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It’s Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice. We wear the pink vestments to emphasize our joy, the same reason we light the pink candle. As Paul wrote to the Phillipians, “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” It’s just eleven days until we celebrate the birth of the Son of God.
So, what are we supposed to do? That’s the question that the people ask John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. And he gives them some pretty good advice. If you have two cloaks, give one to a person who has none. Do the same with your food. He tells the tax collectors not to take more than is prescribed and he tells the soldiers not to practice extortion, not to falsely accuse anyone, and to be satisfied with their wages.
Luke tells us that the people were “filled with expectation.” That’s where we’re supposed to be. We’re waiting for Jesus to come and we know it’s just a few days away. Gaudete! Rejoice! “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.”
So here we are; faithful Catholics. We want to do the right thing. We really do. We want to uphold the traditions of the faith. We want to spend the Advent season getting ready for Jesus’ birth. We call this season Advent. For us, the Christmas season BEGINS on December 25. For the secular world the Christmas season begins sometime right after Halloween and ENDS on December 25. The season we call Christmas, they call the end of the year clearance.
We try to keep one foot in each world. And sometimes it’s a real challenge. We want to spend some time each day in quiet prayer but between work and shopping and baking and Christmas parties and visiting with family and friends, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. We want to share our extra cloak with someone who doesn’t have one, but by the time we get around to it, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve missed our chance. With all the expense of the season, it’s hard to be satisfied with our wages. Heck, in this economy we may not even have any wages to be satisfied with.
Movies like a Christmas Story or It’s A Wonderful Life remind us of how Christmas used to be. The story of Ralphie and his beloved Red Ryder BB Gun reminds us of our own childhoods when things were so much simpler. The movie doesn’t say where Ralphie’s old man worked, but we know he had a job because the Bumpus hounds attacked him every evening when he came home from work. Everybody had a job. That’s just the way it was. George Bailey’s struggles with Mr. Potter and the Clarence the angel’s reminder of all the people he’s helped in his life is more of a morality tale, but the message holds true today, maybe even more so than in the 1930s.
Of course, the best Christmas story of all is the one that we’ll tell here on December 24 and 25. It’s a story of peace and love, of hope and joy. We’ll have to get out extra chairs on Christmas Eve. That’s how powerful the story is. It plays to standing room only crowds in churches all over the world. Even though we know it well, we still long to witness it again, year after year. Even in the midst of all the commercialism, even in the depths of an economic recession, the real Christmas story reminds us of what we’re really about and what a great gift God gave us when He sent us His Son.
No matter how much we struggle to balance the anticipation of Advent with the secular world’s craziness, we know that He’s coming to save those who believe in him, and that includes you and me. With less than two weeks to go, I hope we can all get our heads on straight and focus on that wonderful gift. That doesn’t mean we can’t also focus on gifts for our loved ones. After all, we can’t actually give Jesus a gift. He’s God. He has everything He needs. But I know it pleases Him to see us giving gifts to the ones we love in His name.
It doesn’t have to be the biggest, most expensive gift in the world. If you have the money and you want to give your deacon a flat-screen TV, that’s great and it would be much appreciated. But a simple “Merry Christmas” would be more than enough.
Speaking of “Merry Christmas”, maybe Advent isn’t time to talk about pet peeves, maybe deacons shouldn’t even have peeves, pet or otherwise. But I do have one or two and one of them involves the words “Merry Christmas.” We’ve gotten so politically correct that people are actually afraid to use that magic phrase, especially in the world of business. I think the pendulum may be swinging back our way, but you still see and hear “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings” taking the place of the “MC” words.
I was at the South County mall the other day and I happened to walk past Santa’s outpost. I noticed a sign near his chair that asked parents not to take personal photos from the area where the professional photographer works. That’s OK. They’re there to sell pictures and that’s what pays for Santa’s visit. But at the end of the sign it says “happy holidays!” You’re there to get your kid’s picture taken with Santa Claus. If you’re reading the sign he or she is probably sitting on Santa’s lap! I don’t think you’re going to be offended by the mention of Christmas. Give me a break!
Today (yesterday) is (was) the first day of Hanukkah. As a Christian I’m not offended if someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah. In fact, I would consider it quite an honor of someone of the Jewish faith offered me that kind of greeting. After all, my boss is a Jewish carpenter. In the same spirit, I don’t think most non-Christians are offended by our wishing them a Merry Christmas.
Here’s what I suggest you do. When someone in a store wishes you “Happy Holidays” smile and answer “Merry Christmas”, with the emphasis on the word Christmas. Being something of an agitator about this, I’ve been doing it for years. It never fails that the person will answer back, “Merry Christmas.” Isn’t it a shame that a Christian person working in a store has been instructed not to share a Christmas wish with a Christian customer at this time of year?
Maybe if enough of us take this outlandish step, retail employees and their bosses will take the hint and end the hypocrisy. Wouldn’t that make this a more wonderful life? It’s a little thing, but it reminds us what the season is really about. Sharing our joy of the coming of the Savior with a stranger is a kind of prayer that enriches our lives and the lives of those we meet. We can be modern-day John the Baptists. And isn’t that what Advent is all about?
PS. Check out this video on YouTube. It’s great!