Today’s Entrance Antiphon says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” The antiphon’s first word gives this Rejoice Sunday its Latin name: Gaudete Sunday. During the first two weeks of Advent, we were focusing on Christ’s second coming; and from now till December 24, we focus on his coming birth. Regardless, Advent’s theme is preparation; its mood is expectation. In today’s first reading, Zephaniah urges us to “Rejoice and exult with all your heart,” and St. Paul backs him up and tells us “Do not be anxious about anything.” Are these guys joking? School shootings, pandemics, and political fights…Not to mention the fact that we celebrate our Lord’s coming by giving gifts. We have to shop for all those before December 25. These two biblical characters obviously never heard of supply chain issues. Getting decorations up and planning “safe” events… celebrating Christmas is so complicated today. With all the stuff we are expected to accomplish, are we really expected to rejoice?
Is it any wonder that we often greet each other with the curious question: “Are you ready for Christmas?” On this Gaudete Sunday I actually think this is a great question to ask ourselves. What does it really mean to be ready for Christmas? Or what should it really mean? Last Sunday someone invited me to go with them to help choose their Christmas tree at Eastern Market. At first, I said no because I myself had a long list of things to do to get ready for Christmas. Thankfully I changed my mind and went with them. After a tree was chosen, we walked through one of the sheds where there were people standing behind tables selling their wares. I walked up to a particular table where there were piles of children’s books with inspirational themes about happiness and joy. I asked the individual behind the table if she was the author? She gave me an affirmative answer, so I asked about her inspiration for choosing the themes. She shared a beautiful story of how she had been unhappy for years and how she eventually found happiness. Her answer…. Forgiveness! One morning she woke up and decided to let go of past hurts and consciously began to go through a list in her mind of folks she needed to forgive. An hour and a half later, yep, you read that correctly, an hour and a half later, after intentionally forgiving each of the people who had wronged her, she was free. She wanted others to experience this as well, hence the books.
On this Rejoice Sunday, and using that lady as my inspiration, I want to ask you “Are you all ready for Christmas?” In Advent, we are supposed to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ. In order to do so, I think we need to address forgiveness. I encourage you to deepen your person-to-person relationship with Jesus in prayer by discussing with him past hurts. Go through the inventory of things that upset you, things that you maybe have been dragging around for years. Forgive them and give them to Jesus. But don’t stop there. Examine your conscience. Admit your sins and discuss them with Jesus. Go to the sacrament of reconciliation. Sure, it’s tough. It is another thing to do, but it is also an amazing gift. It is freeing.
Don’t forget, Advent’s theme is preparation; its mood is expectation. I encourage you to really participate in Advent. Forgive and be forgiven. If we do that, as St. Paul says in todays reading “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Then not only will you truly be ready for Christmas, you will be rejoicing.