Thursday, December 23, 2010

J.O.Y. to the World

Back before I had knee surgery and a daughter, I used to be a runner. And, as any runner will tell you, there exists what is known as a "runner's high"-- a blast of endorphins that kicks in after about 20 - 25 minutes of running-- that can make the 2nd half of a run seem even easier than the first. So exhilarating is this boost, that at times I would be able to finish a run in a dead sprint.

Unfortunately, many runners don't push past the pain of the first 10 - 20 minutes to experience the benefit of this natural energy kick.

There is also something to be said for the phenomenon of getting more and more excited for something the closer we get to receiving it. To further this idea of a run, knowing that the end is in sight (or at least close) can inspire one to pick up the pace incrementally, running at full tilt for the last few strides.

With Christmas only a day away, stores will be buzzing with last minute shoppers, children will be giddy in anticipation of their hopeful Christmas loot, churches will be packed with people dressed in their finest clothes, radio stations will broadcast non-stop carols, gas stations will jack up prices to rob holiday travelers, airports will be bustling.

The excitement will practically be palpable.

People will be filled with joy.

But, will they be filled with J.O.Y.? Will they put Jesus first, Others second and Themselves last?

J.O.T.? Er, to make the acronym functional, will you:
Put Jesus first?
Put Others second?
Put Yourself last?
On this last day of Advent, I offer one more example of how we should prepare for Christ's birth given to us over the course of the past four weeks: Jesus' earthly father, Joseph.

Joseph was a man about whom little is known (at least from Scripture). But, it may be safe to say that Joseph lived by this motto: "Put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last." He decided to follow the advice of the angel, taking Mary as his wife and raising Jesus as his own.

He decided to honor and uphold Mary's dignity, choosing to marry her despite the unusual circumstances of her pregnancy.

He decided to put his own desires for a "normal" marriage and experience as a father aside and instead be joyful. In return, he had the blessing of spending the rest of his life with Jesus. Imagine that. Imagine the joy you experience when in the presence of your spouse or your child(ren) or your best friend. Now, imagine that person to be Jesus! What joy you would undoubtedly experience!

However, will we be filled with J.O.Y. tomorrow when Christ once again comes into our world? Will we be so overcome with joy to sing at the top of our lungs, "Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let Earth receive her King!" Heaven will be singing. Will nature?

Like the song says, "Let every heart prepare Him room." If we have done that, if we have pushed past the pain of crowded shopping malls and endless holiday tasks and found time to pray, offered more of ourselves to those in need (even within our own families), spent more time thinking about what we can give instead of what we want to receive-- if we have truly prepared and made room for Jesus to be the most important part of our lives-- then let us not be ashamed to spread J.O.Y. tomorrow and every day of our lives. Let us sing, "Joy to the world!"

Let us not be afraid to put Jesus first tomorrow. Let us be enlivened in putting others second. And let us truly believe that in doing so, and in putting ourselves last, we may come to experience everlasting joy. J.O.Y. that is independent of circumstances, J.O.Y. that is constant. J.O.Y. that leads us from a birth in a dirty stable, to a cross on a hill, to a grave with a stone rolled away...

"...and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing!"

Joy to the world.

J.O.Y. to the world, indeed.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Just Say Yes

Because of its juxtaposition to the word "no", the word "yes" is inherently positive.

Think about this. While there are some questions for which a "yes" response brings bad news or rejection (So, does that mean you don't want to go out with me?), more often than not, hearing a "yes" is a good thing.

"Can I go to Matt's house for a sleepover?"

"Are we going out to eat tonight?"

"Can I stay up past bedtime?"

"Will you marry me?"

Imagining a "yes" response to any of these or countless other questions, brings with it the hope, excitement and joy surrounding those situations. So close is the connection between the word "yes" and good feelings that simply saying "yes" with a little flair ("YESSSSSS!" maybe even with a fist shake or elbow pump) can heighten one's mode.

There are probably monumental yeses in your life ("Yes, I'll marry you", "Yes, we're pregnant"), but no "yes" in the history of the world was as monumental as the one given by a teenage girl over 2,000 years ago.

The Angel Gabriel asked Mary if she would bear God's only Son. With only a moment's hesitation (long enough to ask exactly how this could be), yet most likely frought with equal parts anxiety and hope, she responded, "Yes." The Gospels attribute Mary with a much more eloquent response,

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy Word (Luke 1:38).

