Too many of us are living in a rut. Day in and day out it’s the same old routine — up in the morning, gobble down breakfast and get to work. Work, work, work . . . come home at night, get through dinner, do some more work, go to bed. And the next day repeat the same old cycle. On weekends we’ll insert a bit of forced fun, and then Monday we’ll get back on the same old treadmill.
Too many of us have sold life short. We refuse to hope for anything much, refuse to believe in anybody, refuse to expect very much of anything at all out of life. That way, you see, we’ll never get hurt. In order to protect ourselves from getting hurt we never have very many expectations of anybody or of anything. We’ve sold out on life. Joy? Happiness? They’re dead myths. So is the hope for heaven.
Too many of us have focused on all of the bad things in life. As a consequence we fail to see the good things in life. Poverty, greed, corruption, politicians, people taking advantage of the system, and all that’s wrong in people have so captured our attention that our vision of life is filled with cynicism. We can’t see much in life that is cause for rejoicing.
Some people explain it all away by saying that God wants us to live life in suffering and misery thinking that He is looking for human suffering, that His anger is appeased by human suffering. Some tell us that we simply have to endure life and to accept life’s miseries so that God will reward us in heaven. These people assume that God is obliged to make things better if we but live in enough misery.
Others live life with the unspoken conviction that God had made a terrible mistake when He created us with free will, thereby allowing evil human choices, thereby creating a world in which evil is present. They’re angry at God for allowing us to live in pain, loss, and suffering.
God, on the other hand, thinks that the world is good, that human nature is basically good, so good in fact that it’s worth dying for. God thought it was worth His while to send His only-begotten Son to us, to enter into our world, and bring us the light and vision in which to find His presence and His love and His kingdom. I only hope that those who are so anxious to get out of this world don’t pass by God on His way coming into our world! They might discover they’re headed toward the wrong heaven!
Jesus lives among us and is present here among us in His Church, a Church He gave us for our sanctification. Jesus is here present among us in His Sacraments, offering Himself to us and tenderly giving Himself to us in Holy Communion. Why? In order to help us get out of our ruts, in order to help us find happiness, joy, and love in life, in this life as well as in the next. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray. Jesus is telling us that He wants us to overcome our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and an attitude that require that we get something out of it for ourselves whenever we engage in any thing or engage ourselves with anyone else. The “what’s in it for me?” attitude brings only more misery, more unhappiness, and more abuse of others… which John the Baptist is trying to tell us.
You and I have all seen people who really get a kick out of life. They are so enthusiastic, so filled with spirit and energy, so filled with love and care and concern for others, that nothing drags them down into depression and misery. We cannot help but be attracted by such people. They have kicked the habit of sin, the habit of self-centered concern about what’s in it for them; they refuse to be swallowed up by routine living that is nothing but drudgery. The cares and concerns and life’s immense problems and agonies are incapable of hurting them and knocking them down. They are filled with HOPE, filled with PURPOSE, and filled with the Spirit of Christ. They are filled with deep-down inner JOY.
The Church asks us right here and now to make a commitment to try and be one of those people. For the Lord is near, very near. Joy, someone once wrote, is the infallible mark of a Christian. That person was Leon Bloy, a great French Catholic philosopher and writer.
There have hardly been fewer times in human history when there has been a greater need for real Christians, Christians who are filled with joy. The forces of darkness and gloom, the principalities and powers of this world on high, the bitterly cold atmosphere of a loveless society that sees others as only useful, seem to us perhaps to be overwhelming. Yet is was on a silent night — in the midst of its deepest darkness with the forces of evil and despair fully in command — that the angels’ exultant and joyful cry broke through the dark gloom . . . and light shone in the darkness.
You and I bear within our hearts the power to make that birthing of Christ repeat itself again and again at ever higher levels in the cycles of our lives. You and I bear within our hearts the cry of Christ in His Church as she announces to the world: “Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again I say, rejoice!”
It remains for you and me to enter into the hearts of those around us who live in dreary and depressing darkness of soul in order to give them cause to rejoice. You and I can announce to those living in a rut that they can climb out. You and I can tell those who have sold life short that they should invest in it . . . to go to those who live gripped by a vision that everything’s wrong in the world and give them a different vision, to see reality in a different light, to announce to those who live in darkness that they can see our world in a great light, the light of Christ. We can go to those who have sold out on everything so as to have no expectations and show them that, in Christ, they can live in great expectations.
If the crib, if Christmas trees filled with light, and if the warm glow of Christmas mean anything at all, they mean that you and I have to be, each one of us individually, the star of Bethlehem, that leads us from afar to the manger, into a place wherein we can see life in a whole new light.
St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gave us the vision we should share:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.