3rd week of Advent
According to our traditional experience Christmas should be the happiest time of the year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends. Yet, many people are unhappy during Christmas season! According to the National Institute of Health, many people are experience mental health problems during this season. One North American survey reported that 45% of the participants fear the festive season. Mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. And there is also some evidence regarding an increase in suicide. Some other studies show a large number of people would prefer to skip Christmas! That should tell you something about this season that it brings about a lot of stress and anxiety upon people!
Why Does The Christmas Season Cause Such Distress? There are many reasons: for some people it is stressful end-of-year deadlines, some others family dysfunctions on a variety of levels, feeling lonely and alienated from family members and friends, loss of loved ones, poor eating and drinking habits, and increasingly cold and dark winter days, being in nursing homes and prisons, being away from family and friends etc. For some others Setting up unrealistic expectations bring a lot of stress! Hoping for a picture-perfect White Christmas holiday season. “People have this anticipation or fantasy of the holiday that you would see on TV,” and social media! People have unrealistic expectations about many things and when the reality doesn’t match that unrealistic expectations, then it can be often disappointing.
Some others focusing too much on what you don’t have instead of what they have. Comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides. Both in real life and on social media, it can be difficult for some people to avoid comparing themselves with others around Christmastime. This is a recipe for increased sadness and isolation. Some others are trying to do too much than what they actually can! Many people suffer from the pressure of trying to do everything ― plan the perfect holiday, make it home to see your family, say yes to every parties, events, ball games! Keeping up with many needs of the children in the school and also meeting those year-end deadlines! “Many people feel they just can’t do the right thing, that family members are always disappointed in them.”
What to Do If You Find the Christmas Season Difficult? I saw a post on Facebook recently. It asked: do you want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the stranger and unwanted child, care for the ill, visit the people who are in a kind of leading life in the prison- alienated from family and go to mass and celebrate a simple Christmas and Joseph and Mary did, focusing on the person of Christ! Recently I was visiting an elderly person in the nursing home. It has been 3 years since anyone of her family visited her. I was ministering to this home bound man. It has been 15 years since her son spoke to him.
In today’s Gospel passage we hear the story of John the Baptist. At this time when this scripture passage is taking place, John the Baptist is in Jail and he is hearing amazing things about the ministry of Christ. He is sending his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” This is not something that Jesus claimed but this is something that happened and people have seen and witnessed. When God came and made His dwelling with His people in the person of Christ, bible says these are the things that happened. In the 1st reading prophet Isaiah who lived almost 700 years before the birth of Christ, was foretelling of the coming of such a time when Jesus comes. He says “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
Blind, deaf, lame, and mute. This is how Isaiah, the psalmist, and Matthew the evangelist describe life without God. Almost lifeless! All these words indicate being cut off in some way, longing for connection.
Can you imagine being blind? If I couldn’t see, I do not know where I am in relation to the world, or to other people. When I am blind, I am alone! That’s sad; very sad! Can you imagine being deaf? If I couldn’t hear, my world may be very silent. When I am deaf, I am alone! That’s sad; very sad! Can you imagine being paralyzed? If I couldn’t move, I may be unable to walk and be with other people! When I am paralyzed I am captive and confined and I am alone! That’s sad; very sad! Can you imagine being mute? If I couldn’t speak, I may be unable to share my thoughts and feelings with others. I may not participate with community. I cannot speak up for myself. I am alone! That is sad, very sad!
Dark, silent, and still: a world defined by absence, that is what happens when there is no God in our life. Isaiah, the psalmist, and Jesus say that with God, our world is defined by presence. Where there was dryness, abundant life! Where there was blindness, light and vision! Where there was deafness, understanding and relationship! Where there was paralysis and captivity, dancing and leaping in freedom! Where there was not even speech, singing in joyful response! Rejoice! Gaudete!
I am glad for St. James reminding us in the second reading that such joy is worth waiting for. We are still in the midst of Advent, the season of waiting, of preparing in joyful anticipation. The rose vestments today is a sweet reminder of the first rays of dawn. In the meantime, before the sun is up, we are called to “make our hearts firm” in order to walk with God through the desert, and to work with God on the fields that will bear fruit.
What is the number one cause of car accidents today? There are lots of causes. Obviously, weather and drunk driving are causes. Cell phones; eating; adjusting the radio or CD player. Some people shave, or do their hair, or read, while they are driving. There are all kinds of causes for car accidents today, but you can really boil them down to one. The number one cause of accidents, is when people aren’t looking the right way. In other words, you’re distracted. Part of your sandwich falls into your lap. Your dog tries to jump out the window. When you’re distracted, not looking the right way, there’s a good chance you’ll get yourself into a car accident. For many people, Christmas can be like a car accident. Christmas can be a disaster. Instead of a time of joy, it becomes a time of frustration and depression. Instead of experiencing laughter, you experience crying and fighting and pain. Why is it that for many people, Christmas can be about as much fun as getting into a car accident? It’s because many people aren’t looking the right way they should. Are you looking the right way during this Christmas?
Sometimes I get the feeling that we are like the folks who decided to throw a party to honor a very special friend. They sent out invitations, decorated the hall, & had the food catered. All the people came together at the designated time, but to their surprise, the guest of honor was not there. Finally, they made the embarrassing discovery that no one had ever invited the guest of honor. I wonder if that happens at Christmas time? Do we go through all the decorating, & buying presents, & preparing elaborate meals, but somehow forget whose birthday it really is?
ILL. One family tried to overcome that by putting an extra place at their Christmas table for Jesus, & calling Christmas, “His birthday party.” When one of their daughters was asked if she got everything she wanted for Christmas, she answered by saying, “No, but then it’s not my birthday.” It isn’t our birthday, is it? It’s the Lord’s birthday & it’s a time to remember His birth & what it is supposed to mean to us. What does your Christmas tree and your life stand for? Life or death? Salvation or sin? Victory or defeat? Calvary or Eden? Two weeks from today is Christmas Eve. “Prepare the way of the Lord”