I am sure you all know the perennial holiday movie offering, "A Christmas Story," where Ralphie dreams of receiving his "genuine Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.". There are many iconic images from that film: Flick with his tongue frozen to a flagpole; "the old man" being chased by the Bumpus hounds; the "you'll shoot your eye out" line repeated.
Another vision that I can't get out of my head is Ralphie's gift from his aunt: pink bunny pajamas, complete with ears and matching feet. Ralph's dad refers to him in that outfit as a "pink nightmare."
I can't imagine how he felt.
Toward the end of that movie, the family ends up in a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner, and the wait staff tries to make the meal merry by singing, "Deck the Halls" for them. That's one of the more upbeat of our Christmas carols, isn’t it? "Deck the halls with boughs of holly/fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la/ 'tis the season to be jolly...”.
The song has a point. This is the season to be jolly - or as we would probably say today, REJOICE!
In fact, today, the Church even commands us to be jolly, or rejoice. This Sunday is known as “Gaudete” Sunday, which is a Latin command, meaning, literally, “Rejoice!”
One might be tempted to take a more jaded attitude in this day and age and wonder what, exactly, do we have to rejoice about? The simple joy of “Fa-la-la-la-la” could seem like a mockery to those who suffer, to those who have lost something dear this past year, to those who feel a lack of hope. However, the joy to which we are called is more than some bumper-sticker platitude. It is more than plastic Santa Clauses and blinking lights. This joy is very deep indeed.
Our celebration this Sunday gets its theme from the opening antiphon of the Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! Indeed, the Lord is near.” Saint Paul, who wrote that, knew nothing of Santa, or Rudolph or oversized pink bunny pajamas. However, he did know one thing, and one thing well. He knew Jesus as the Lord, and he placed his complete faith and trust in Him. So, he wrote to his friends in Philippi about why they should be happy and rejoice – not just once, but always.
“The Lord is near.”
This is the reason for our joy – the nearness of God. In fact, we need not wait any longer to expect Him and welcome Him; He is near – present, in fact. And that’s what brings us true joy, isn’t it – the presence of those we love; the shared life; the communion. Communion is nothing more than life shared with God and with one another.
This life shared with God is something that Isaiah the prophet knew – even hundreds of years before Jesus. In our first reading, he uses the word “joy” or “rejoice” five times. All of this rejoicing – in Isaiah and in St. Paul – comes from knowledge of one fact: the nearness of the Lord.
On the Third Sunday of Advent, we recognize the nearness of Jesus liturgically by taking on a different shade of the season – rose, which calls to mind the wee hours just prior to dawn. As we near the day of Christmas – only ten days away – our joy increases, just like a child! In our busy world, there is child-like joy as God blesses us with chilly weather and snowfall, as the Christmas carols begin echoing even louder, and as we see family and friends gathering more often.
Even with the difficulties of life – and they are there, aren’t they? – we can also pause to see the nearness of Jesus – in the loving concern of our neighbors, in the hands offered in assistance or in prayer, and in the charity that shines so brightly this time of year.
Sometimes that joy is unspoken – maybe even invisible; sometimes it is unintelligible, like the carol’s “fa-la-la-la-la’s”; and sometimes we hear it in the laughter and eagerness of our children. Remember, the Lord is near, and He comes to us here to feed us and strengthen us, even in the middle of sorrow, pain, addiction, suffering, gladness, new life and family.
While we may not be tickled pink, we can see joy in the One who rose for us.