Living the readings: A joyful feast for the soul

By praising God, we can develop Christmas joy

By Father Joseph Brando

December is not only the first month of the liturgical year; it’s also the busiest. There are seven Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the month. To boot, Christmas has four entirely distinct Masses each with its own set of readings. That brings us to a total of 30 Scripture readings, each of which makes important statements about how to live. Taken together, they establish a unified theme for the coming year. And, that theme is joy.

There is no way to do justice to the plentiful array of readings short of a book-length exposition. All that can be attempted in this article is a condensed synopsis providing a quick taste of what the Church offers us for our annual Advent/Christmas festival. For the full impact, purchase a Sunday Missal and feast on these Scriptures.

Although the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated six days after the first Sunday of Advent, we’ll treat it first because it takes us back to the beginning of salvation history from which we can start off on the road to Christmas.

Before Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, God announced the importance of Mary. She is the woman promised to our first parents. She will give birth to a Savior who is destined to crush the head of the evil serpent. Therefore, she was always in God’s mind as the one exception to the otherwise universal rule that all humans are born with original sin. Only through Mary’s acceptance of her role as Mother of the Lord can humans get back in relationship with God. This is what the angel Gabriel meant when he said Mary was “full of grace.” Our Lady’s response to the angel indicated beyond doubt that she was alive in God’s life. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

If the scene of the Annunciation makes a good Christmas card cover, the words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians give us the perfect message for the inside:  “Our attitude should be the same as Christ’s.” If we strive to share Christ’s attitude, we can become holy as Mary was. In fact, we exist to praise God’s glory; and, by praising God, we develop Christmas joy. Thus, December’s theme begins.

Now, we can look into the four Sundays of Advent in order. One after the other, they teach us how to live as a sign of Christmas joy.

On the first Sunday, the Old Testament reading predicts the coming of a “shoot of David,” who is a mighty deliverer who will return Israel to the days of King David when there was nothing to fear. He also would be known as “the Lord of Justice.” In the second reading, Paul teaches the Thessalonians how to live now that the prophecy has come to place. “May you abound in love.” Simply, we should please God in our conduct. Christmas joy makes that easy.

What is not easy is the “day of the Lord.” What sort of behavior should we display on the last day when the Lord comes for the final judgment? Luke presents a surprising answer in the Gospel reading. Using an apocalyptic style, Luke paints a scene in which the world is filled mostly with frightened people. They are simply not ready. Then, Luke tells us that we can be ready if we eliminate three things from our lives: excessive drinking, carousing, and worrying. At first reading, it seems as if “worry” doesn’t fit with the other two evils. However, realize that carousing and drunkenness are often coping mechanisms for anxieties. Anxiety renders us unable to welcome Christ’s second coming, thereby causing us to lose hope. So, our spiritual goal for Advent is to eliminate worry and become joyous.

The Second Sunday of Advent starts out with the prophet Baruch telling all Jerusalem exactly what Jesus told us the previous Sunday: “Put on the splendor of glory.” We are supposed to be a people of peace based on justice. The same process that leads us to peace brings us joy as well. Paul considers his life an example of this attitude. He writes to the Philippians about the joy he gained when they accepted the Gospel and became partners with him. Then, in the Gospel, Luke introduces us to John the Baptist. His entire lifetime was spent encouraging people to repent. When people repented, it meant they began seeing the world differently and, thereby, developed a new attitude. The world now is filled with the presence of God, who transforms this world with his justice. In the process, sins are forgiven and we all become brothers and sisters. John brought this joy to the folks who listened to him and were baptized into this new attitude. When we meet the Lord, John’s theology seems to say, we become truly happy.

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, makes it mandatory that we rejoice. Zephaniah, the Old Testament prophet, gives us another reason for becoming happy people. God, he proclaimed, has removed the judgment against his people. The suffering of Jews in Babylon is about to be over. We must rejoice because our penalty has been paid. We can go home in peace and know that God is rejoicing with us. Paul applies that message to Christians. We, too, must rejoice always because the peace of God is guarding our hearts. One might ask what we need to do to maintain this constant state of joy. The Baptist answers that question in the Gospel. Many a mother with more than one child has the same answer for her children. The simple answer is “share.” John told the people who came to him with anxiety that they should share their clothing and food with those who are in need. That brings happiness and makes us ready for when “the one mightier than me” comes.

The Fourth (and last) Sunday of Advent presents more reasons for us to become joyful. The prophet Micah, in telling us the Savior is to be born in Bethlehem, informs us as well that we will rejoice at our kindred returning. That is, the world will be coming back together and the Lord will come in strength and majesty. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews informs us that the joy we receive comes from doing God’s will. When everyone strives mutually to do His Will, the result is that all are satisfied and we come to enjoy each other. Hence, there is peace. When Elizabeth and Mary compared their lives, in the Gospel they found that same joy the Epistle spoke of. That joy was made manifest at John the Baptist’s jumping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth, in turn, handed the joy on to Mary when she reminded her that her response to the angel was an act of faith and the acceptance of a great sacrifice that keeps the joy around. Yes, sacrifice can produce joy when we are following God’s will.

