December 19, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Christmas is a feast of joy in heaven, on Earth

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinMerry Christmas!

Do you think the saints and angels celebrate Christmas in heaven? I hope so. This is a wonderful feast—filled with warmth and love, peace and joy. I know that every day is wonderful in heaven, but I’m sure that even heavenly bliss can be increased—at least one day a year—with the magnificent sounds of an angelic choir and the brilliant glow of yet another shining star!

I can just imagine the joy that our Blessed Mother and all the saints must feel on this very special day. Do you suppose that if we asked them with humble hearts this Christmas Day, they would open the gates of heaven—just enough—to let their joy overflow, filling our troubled world with at least a small share of the happiness and peace they possess in eternal life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

We associate “joy” with Christmas. Do you know what joy is? Have you experienced it lately?

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, the English writer C. S. Lewis speaks of joy as something very different from pleasure or even happiness. Joy is something deeper, richer and more elusive. It takes us by surprise and affects us profoundly. Joy is the satisfaction of deepest desires. It is intimately connected to the longing for God that St. Augustine referred to when he wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their ultimate rest in God.

When I was a boy in elementary school, the sisters gave us a very simple—but profound—tool for learning what joy is. They told us that when you spell j-o-y, the “j” stands for Jesus who should always come first in our lives. The “o” stands for others who come second. And the “y’ stands for yourself. Place Jesus first, others second, and yourself last of all, and you will know joy.

Isn’t it amazing how these simple teaching devices cut right to the heart of the matter? Volumes of philosophy, theology and spirituality have been written on the concepts of joy and happiness. The nuances they contain are important, I guess, for the fullness or accuracy of our understanding, but what the sisters taught is no less profound. If you place Jesus first in your life, if you think of others before you think of yourself, you will be surprised by joy!

Jesus Christ is the greatest Christmas gift, the source of all real joy. He is the gift of God the Father, who became one of us in all things but sin by the power of Holy Spirit. This amazing gift was first given to Mary, and then to all of us, to save us from the destructive power of sin and death. This is the joy, the fulfillment, of all human desiring. This is what we celebrate today—on Earth as, I hope, in heaven. This is the day when we call to mind most vividly the mystery of the Incarnation and the joy of Christ’s birth.

All other Christmas gifts pale in comparison to this one: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17).

On Christmas Day, and throughout this joyous season, we are invited to join with Mary, and all the angels and saints, in a joy-filled festival of happiness and peace. In heaven, there are no tears, no sorrow and no worries about tomorrow.

Because heaven is not really a place—a geographic location—but is an experience of loving closeness (communion) with the God who is our hearts’ desire, it’s hard to imagine what this grand celebration of joy looks like. We use images of music and dancing and sumptuous food because that’s what our earthly celebrations are like.

The joy in heaven on Christmas Day cannot be accurately described in earthly words or images, but we believe with all our hearts that those who have gone before us to our heavenly home rejoice on this day. And, as I say above, we hope and pray that this joy will spill over and bring peace on Earth—today and always.

Jesus is our j-o-y. When you place him first, others second and yourself third, everything falls into proper perspective.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this marvelous gift of your love. Help us be good stewards of joy by sharing it generously with others this Christmas season.

Feliz Navidad! †

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