Return to Joy

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, South San Francisco, CA on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2022. The audio is available here.

When we were little, around this time of year, Grandma and Grandpa would start coming round to ask what we wanted for Christmas, and we would tell them: 

I want this one book, I want that new game, I want a BMX bike.

And on Christmas morning, when we saw that big present under the tree from Grandma, and we just know under the wrapping paper was the bike we’d been dreaming of, our hearts just about exploded with delight.

As we get older, though, the things we want at Christmas tend to be a little harder to put on a shopping list.

We want rest from the busyness of our daily life.

We want time with our families and friends.

Maybe we want the kids to come home and gather around the table again, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

If we dare to say it out loud … we want joy!

The innocent, rapturous joy of the boy with the bike on Christmas morning. 

But these days, joy so often seems frustratingly out of reach.

We can’t order it off Amazon with free 2-day shipping.

We can chase after that joy with more and more stuff: a better vacation, a nicer car, new clothes, fine wines… 

But the more we look to creatures—meaning created stuff—the more we look to creatures to satisfy our deepest longings, the more frustrated, bored, hopeless, and empty our hearts become.

Because the truth is, even when we were kids, it wasn’t about the bike.

The childlike joy of Christmas morning is the joy of feeling loved…

Feeling, for one moment, for one morning, like everything, everything is right in the world, and I am safe, and I am loved, and we’re good … and I’m gonna ride my bike. 

Joy and love are inseparable; “joy is the fruit of love’s enduring embrace.”

So joy requires another person, just as love requires another person.

The boy on Christmas morning wouldn’t feel that same joy if he got a gift card to REI in the mail from a distant uncle he barely knows.

Maybe he could buy the same bike, but it’s not the same gift.

Joy is that simultaneous delight and rest we feel deep down in our hearts when we love another who we know loves us, who delights in us, who gives us the gift of their loving presence as we are present with them.

That’s why, today, the Church cries out with a wild, childlike joy: “rejoice!” – return to joy, that childlike Christmas joy – “rejoice! … in the Lord.”

And in case we missed it, she says it again: “Again I say, rejoice!—For indeed, the Lord is near.”

Jesus is near.

He is the one we’ve been waiting for.

Jesus is joy incarnate. 

In Jesus, all the deepest longings of the human heart are satisfied.

“The blind regain their sight; the lame walk; the deaf hear; the dead are raised.”

The busy find rest; the lonely are loved; the empty are filled with His goodness, and the hopeless and the bored come alive in His presence.

Today, at this Holy Mass, we rejoice in the presence of the Lord.

Here, in this church, we have the secret of that childlike Christmas joy the whole world longs for and strives for without knowing where to find it.

Jesus, the Christ-child, is born for us again on this altar in the Holy Eucharist, not wrapped in swaddling clothes this time, not lain in a manger, but clothed in bread and wine and laid upon our lips.

As we receive Jesus, the joy of the Father, the Gift of Gifts, we lay aside all earthly cares and rejoice in communion with the One who loves us so well.

Ask Jesus for the grace to remain in that joy, not just for a few minutes, not just for today, but all week long, from this Holy Mass to the next, and from that Holy Mass to the one after that.

As we live in His Christmas joy, we taste that love and delight and rest even now, “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

And on the last day, when we are crowned with everlasting joy, we shall enter the endless communion of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in the eternal Christmas morning of God’s own delight, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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