A monsignor friend of mine is known to walk up the stairs of his rectory saying out loud, “Filled with joy, filled with joy.” His reminder to himself and anyone in earshot is that joy is the central reality of Christian life. Amidst the many problems and difficulties of everyday life in this world, faith teaches us to rejoice in God’s goodness. At Christmas, God makes it easy to rejoice once again. Past and present seem to be one: the Virgin and Child at Bethlehem, the Christmas tree and crèche scene in our home growing up, our present-day preparations to celebrate another Christmas.
Christmas morning is certainly a time of great joy for children. Think back to those happy days. The anticipation of finding under the tree exactly what we asked for was almost always fulfilled, unless Santa decided otherwise in his wisdom, as our parents were quick to tell us as we opened a box containing a shirt or a sweater. Be grateful for what you have, they said, which is surely good advice. Anyway, we will have soon have a chance to thank the Baby Jesus at Mass, so get dressed now!
Gratitude indeed is the root of our joy: We recognize God’s goodness, experienced in a small but very important way through giving and receiving Christmas gifts, and we rejoice. Joy in the soul is a foretaste of Heavenly beatitude. Joy at Christmas is the fruit of knowing deep down that the birth of the Child Jesus changes everything for all time. The cold and darkness of the long night of waiting has passed as the Sun of Justice shines upon creation.
Pope Benedict XVI recently called for prayers in these words: “But let us also think of those, especially young people, who have lost the sense of authentic joy, and who seek it in vain where it is impossible to find: in the exasperated race for self-affirmation and success, in false amusements, in consumerism, in moments of drunkenness, in the artificial paradise of drugs and of other forms of alienation.”
This reads as though the pope has been spending time going through Page Six of the New York Post. But in fact he does not need to be reminded of the inanities and self-destructive acts of mankind, as typified (but not exclusively, to be sure) in the lives of celebrities. We are all to some extent, in one way or another, at some point (or points) in our lives, on the wrong track going downhill. What can get us out of this spiral of despair? Joy.
To know joy exists, and that it is within our reach, can be sufficient motivation to exit the fast lane and find that path that the Wise Men took to reach Bethlehem, and the Child. May joy draw us out of ourselves and lead us to kneel in awe before the tiny Child who makes all things new.
— Fr. Gerald E. Murray is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in New York City.