Rejoice in the light full of Christmas cheer

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How did you prepare for Christmas this year?

A few weeks ago we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent which led us on our spiritual journey towards Christmas. We were excited as we gathered to celebrate Mass and we lit the candle for the first Sunday of Advent. Last year we did not have the opportunity to come together to celebrate community mass as churches were only open for communion service or private prayer due to the pandemic.

Traditionally, the theme of the First Sunday in Advent has centered on our call to prepare not only to celebrate Christmas, but also to be ready to welcome the Lord when He returns. The Second Sunday of Advent liturgy featured John the Baptist, a prophet sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord – to “proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3: 1-6). The proclamation of John the Baptist is relevant to our Advent “discipline” as we spiritually prepare for Christmas.

This weekend, our Advent journey brings us to the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Merry Sunday or Gaudete Sunday. Liturgically, there is a temporary color change from purple to pink for the candle on the Third Sunday of Advent, symbolizing a theme of joy. In today’s liturgy we are told to “always rejoice because the Lord is near” (Philippians 4: 4-5).

We have already experienced the spirit of joy in the past few weeks: we see the colorful Christmas lights twinkling in our homes and in our communities; we see reviews for Christmas concerts and familiar theatrical productions; we hear the familiar bells ringing in malls; we listen to Christmas carols from radio stations and this year we have seen the return of busy shopping in malls.

While the lights, Christmas carols, and Christmas bells are all beautiful and joyful, celebrating the Third Sunday in Advent reminds us to focus on spiritual joy – an essential spiritual component of our Christmas preparation. In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete and Exsultate (“Rejoice and be happy”), Pope Francis describes spiritual joy as “not the joy offered by the individualistic and consumerist culture of today”. He speaks of a joy “lived in communion, which shares and is shared”. The Pope continues: “Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy since it enables us to rejoice in the good of others” (128).

So, at this point in our Advent journey, the question we need to ask ourselves is: How do we live to reflect our spiritual joy? How do we show our joy to the world?

At this time of Advent, parishes are undertaking different projects to help support our outreach ministries to care for the needy in our communities. At Our Lady of Peace Parish, a popular Advent campaign is the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Christmas Walk. Parishioners happily give gift cards from selected stores or money to the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Sharing with those in need is a spiritual Advent “discipline” that brings us joy and also helps us bring joy to others.

This year our situation is different from last year as we notice more parishioners returning to church for mass. This year, Christmas takes place on a Saturday, so liturgically the celebration of the feast of the Holy Family comes the next day. Likewise, the following Saturday, January 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Mother of God followed the day after the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

For a safe and joyful celebration of the Christmas festivities, with the festivities so close together, the pastors will rely on the generosity of the ministers to help prepare and assist the various liturgies. This can be an opportunity to show the joy that comes from our Advent “discipline”.

As Christmas approaches, our reflection on scripture readings encourages us to stay focused on our spiritual journey into Christmas. We are still in the pandemic with its effects on our lives and our activities. We still face socio-economic challenges in this country and around the world. Yet Advent reminds us that as children of God we are called to walk together and reach out to one another.

As we walk together guided by the spirit of joy, we can all experience the joyful light of love that accompanies the birth of Jesus on Christmas.

(Fr. Acheampong is Pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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