This Advent, Fr. Bryan and I are exploring the topic of being beacons of hope in challenging times.
This weekend, Gaudete Sunday, we called to rejoice.
But how do we do that?
In today’s Gospel, we see John the Baptist approached three times by three different groups seeking the answer to the question: “What should we do?”
Don’t we all ask this question of God sometimes in our lives?
What should we do to be better follower of Christ?
It is a question that has the potential to lead us disciples to take the next step in living our faith with integrity.
Real faith is not about how we pray or feel or about our personal relationship with Jesus. Real faith is about how we live our faith by what we do.
This is the secret to discovering hope in our lives.
Hope can be a tricky thing.
Sometimes hope lies in the weeds and hides from us. Sometimes hope sneaks up and knocks us for a loop.
In these moments when hope breaks into our reality, we discover Christ in our lives, and our hearts are finally able to rejoice!
I hear a beautiful line in the Divine Office morning prayer during Advent that touches on this reality: “Your light will come Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”
This is how the hope of God works in our lives. Hope dawns on us in radiant beauty.
Advent is a time of expectant hope as we prepare for Christmas. Gaudete Sunday is a time of joy. It’s why we wear the color rose symbolic of the rising of the sun.
But for some, the hope and joy of Christmas can be 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 feel that expectant hope or joy in these challenging times.
I don’t remember how I lost the hope and joy of Christmas 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 fourteen. Or maybe it was an angry teenager shedding all things heartfelt from a painful childhood.
I don’t remember Christmas having the same impact as I trudged into adulthood.
Christmas meant nothing to me. My heart had little or no compassion for people in need. The people John the Baptist is pointing us to today.
I know I’m not the only person who has had a personal tragedy silence the hope and joy of Christmas in 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 hope.
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!
For me, joy and hope 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. 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.
As I drove, tears streamed down my face. And I felt it!
The joy and hope of Christmas returned. God’s loving mercy penetrated my heart. And I have never lost that Christmas feeling.I pray you experience the expectant hope and joy that comes with Christmas. I pray your heart rings out with the love of Christ, and you show mercy to others. I pray Jesus dawns on your life in radiant beauty! Rejoice!
The Lord is coming. Let our hearts be ready.