By Fr. Harry Brown, C.PP.S.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” Rejoice, because we Christians know to whom we should turn for true joy. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us a crash course in our preparation for Christmas. He was sitting in prison somewhere when he wrote this letter. Even amidst the filth of prisons at that time, Paul was filled with a special joy, which flowed from him as he encouraged the Jewish people and converts not to have any anxiety at all amidst their extreme suffering. Both the first and second readings (plus the Psalm) ask us to rejoice. That means it is possible to rejoice when times are difficult.

Recent research tells us much about what brings us happiness. It indicates that more money, marriage and good looks contribute to only about 10 percent of our happiness in life. In fact, one major factor that truly influences about 50 percent of our happiness is genetics. This means 50 percent of our happiness is under our control. Thus, psychological research is backing up some of the things God has already given to us. “He is here,” so rejoice.

Life is a waiting room. Christians make themselves more aware of this “waiting” during Advent. We all have our pains and anxieties like the rich people (with two cloaks) or the tax collectors or the soldiers in today’s Gospel. We wait for the Advent of Christ coming into our lives. And yes, hope for salvation is truly an integral part of any Christian life. Christ shows his real face to us.

We rejoice because Christ is coming. Is Christmas a favorite day of the year for you? Possibly so, but Easter is more important! Do we appreciate the connection between what we celebrate at Christmas and Easter? The reality of this connection is that there was a Christmas only so that there could be and would be an Easter. It was the birth of Jesus that led to the Paschal Mystery. There was no celebration of Christmas in the early Church until 336 AD—and even then only in relation to Easter. All in all, it makes perfect sense to place a big crucifix above the little crib to give us a full picture of Christmas. This might be a “wow” scene for many Christians, but it would be so meaningful. Christmas is simply incomplete without Easter. The crib points to the cross. Rejoice, because Christmas leads to Easter.

Also, today’s Gospel exhorts us to share our “food” with the needy—and this is especially relevant at Christmas time. We need to “share with him who has none.” So often we hear that millions of people (especially children) are starving around the world. This probably means very little to us, unless we saw someone who was actually starving to death. In 1977, it was reported that a third of the world went to bed hungry every night. That number is likely higher today. What are we doing about it? We have annual collections like the Bishops’ Relief Fund, Propagation of the Faith, Catholic Charities, etc. Support these.

Now “O Come all ye shoppers. Cash down or credit.” On this third Sunday of Advent, we are in that immediate season with good tidings of great bargains. We wonder if the star of Bethlehem has become rather dim and maybe almost faded out amidst the wild and dazzling season of Advertising instead of Advent. The penitential season of Advent has somehow been replaced by the glamorizing anticipation of “the holidays” by all the shoppers. It seems to be a carnival atmosphere! Crowds prowl and growl around the glittering counters. No wonder John the Baptist, the prophet of Advent, called himself “a voice crying out in the wilderness.” How can any voice be heard about the coming of Christ amidst all this hectic hoopla? The Baptist spoke not as a shopkeeper or shopper, but almost as a surveyor. He was laying out the straight and narrow path that everyone needs to follow. Christmas is the time for doing good and the best preparation for doing good is being good during this Advent. Remember that this is still Advent, not Christmas. And remember that no one starts celebrating a birthday one month prior. Advent comes closest in spirit to Lent. It’s a special time of penance—a season also of hope and joy. So again, rejoice in preparation for that “star” event of Christmas!

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Fr. Harry Brown, C.PP.S., is in ministry at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue, Ohio.