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Fourth Week of Advent

More than any other time of the year, the Christmas season is an occasion for parties … for families, schools, clubs and offices, to mention only a few. I think this is good but not all of these parties, nor the people at them, reflect the true meaning of Christmas. Nevertheless, it is good to know that Our Lord’s birth is the inspiration of more festivities than any other event in history.

Our Gospel reading for today reports what might be considered to have been the very first Christmas party. It was not big, nor elaborate, and the guest list was small: only two people attended, and they were both women. One was Elizabeth and very soon she would be giving birth to a boy who was to become John the Baptist. The other was her cousin Mary, who had just learnt that she would also have a Son, Who would be the Saviour of the world.

The coming events of the birth of their sons meant it was time to celebrate. The account that we have of their time together is brief, but the tone of it is excitement and joy. We are only told that they greeted each other but I am sure they hugged and, perhaps, even danced so great was their delight. Elizabeth said that even her baby in her womb jumped for joy.

What exactly were these two ladies celebrating? They saw themselves as willing instruments in the hand of God. He was at work in and through their lives to advance His purposes in the world. Do we ever look upon ourselves in that light? God did not just create us and tell us to get on with our life; He created us for a purpose and that is why we should rejoice like Mary and Elizabeth. Our old Catechism told us that the purpose God created us was to know, love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. That thought alone is enough to make us want to rejoice.

There are some pessimists, and I am glad to say that they are in the minority in the world, who would say there is no point in celebrating because there are so many problems to face. But when Mary and Elizabeth celebrated it did not mean that all their problems were solved and all their worries over. In fact, they were just beginning. The path that lay ahead for both would bring indescribable pain. Although I think I can say that Elizabeth never lived to see the death of her son, one day his head would be severed from his body and served on a platter to a drunken, decadent crowd. Mary’s baby would live for 33 years, then be nailed to a cross and left there to die. Some might say that the celebration that took place that day in the Judean hills was very premature, but they had good reason to celebrate then and it was the appropriate thing to do.

Most celebrations are premature. A man and a woman stand in Church and pledge their mutual love for as long as they both shall live. Families and friends rejoice, they kiss the bride and congratulate the groom, propose toasts and throw confetti. The two of them drive away in a car with ‘Just Married’ written across the back window and a few tin cans trailing behind.

The crowd wave good-bye and wish them well, hoping and praying for the happy couple but knowing that this marriage has a 30 per cent chance of ending in divorce. They know the possibilities for unhappiness are just as great as the possibilities for wedded bliss. Against this background Catholics need to value the grace that the sacrament brings and to be open to it throughout their married years. On the day they have reason to celebrate, and that’s how it should be. If we waited until all problems were solved, and there were only happy endings, we might never celebrate at all.

Christmas is just around the corner and our real reason for celebrating is because our Heavenly Father gave us the best gift the world has ever received - His Son Whose death would make it possible for each of us to enter Heaven. Let this thought lie behind all our celebrations. Should you meet someone this Christmas who has run out of smiles, take time to give that person one of yours, and perhaps he or she in turn will feel able to give it to another, to help bring joy and peace to our world.

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