Other Articles by Fr. Jack Peterson
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|Experience the Joy of Advent|
Advent is a season of joyful expectation. There are many sources of our joy during Advent. I would like to take a look at three of them: experiencing God's tender mercy, receiving a special gift, and serving others.
The Church watches three major figures as it prepares for Christmas: Scrooge, Jimmy Stewart and the Grinch. Actually, they are Isaiah the prophet, John the Baptist, and Mary, the Mother of God. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent turns our attention to John the Baptist. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New.
Prophets have the job of calling us out of our stubbornness and demanding change. As the first New Testament prophet, John had the supreme privilege of introducing the whole world to Christ, the promised Messiah, and pointing out the surest path to a profound encounter with Jesus, the way of repentance. John attracted huge crowds because he spoke the truth in love. He helped people recognize the serious consequences of their sins and convince them that God is deeply pleased when we acknowledge them, humbly ask for forgiveness, and commit to avoiding them in the future.
I have found that one of the great joys of my life is receiving God's mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. In confession, I have found God's goodness and mercy to be beyond measure. I never cease to be amazed that God is willing to forgive me time after time. If John's baptism of repentance was so essential to the first coming of Christ, it will be equally essential for the coming of Christ anew into our hearts this Christmas. The fundamental connection of repentance with Christmas is why so many of the classic Christmas movies are stories about conversion.
Another Advent joy is the blessing of receiving a precious gift. When I was about 13 years old, I asked my parents for an over-the-top gift for Christmas. I never expected actually to receive it, but I tossed my wish out there anyway, as kids often do. When I woke up on Christmas morning, there was a motorcycle near our tree. I was completely overwhelmed. I do not remember at what point that year I finally stopped saying "awesome." To this day, I am astonished that my parents sacrificed for me and provided that present.
As I got older, I was able to realize that that gift from my parents was a very pale reminder of the greatest gift that the world has ever known - the Gift of God's only-begotten Son. My parents' sacrificial love represented in that gift was, in fact, a tiny little glimpse of our heavenly Father's sacrificial love poured out in the gift of Emmanuel, God-with-us. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Wonderful Counselor, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, was born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a borrowed manger. Is there a greater gift? Is there a greater cause for joy?
Finally, there is the joy that comes from serving others in love. We all have so much more than we need, yet God wants to give us even more. The key to this quandary is to give the gift of ourselves and what we have to those in need. Advent provides us with many opportunities to serve our families and those who have less - the poor, the elderly, the lonely, and the suffering.
A few years ago, the junior class president at Marymount University arranged to have a 30-person choir from a local middle school sing at our annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. The children who sang were visibly thrilled to be at our event and our Advent tradition took on a joyful, new twist. I am sure that making those arrangements was an extra burden for our student leader at the end of the semester. Yet the effort to serve both the kids and the Marymount community added remarkable joy to our campus. Caring service comes with a built-in joy. Make it your intention to be a servant this Advent and you will know the joy of the Lord.
Advent is indeed a time of joyful expectation. Joy comes wrapped in many packages. Take the time to humbly repent of your sins, ask for the grace of God to fully appreciate the gift of the Christ-child, and commit yourself to serving those in need this Advent and you will enter into the joy of the Lord.