Remember a time, not so long ago (in the grand scheme of things) when seeing someone wearing a mask in public was strange? If you were in a convenience store and saw someone come in with a mask, you’d think they were there to rob the place. It feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? Just think: it was only nine months ago when grandmas didn’t know what a Zoom call was. Only nine months ago, standing six feet away from someone when you were talking to them was considered anti-social distancing. Only nine months ago, if you didn’t shake someone’s hand when greeting them, it was considered rude. Then, in a moment, everything changed.
Now here we are trying to make the best of the situation, trying to figure out “how can we still do what we used to do” while still following all the new rules and guidelines as best we can. In many cases, if not most, things have went from “postponed” to outright “cancelled.” Cancelled Christmas parties, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, even Christmas gatherings with family… all the things we look forward to every year are now just snatched away, happiness denied.
Yet what is happiness? Can it be found in a jam-packed schedule of back-to-back-to-back-to-back Christmas events? Can it be found in a long list of gifts to buy? Can it be found under mountains of wrapping paper? Can it be found on your plate with grandma’s ham and mom’s potatoes? All the happiness these things bring is gone in a moment. All the things of this world, both the good and the bad, are temporary.
Still, we search for happiness. We yearn for it. We pursue it. Especially this time of the year, we normally find ourselves trying to do more, don’t we? We might already have three Christmas parties on the list, but there’s always room for one more. There’s always time to hit just one more store. Despite our busyness, which at any other time of the year we’d try to prevent, around Christmas there’s always time for one more… something. And in our busyness, when we have that rare moment to ourselves, we fill that moment with conversations with ourselves about ourselves, about our schedules, our to-do lists, and our shopping lists… all the things that are important. In those rare moments of peace, we certainly don’t have time for God, because we have Christmas things to do! The irony.
Whenever we search for happiness in places other than God, we never find it for long because it’s not perfect happiness. Whenever we stray too far from Him, whenever we get too distracted from our true end, God has to do what He always has had to do with mankind: He takes our worldly things away. And like He spoke to the Israelites through Isaiah, then Jeremiah, then Zechariah, He is speaking to us today: “Return to me, from whom you have rebelled. Return to me and I will return to you. Return O faithless sons, and I will heal you.” But, like our ancestors, we are a stiff-necked and stubborn people. For far too long, Christmas has been barely about Christ. We want the parties and the plays, the concerts and the ham. We want our fix of temporary happiness. Because we have lost our grasp on the concept of what eternity really is, for us the past nine months have seemed like an eternity. All too quickly we have forgotten how long an eternity really is. To paraphrase St. Alphonses de Liguori, “Poor Judas! Two thousand years in hell and for him, it’s only just beginning.” So God has to realign our focus, so we can see clearly what is important.
Many times in life we are faced with situations where our focus has to change in a moment. For example, when a woman gets pregnant, she has to begin to make decisions for the good of her unborn child. She has to change habits, make sacrifices, and focus on what is best for her baby. Nine months ago, we were forced to change our lives, just as Mary did when Gabriel came to her at the Annunciation. As we draw nearer to the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, God is giving us what is truly important right now: He is giving us the opportunity of more quiet moments so that we may turn back to Him from whom we have rebelled. It is in the loneliness of these moments that we can listen for His voice, so that our conversation will be less with ourselves about ourselves, but more conversations with Him. He is giving us time, so that in the quiet of our hearts we may focus on true happiness, and ponder the monumental importance of the Word becoming flesh, and dwelling among us.
Mary, Mother of our Savior, pray for us.