Now, we get to Christmas. Let’s look quickly through all four of the Christmas Masses to find more reasons to have joy. We begin with the Vigil Mass where, immediately, Isaiah tells us that God is taking delight in us. Interestingly, he describes God’s love as that romantic love of a groom for his new bride. God’s love touches our hearts with excitement. Then, Paul preaches in Antioch that we should rejoice because God’s promise finally has been fulfilled. The Gospel counts the many generations it took before God’s promise came to place. Finally, this is the time of fulfillment. Let us rejoice in it!

Midnight Mass begins with Isaiah giving us yet another reason for Christmas joy. The light has come into the world. Before Jesus, the whole world was in darkness. Then Paul tells us in Christian terms that the grace of God has now appeared to us. The Christmas midnight Gospel relates the events that happened in Bethlehem whereby divine light entered our world starting with the story of the angels appearing to shepherds. Heaven and earth are closing in on each other for yet another reason to have joy. If we can’t sing for joy ourselves God sends us “a multitude of the heavenly host” to lead us as they did the shepherds.  The reasons for singing increase.

The Mass at dawn gives us a more mundane reason for rejoicing. According to Isaiah, we get a reward. We receive an alternate way of recognizing Jesus. He appears as God’s reward to us. Paul, in the second reading, calls Jesus the mercy of God richly poured out on us, giving us hope. What a cause of happiness! In the Gospel we learn of Mary’s reaction to the shepherds’ story. Mary interiorized all the details. Her joy went deep within her heart where she could treasure them and bring them out again and again. This kind of joy keeps on growing.

The Gospel for the Mass during Christmas Day features the famous prologue to the Gospel according to John. In Jesus, God gave the world light and life and meaning. He gave it so gently that many never got to know or accept him. That’s the key. To be truly happy we need to accept Christ. Those who do, receive power.  That’s another reason to rejoice. We can receive God’s glory. We also receive the power to become children of God, that is, we can live forever in God. The second reading, from Hebrews, explains glory. We can experience in Christ “the very imprint of his being.” We become higher than the angels. So we receive yet another reason to sing for joy this Christmas.

If you thought that was the end of December, you’d be wrong. The month still has room for one more Sunday, the feast of the Holy Family. Consider it the crown on the head of the king. It tells us that we have a blessing that allows all the joy of Christmas to remain for our whole lives. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived as a family. They shared their memories and sacrificed for one another. In doing so, they made life a joy every day. We know that isn’t easy. So, the Church gives us one final Sunday in a month of joys to tell us how this joy can be maintained. First off, it happens in a family. The wise Sirach advises that there should be authority in the home. This authority doesn’t come from competence but from respect. Even when a father becomes senile, he deserves respect if happiness is to continue. Paul piles on a number of family virtues that will make our joy remain. They are: heartfelt compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and thankfulness. These are the gifts we should have on our Christmas lists. These are the priceless presents that make Christmas joy stay in our hearts and voices throughout the years.

May this Christmas bring you such joy that it stays around to make the New Year even happier.

WEEKDAY READINGS

Sunday, Dec. 2: First Sunday of Advent, Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Monday, Dec. 3: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-9; Matthew 8:5-11
Tuesday, Dec. 4: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Luke 10:21-24
Wednesday, Dec. 5: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 15:29-37
Thursday, Dec. 6: Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27; Matthew 7:21, 24-27
Friday, Dec. 7: Isaiah 29:17-24; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; Matthew 9:27-31
Saturday, Dec. 8: Solemnity, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98:1-4; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Sunday, Dec. 9: Second Sunday of Advent, Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
Monday, Dec. 10: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 85:9-14; Luke 5:17-26
Tuesday, Dec. 11: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13; Matthew 18:12-14
Wednesday, Dec. 12: Zechariah 2:14-17; Judith 13:18-19; Luke 1:26-38
Thursday, Dec. 13: Isaiah 41:13-20; Psalm 145:1, 9-13; Matthew 11:11-15
Friday, Dec. 14: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Matthew 11:16-19
Saturday, Dec. 15: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Matthew 17:9-13
Sunday, Dec. 16: Third Sunday of Advent, Zephaniah 3:14-18; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
Monday, Dec. 17: Genesis 49:2, 8-10; Psalm 72:1-4, 7-8, 17: Matthew 1:1-17
Tuesday, Dec. 18: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Psalm 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19; Matthew 1:18-25
Wednesday, Dec. 19: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Psalm 71:3-6, 16-17; Luke 1:5-25
Thursday, Dec. 20: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 1:26-38
Friday, Dec. 21: Song of Songs 2:8-14; Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21; Luke 1:39-45
Saturday, Dec. 22: 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-8; Luke 1:46-56
Sunday, Dec. 23: Fourth Sunday of Advent, Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Monday, Dec. 24: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Luke 1:67-79; Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25
Tuesday, Dec. 25: Solemnity, the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas), (midnight) Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14; (dawn) Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20; (day) Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Wednesday, Dec. 26: Acts 6:8-10 and 7:54-59; Psalm 31:3-4, 6, 8, 16-17; Matthew 10:17-22
Thursday, Dec. 27: 1 John 1:1-4; Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12; John 20:1-8
Friday, Dec. 28: 1 John 1:5–2:2; Psalm 124:2-5, 7-8; Matthew 2:13-18
Saturday, Dec. 29: 1 John 2:3-11; Psalm 96:1-3, 5-6; Luke 2:22-35
Sunday, Dec. 30: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52
Monday, Dec. 31: 1 John 2:18-21; Psalm 96:1-2, 11-13; John 1:1-18

Father Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.

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