Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homily – Third Sunday of Advent – Finding that Christmas Feeling

ZEP 3:14-18A
PHIL 4:4-7
LUKE 3:10-18

It’s Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete is a wonderful Latin word that means rejoice. 
So it’s Rejoice Sunday!
This weekend is a time to rejoice as the birth of Christ is almost upon us.
We wear the rose vestments as a sign of Jesus Christ who is about to dawn on the world in radiant beauty. The color rose hints of the hues of a sunrise.
That line, “dawn in radiant beauty” is often heard for those who do the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office during Advent.
It’s the responsory we hear each and every morning during Lauds or Morning Prayer. It reads:
“Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”
It’s the expectation of the dawn of Christ’s beauty in our lives that we celebrate this third weekend of Advent.
But for some, the power of Christ in our lives is blunted by a tragic event or painful memory or a major health challenge.
I’m sure there are some of us here this weekend who are finding it hard to rejoice; finding it hard to have the Christmas feeling. I understand.
The Christmas feeling enlivens hearts each and every year around the holidays when Christ’s love pours through us, and we do what John the Baptist says we must do: help our sister and brothers in need.
John is calling us back to a sense of justice. John is asking us to show mercy the way God shows mercy. John is preparing us for Jesus’ the law of love, planted in our hearts and felt most strongly during the holiday season.  
But for some, that Christmas feeling is non-existent.
I don’t remember how I lost the Christmas feeling, lost the ability to rejoice, but I did early in my life. Sometime during my teenage years the annual Christmas feeling disappeared from my heart.
Perhaps it happened after my father’s tragic death when I was 14.  Or maybe it was an angry teenager shedding all things heartfelt from a painful childhood.
I don’t remember Christmases ever having the same joyful and peaceful atmosphere as I trudged into adulthood.
My heart had shrunk to the size of the Grinch’s at his worst.  And faith, faith to me was dead.
Christmas was nothing more than an obligation to get over and done with. My cold heart had little or no compassion for people in need.
I know I’m not the only person who’s had a personal tragedy silence the Christmas feeling from their heart. 
Christ was born to turn our despair into hope. Christ was born to fill our hearts with love and joy. Christ was born to bring “Peace on Earth, Good Will to all.”
It’s just sometimes in our lives when we experience too much pain we become numb to the Christmas feeling. 
But God can grace us with a moment when we realize the many blessings we do have and count them all. 
In other words, there are times when we are graced with a moment where Christ dawns on our lives in radiant beauty and we can rejoice! 
For me, the Christmas feeling returned Christmas Eve 1986.  It was a foggy, still night.  My new wife (the one true Catholic in the family at the time) wanted to go to Midnight Mass.
I begrudgingly went along not sensing what was about to happen.
As we drove to the nearby parish, Mary popped in the new cassette of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music (she has a near obsession with Christmas music).
As we rode along the song Silent Night came out of the speakers.  I remembered this song being a favorite for my baby sister back when we were little kids.
Every Christmas, my sister Erin, my brothers Dan and Jim, cousin Annie and I would reenact the manger scene at family gatherings.  
My sister Erin loved Christmas.  She was born with a congenital heart defect and found joy in only a few things thanks to hundreds of doctor’s visits and numerous heart surgeries.
            But love Christmas she did -- especially “Mee-Mohs” (which were chocolate, marshmallow Santa candies).  And she loved her beloved toy piano she got in the final months of life.
That Christmas in 1967, a few months before she died, Erin unwrapped the toy piano after we had regaled the family in the true story of Christmas.  I can still hear her playing it in my head.
As I daydreamed while driving, the closing strains of Silent Night snuck up and knocked my cold, stony heart for a loop.
At the end of the song, after the rushing of what sounds like some celestial wind, the song concludes with a child’s toy piano playing the opening stanza of Silent Night.

As I drove, tears streamed down my face.  And I felt it!  The Christmas feeling came flooding back to me once again. My Grinch heart grew bigger. God’s loving mercy penetrated my heart. And I have never lost that Christmas feeling since.
Pope Francis declared a Jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, this past Tuesday on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He opened the Holy Door of Mercy to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Holy Father said upon its opening, To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them… We have to put mercy before judgment …  In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.”
When we feel God’s loving mercy and not God’s judgment in our lives, we rejoice. When we show God’s loving mercy and not God’s judgment to others, they rejoice. That’s the Christmas feeling in a nutshell.
I pray you experience the Christmas feeling this year.  I pray your heart grows even bigger and rings out with the joy and hope and love of Christ and you show mercy. I pray Jesus dawns on your life in radiant beauty.  And you rejoice! 
The Lord is coming soon.  Let our hearts be ready.