This has been a year completely unlike any other year, hasn’t it? And it’s easy to react by feeling mentally, emotionally, and especially spiritually unmoored. Many of us have faced long months without being able to attend Mass or receive the sacraments. We have experienced doubt, loss, grief, and pain. And yet there is a light, shining brighter and coming closer, if only we can have the eyes to see it.
Our Church very wisely starts the liturgical year with Advent, the expectation of the coming of Our Lord, the beginning of new things: nothing less, in fact, than the salvation of humanity. And perhaps that’s the way to see Advent in this very difficult year: as a reset of sorts, a recommitment to our faith in Christ. If what we’ve experienced so far is about coming unmoored, then Advent and Christmas are here to moor us again. To help us reconnect, in the midst of confusion, with that which is never confused.
How can we do that?
We can, because we believe God is faithful. In this difficult year, despite all the signs to the contrary, we believe there is a point, and meaning, and purpose to our existence. We believe that despite the horrendous mess humanity manages to make, of the world and of itself, God loves and forgives—and even provides us the means to repair the chaos we have made.
God loves us so much he’s willing to offer us a way out of our selfishness, our violence, our lack of charity. That way out begins in a stable in a small insignificant town, on a night unlike any other night, a night of angelic ecstasy and unexpected visitors, a night when the stars dance with the One Star over the birthplace and the world for one holy moment catches its breath.
In response, we must rejoice. We are called to rejoice. To lift our exhausted gazes from the trauma of this year and breathe in the love of God.
I’m hearing from so many people that Christmas won’t be the same this time around; some even feel there’s no use in celebrating. And it’s true: this will be a different Christmas than others we’ve experienced. We cannot be with our beloved friends and relatives. We even have to order gifts early, as the post office is struggling. For many of us, this is our first Christmas after losing someone we love. That is all true.
But what a narrow view that reality gives us of Christmas, the Mass of Christ, the acknowledgment that centuries of waiting came miraculously together on that starlit night in that poor borrowed space! Emmanuel is here, God-among-us, to tell the real truth of this year: that despite sickness and unemployment, wildfires and hurricanes, even death and grief, God is here with us. He is beside us at the Zoom memorial service. He is beside us as we shutter a shop for the last time. He is beside us no matter what this year has brought; even on the worst days of our lives, he is with us.
We know that he is with us because of what started with an angel’s voice telling a young woman to rejoice. We know that he is with us because of her difficult journey to that nondescript town and the birth—surrounded by tired working animals and rough exhausted shepherds—that preceded the rest of our story of salvation.
Most of the Hebrew prophets brought God’s word to the people; Habakkuk, on the other hand, brought the people’s laments to God. He spoke of injustice, of misery, of evil, of tragedy; and yet his conclusion is clear: “yet,” he says, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
What he only knew was coming, we have experienced: Emmanuel, God-among-us. Through Emmanuel, we have become children of God. Through Emmanuel, we shall be part of the kingdom. Through Emmanuel, life has conquered death.
This is the start. The start of the new year. The start of the story that ends, not on the cross, but with Christ triumphant. That birth, that death, that resurrection are all for us, because God loved us so much he gave us something better than health, or riches, or careers, or even family: he gave us eternal life.
There is nothing greater than that gift, and to say it’s barely worth celebrating because we are hurt and confused and lonely is to deny it. We are called to rejoice. No matter what our circumstances, we are called to rejoice. No matter what our challenges, we are called to rejoice. To let the magic of that star-drenched night seep into our skin and our hearts and our souls. To prepare for it with hope and light and awe.
Rejoice, for Emmanuel comes!
By Jeannette de Beauvoir