Dear friends. Christmas is a happy and joyful time. Right? For some, yes but for many it isn’t. The truth is that many people dread Christmas, find it difficult, lonesome and sad. Today in the Church, we celebrate ‘Gaudete Sunday’ which means ‘Rejoicing Sunday’, indicated by the lighting of the third rose candle on the Advent wreath. But if we are meant to be joyful, how come so many are sad and how can this gap be bridged?
We begin by considering some of the many reasons why people have good reason to feel sad at this time of year when many lacks or absences in our lives come to the surface of our attention. Spare a thought for the families of people who died in the past year. There are many empty chairs at the Christmas dinner and many people effected. Consider the thousands of people effected by emigration who would give anything to have loved ones home this Christmas. Skype is great but it’s not the same. As the song ‘Stop the Cavalry’ says ‘Wish I was at home for Christmas.’ Think of those who don’t even have a home or who have lost their home in the past year. Pause and pray for the broken home where parents are separated or divorced. The pain and sadness that comes with rejection is terrible. I once listened to one man in this situation. He was spending Christmas day on his own and for dinner having a fried egg and rashers.
What all of the above situations have in common is something or someone that’s missing. There is an emptiness and a gap. But here is the thing that brings hope: at Christmas God comes to fill empty spaces. This is the story and the message of Christmas. Think about it. Jesus Christ wasn’t born in the inn because it was full. He was born instead in an empty stable and laid in an empty manger. Is my life so full like the inn that Christ cannot be born? Or do I acknowledge my emptiness, the incompleteness, the imperfection and invite the fire of the Holy Spirit’s presence to come and fill that emptiness and lack with his power? In the second half of the Gospel today, the focus of John the Baptist’s teaching is not on what we must do but on what God is about to do in us and for us: ‘he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’. This can only happen if we want it and welcome him to do it for God never goes where he is not welcome. Welcome him in to fill our empty spaces, the gaps and everything we mourn for at Christmas time. No one has everything. No one’s life is fully complete. When we realise our incompleteness, we are tempted to go it alone, to fill the emptiness by ourselves and fill it with things that can never fully satisfy our longing for joy. But God can use these experiences of emptiness to remind us of our ultimate need for Him and his love. When we open our lives totally to Him, he comes into our emptiness and fills it with his presence and with his joy. Here is the ‘peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand’. Here is the joy that does not come from without but from within. It is like the Alpine lakes (see photo below) which are not fed by a river that flows from outside but from a spring of water welling up from their very foundations.
Let not our own expectations be an obstacle to joy. Life as we know it will always include our own incompleteness and a certain amount of emptiness. But Christ can only be born in empty spaces where he is welcomed and where there is room for him. On this Gaudete Sunday of Advent, let us acknowledge our incompleteness and ask the Lord to come fill our lives and make us whole.