We are about to celebrate the joyful mystery of the Nativity of the Lord. God comes down among us, and we ascend to God. Christmas is the mystery of this marvelous exchange. In the Liturgy of the Hours, we read:
O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.
The Church invites us to rejoice on the feast of Our Savior’s birth. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, a hallmark of the Christian life. Yet, we know that with life’s problems and challenges, it is not always easy to live in joy. Christmas reminds us of the reason for our joy: the Lord is near; He saves us; He loves us.
The prophet Isaiah wrote long ago: I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of salvation.” That’s really the secret of true joy: it is “in God.” This is why one can have joy even in the midst of suffering. Just think of the Christian martyrs. In so many accounts, we read that, approaching death, they were joyful. That’s hard to grasp. But they had joy even in such horrible circumstances because of their knowledge that God was with them. They felt His love and tenderness. They trusted in their salvation.
Jesus prayed for our joy at the Last Supper. He prayed to the Father that His joy might be in His disciples and that their joy might be complete. We find the source of the joy in Jesus, our Savior, through prayer and charity. Even in the midst of trials and tribulations, we can know joy.
I pray that all may experience the joy of the Lord this Christmas. Pope Francis speaks often about how, as Christians, we are to be messengers of the joy of the Gospel. In the world, there is often a lack of joy. Many seek pleasures that do not bring authentic joy. To be messengers of joy, we must first experience the joy of the Gospel in our own hearts. This comes about when we listen with faith and perseverance to the Word of God and when we allow ourselves to experience the love of God and His consolation in our life. Only then can we bring that joy to others.
Pope Francis teaches us about listening to the Lord in prayer and hearing Him say to each of us: “You are important to me; I love you; I am counting on you.” Joy is born from this encounter with Jesus and His love, especially through prayer.
Real joy, even in the midst of hardships, is the gift of knowing that we are loved, that Jesus is with us, not only that He came to save us 2,000 years ago, but that He saves us now. This is the true joy of Christmas. It is a joy that is deep and interior, that one can have even in the midst of life’s challenges: grief at the death of a loved one, a debilitating illness, poverty, homelessness, etc. I think a lot these days about our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq who have lost their homes and belongings and are living as refugees. They refused to deny their faith in Christ. And even though they seem to have lost everything, they haven’t. They have not lost their greatest possession: Jesus and their faith in Him. And so they are able, even in their suffering, to experience the joy of Christmas.
The prophet Isaiah wrote: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. In the midst of the horror of imprisonment by the Nazis and being taken to Auschwitz, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote: “The star of Bethlehem is a star in the darkness of night even today.” The joy of Christmas cannot be dispelled since the light of Christ cannot be extinguished by the darkness of evil and death if we live in His love.
We are called like the shepherds to bring the true joy of Christmas, the joy of the Gospel, to others. I invite you to reach out to someone who is hurting during this season. Reach out to them with the love of Christ, the joy of the Gospel.
When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary at the Annunciation, he said: Rejoice, full of grace! Gabriel invited Mary to a deep joy. She conceived the Son of God and carried Him in her womb. She went in haste to bring the joy that she held in her womb, the joy of her Son, to Elizabeth. And when she did, the unborn John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Joy is contagious.
We are called to imitate Mary by going out to bring the joy of faith in Christ to the world. The joy of Christmas, the joy of the Gospel, is meant for all people. This is the joy we should mean when we say to others Merry Christmas! We are not wishing them superficial merriment, something that is fleeting and transitory. We are wishing them the joy of God’s amazing love, the joy of God who comes as a tiny infant lying in a manger. May you all experience and share with others the true joy of Christmas!