Father Francis Maple
ADVENT – A TIME TO CELEBRATE
The Christmas season, more than any other time of the year, is an occasion for parties. Families have parties. Schools have parties. Clubs have parties. Businesses have parties. I think this is good, but I’m sure we are not naïve enough to think that all of these parties reflect the true meaning of Christmas. Nevertheless, it is good to know that Our Lord’s birth is the inspiration of more festivities than any other event in history.
Our Gospel reading for today reports what may have been the very first Christmas party. It wasn’t big or elaborate. The guest list was small. Only two people attended this party and they were both women. One was Elizabeth and very soon she would be giving birth to a boy who was to become John the Baptist. The other was her cousin Mary, who had just learned that she would also have a Son, who would be the Saviour of the world. Because of the coming events of the birth of their sons it was time to celebrate. The account that we have of their time together is brief, but the tone of it is excitement and joy. We are only told that they greeted each other but I am sure they hugged each other and even danced so great was their joy. Elizabeth said, even her baby in her womb jumped for joy. Of course, all healthy babies become active in the latter weeks of pregnancy, and their movements can be felt by their mothers. Elizabeth was so happy herself, that she was sure her unborn baby was happy too.
What exactly were these two ladies celebrating? They saw themselves as willing instruments in the hand of God. He was at work in and through their lives to advance His purposes in the world. Do we ever look upon ourselves in that light? God didn’t just create us and tell us to get on with our life. He created us for a purpose and that is why we should rejoice like Mary and Elizabeth. Our old penny Catechism told us that the purpose God created us was to know, love and serve Him and be happy with Him forever in Heaven. That thought alone is enough to make us want to rejoice.
There are some pessimists, and I am glad to say that they are in the minority in the world, who would say, “What is the point of celebrating because there are so many problems to face.” If that were our way of thinking we would never celebrate. When Mary and Elizabeth celebrated it did not mean that all their problems were solved and all their worries over. You could say they were just beginning. The path that lay ahead for both of them would bring indescribable pain. Although I think I can say that Elizabeth never lived to see the death of her son, one day his head would be severed from his body and served on a platter to a drunken, decadent crowd. Mary’s baby would live for thirty three years, then be nailed to a cross and left there to die. Some might say that the celebration that took place that day in the Judean hills was very premature, but they celebrated nevertheless and that was an appropriate thing to do.
Most celebrations are premature. A man and a woman stand in Church and pledge their mutual love for as long as they both shall live. Families and friends rejoice, they kiss the bride and congratulate the groom, propose toasts and throw confetti. The two of them drive away in a car with ‘just married’ written across the back window and a few tin cans trailing behind. The crowd wave good-bye and wish them well. They hope and pray for the happy couple. They know that this marriage has a thirty per cent chance of ending in divorce. They know the possibilities for unhappiness are just as great as the possibilities for wedded bliss. Still they celebrate, and that’s how it should be. If we waited until all problems were solved, and there were only happy endings, we might never celebrate at all.
Christmas is just around the corner and our real reason for celebrating is because our Heavenly Father gave us the best gift the world has ever received – His Son. Let this thought lie behind all our celebrations. Should you meet someone this Christmas who has run out of smiles, take time to give that person one of yours, and perhaps he or she will give it to another.