes everything that is (He is the Word through whom all things were created as well as the One who has redeemed Creation). He alone will give us the Joy which we desire. Merry Christmas and May God bless.

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