A yes, though, by any other words would still smell as sweet. And even
though unlike Mary we are born with original sin, and even though 1/2
of all of us are not biologically able to bear a child (a claim I
humbly make fully knowing Gabriel's words to Mary, "For nothing will be
impossible for God" (Luke 1:37)) God approaches us this Advent with the same
questions He offered to Mary many years ago:

Will you let me into your life?

Will you bring me into your homes and your hearts?

Will you bear me, and all that comes with carrying me with you?

Will you prepare for my coming?

Will you deliver me into this world?

God yearns for a positive response from us. He hopes that this year, this Christmas, we will answer with an unequivocal "yes", forever changing our lives and in turn, our world. Like Mary, we may be anxious and fearful about responding in the affirmative. We may even be excited over the prospect of a life with Christ.

But, are we courageous enough to just say yes?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Wisdom of Advent

I know I'm three Sundays late with this Advent reflection. As mentioned before, time has taken on an altogether new meaning for me. So, I apologize if it comes a bit late (technically 1/2 way) in this glorious season of Advent. But, our God of second chances is also a God of last second comebacks. So I hope that God would agree: it's better late than never.

In addition, I'm not only late, I'm also going to begin this reflection by looking at an event toward the end of the Christmas season. Much like a lesson plan designed by having the end in mind before beginning, I think it's worth knowing where we're headed before we start on our journey. It's in this spirit that I turn to the story of the Three Wise Men and what they can teach us about Advent. (

The Wise Men offer us a wonderful example of how we should behave during this season of Advent. First, we imagine that they had to prepare for their journey to Bethlehem before starting. Unlike jumping in the car and traveling from St. Petersburg to Tampa or even from Tampa to Jacksonville, we can imagine their trip taking extended time and requiring much more preparation than grabbing their keys. Second, the Wise Men had to make a choice. They had to choose between following what Herod wanted and what their hearts (and God) wanted. Third, they returned to their homes by a different road-- their encounter with Christ changed them in such a way that they could no longer go back to their old ways. They were different because of their Christmas day. Fourth and finally, history knows them as “wise” because of their gifts honoring Christ’s Kingship, instead of merely recognizing his birth.

Can the same adjective, wise, be applied to us during this Advent season? Personally, I want to be considered wise instead of the opposite. When Christmas is over and we’re returning to our everyday lives, I want to be a different person. I want to be someone who saw Christ not just as a way to get presents but as my Savior and King. I want to be a Wise Man, too.

We need to take the example of the Wise Men if we are to make the most out of our Advent preparation:

First, we must prepare for Christmas. This preparation, however, should take a different shape and tone than what society tells us it should entail ( We should worship fully. We should spend more time in prayer than usual and the time we do spend should be spent in participating fully, consciously and actively. While carolling we may belt out "Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer" at the top of our lungs, but in Mass we wouldn't dream of even opening our mouths. This Advent, sing. Instead of just praying at the end of the day before going to sleep, maybe we should take Christ's example and rise a bit earlier, go off by ourselves, and begin our day in prayer. Cracking open Sacred Scripture, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, lighting an Advent wreath at home-- whatever you do, do something different and/or extra and do it with your full heart.

Second, we need to recognize that like the Wise Men, we are also presented with a choice about the birth of Jesus. The world tells us that in order to be happy this Christmas we need to spend more money and buy the newest, most expensive gadget. Things are what we want. So, run around to as many stores as possible and buy as much (quantity over quality) as possible so that your precious loved ones will be happy. Our God presents us with a much different choice, one that focuses more on people, relationships and quality than it does on material things. Can you even remember all that you got for Christmas last year? How about five years ago? But, can you remember the people with whom you spent Christmas and what you did? The Wise Men chose, well, wisely. Hopefully we will, too.

Third, Christmas Day will come and hopefully we will come to experience and encounter Christ in a true and meaningful way. Will we be changed forever because of our encounter with Christ on Christmas Day (we will even find time for Church)? Or, will the 26th come as it usually does, seeing us trudge back to the stores, upset with the crowds and even more upset with having to return all of the things that we got but didn't want?

If we can make the right choice and truly prepare for Christmas as the Magi did, spending more time in prayer and less at the malls, giving more of ourselves to people we love and less of our money, if we can recognize the true meaning of Christmas and live our lives according, we just might be considered wise.

Heck, we may even go down in history.