Last year in one of my classes, I taught a student, Pavan. He was one of the brightest young men I had ever met. He was hard working, respectful, and always pleasant. One of those students a teacher wished they had a full class of. During the year he left to battle leukemia. He did not return to class. I learned on Tuesday that he lost this battle last week and passed to life eternal.
I was very upset and saddened. I can only imagine what his family must have been feeling as the rest of our culture spoke of joy and happiness of the season. For many this time of year the word joy does not seem to fit. Fears of terror attacks, loved ones serving overseas, unemployment, and the loss of loved ones all conspire to challenge this season of joy for so many.
In our seminary class, we study scriptural hermeneutics, the way to interpret and read scripture using a book from Peter Gomes, from Harvard Divinity. He teaches us, among others things, to look for biblical themes, one of which is joy. Joy is the word for this Solemnity, the joy of the Incarnation. But this only makes sense if we understand what joy really is. It is not happiness in the way our culture experiences this word. Joy is the feeling one has when the veil between the human and divine is momentarily lifted. Joy is the realization of a moment of unity between us and God. It is the feeling of ultimate peace and fulfillment in the complete enrapture of our lives in God’s hands. Thus joy can be felt at moments of happiness, achievement, sadness, and grief.
Just over 10 years ago, I was with my mother, just moments after her life ended in the hospital. I began the prayer from the funeral Mass, Angels of the Lord come to greet her, and I found myself no longer able to speak the words. I was sad, yes, in grief, yes, but also in awe and at peace. I felt my mother’s presence in a new way, I felt as if the angels were there and she was happy. I could not speak from my voice, but my heart was singing. It was a moment of joy.
This feast of the Incarnation is the source of our human joy for it is the gift of God taking our human nature and uniting it with God’s divine existence. God is made flesh and the Word by which all things came to be, is incarnated in our human experience. This feast does not automatically resonate joy just because it happens to be December, but it is a celebration of the faithful fact that God does touch us each at different times in different ways intimately with ultimate life and love. Because God was made human, God himself tore that veil between us and reaches out to us always. Joy is our human realization of these moments. Joy is God’s promise of the life of enraptured love that will be our always in time and the next life.
Our call is to help each other in the times in between and on the journey here and now, times good and bad. By our loving in community and our reaching out to include the marginalized into our community: those who are lonely, those in trauma, those forgotten or abused, we provide the fertile ground for joy to manifest itself. Our call is to help each other remember that our God IS Emmanuel, with us, now and forever.
As we celebrate this liturgy of the Incarnation, may we have the strength of each other and our God with us, to walk one in mind and heart into His love forever.
Christ is born. Glorify Him!