Candles and the Book of the Gospels are pictured during Mass on the second week of Advent at Jesus the Divine Word Church in Huntington, Md., Dec. 5, 2021. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Rejoice in the joy-filled light of Christmas

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • December 10, 2021

How have you been preparing yourself to celebrate Christmas this year?

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent that led us into our spiritual journey towards Christmas. We were filled with enthusiasm because we came together to celebrate Mass and we lit the candle for the First Sunday of Advent. Last year, we didn’t have the opportunity to come together to celebrate community Mass because the churches were only open for communion service or private prayer due to the pandemic.

Traditionally, the theme for the First Sunday of Advent focused on our call to prepare not only to celebrate Christmas but also to be ready to welcome the Lord when He comes again. The liturgy on the Second Sunday of Advent introduced John the Baptist, a prophet sent by God to prepare the way for the Lord — to “proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:1-6). John the Baptist’s proclamation is relevant to our Advent “discipline” as we spiritually prepare for Christmas.

This weekend, our Advent journey brings us to the Third Sunday of Advent, traditionally referred to as Rejoice Sunday or Gaudete Sunday. Liturgically, there is a temporary shift in colour from purple to rose for the Third Sunday of Advent’s candle, symbolizing a theme of joy. At today’s liturgy, we are told to “rejoice always because the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5).

We have already experienced the spirit of joy over the past few weeks: We see the bright coloured lights of Christmas sparkling in our homes and in our communities; we see the notices for familiar Christmas concerts and theatre productions; we hear the familiar bells ringing in the malls; we listen to Christmas carols from radio stations and, this year, we have seen the return of busy shopping at the malls. 

While Christmas lights, carols and bells are all beautiful and joyful, the celebration of Third Sunday of Advent reminds us to focus on the spiritual joy — an essential spiritual component of our preparation for Christmas. In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and be Glad”), Pope Francis describes the spiritual joy as “not the joy held out by today’s individualistic and consumerist culture.” He speaks of a joy “lived in communion, which shares and is shared.” The Pope continues: “Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy since it makes us capable in rejoicing in the good of others” (128).

So, at this point on our Advent journey, the question we need to ask is: How are we living to reflect our spiritual joy? How do we demonstrate our joy to the world?

By this time in Advent parishes are undertaking different projects to help support our outreach ministries of caring for the needy in our communities. At Our Lady of Peace Parish, a popular Advent campaign is the St. Vincent de Paul Christmas Drive. Parishioners joyfully donate gift cards from selected stores or some money to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Sharing with those in need is a spirit-filled Advent “discipline” that brings us joy and also helps us bring joy to others.

This year our situation is different than last year as we notice more parishioners returning to church for Mass. This year, Christmas occurs on a Saturday, so liturgically the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family comes the next day. Similarly, on the following Saturday, Jan. 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mother of God followed on the next day by the Solemnity of Epiphany.

For a safe and joyful celebration of the Christmas festivities, with the festivities so close together, pastors will rely on the generosity of ministers to help prepare and assist in the different liturgies. This can be an opportunity to show the joy that comes from our Advent “discipline.”

As we approach Christmas, our reflection on the Scripture readings encourages us to stay focused on our spiritual journey to Christmas. We are still in the pandemic with its effects on our lives and our activities. We are still facing socio-economic challenges in this country and around the world. Yet, the season of Advent reminds us that as God’s children we are called to journey together and to reach out to each other.

When we journey together led by the spirit of joy we can all experience the joy-filled light of the love that accompanies the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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