21 DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS! As I type this up, I am sitting by my tree, with a fire in the hearth and a garland on the mantle. I am certainly in what is called the “Christmas spirit”. But what is the driving force behind this “Christmas spirit” we celebrate? Of course as kids it’s the prospect of getting new toys from Santa. But we’re adults now and can buy our own “toys” whenever we feel like it. Maybe it’s the family time that excites us, or time off from work, pretty decorations, delicious foods, or the idea of giving someone something special. In short, we wait all year for this magical month of anticipation because it promises us extraordinary happiness. Unfortunately we know what happens December 26. Trees are thrown out, lights come down, the music goes off the radio. The cultural “Christmas season” is over. Then we usher in a long, cold, and very ordinary January, and the countdown begins for next year’s season of joy.
Today’s readings also speak of a much-anticipated joyful celebration, except this one is without end. Since the days of the Fall, God’s people waited for a Messiah to come and liberate them from their misery. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah foretells a great feast that will take place on the mountain of the Lord. There will be wine and sumptuous food. Death and sadness will be destroyed, tears will be wiped away. The people of God will be saved! In their pure joy, they will glorify their God.
In the Gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus is on a mountain and people are coming to him in droves to be healed. The blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak. Their tears are turned into dancing and they glorify God. But after three days on the mountain, the people are hungry, and Jesus wants to feed them. His disciples tell him that they only have 7 loaves of bread and some fish, which will certainly not feed a crowd of that size. However, Jesus is not concerned. He breaks the bread and distributes it, along with the fish, to the people. The mere 7 loaves and some fish turn into a plentiful feast, with substantial leftovers! This event thus becomes the literal fulfillment of what was prophesied by Isaiah. The Savior has come. He is on the mountain, bringing joy, and providing a feast, and the people glorify him.
But even that feast is only a foretaste of the true, metaphorical banquet to come. In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no end to the joy, and sadness can never again plague its inhabitants. It’s like a Christmas celebration that never ends! This is the complete fulfillment of what was foretold and it is what we anxiously wait for now.
This Advent season, as we are drinking eggnog and putting on our ugly Christmas sweaters, counting down the days until December 25, let’s remember that what we are really anxious for is pure, unending joy, which can only be found through Jesus. Let these feelings of happy anticipation remind us of the true happiness that comes from building a relationship with our Savior with whom we will eventually be united at the everlasting feast of joy.