A lady who was working at the Catholic Book store answered a customer’s phone call. She heard annoyed lady on the line muttering to herself: “Darn, damn, darn, darn! She smiled and asked: What may I help you with today?” After a brief silence the caller said: “I’m sorry I got carried away talking to myself here; I guess I was in too much of a hurry. I would like to place an order for some books.” The taking the order said, “That’s hardly the worst thing I heard today. Now, first I need you name.” “Oh dear,” the caller said, “how embarrassing. My name is Sister Patience.”
Today’s readings invite us to rejoice at the rebirth of Jesus in our lives as we are preparing for our annual Christmas celebration. The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, encourages the exiled Jews in Babylon to rejoice because their God is going to liberate them from slavery and lead them safely to their homeland. In the second reading, James the Apostle encourages the early Christians to rejoice and wait with patience for the imminent second coming of Jesus. In today’s gospel Jesus tells John’s disciples “Go and tell John what you hear and see:”
There is a birthday card which reads on the outside, “Sweetheart, you are the answer to my prayers!” Then when you open it, it reads, “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer!” I was reminded of those examples of unfulfilled hopes by the question of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”
In most of the passages of scripture concerning John, he is confident that Jesus is the Messiah and he proclaims this good news to others. But today’s gospel is different. In today’s gospel John is not so sure. For some reason it seems John was expecting a different kind of Messiah. To express his doubt and his disappointment he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” That is like saying, “I had something else in mind. Now I am thinking I should wait for someone else.” Look how Jesus responds. He does not attack John. He does not defend himself. He simply points to the undeniable great things that are happening in his ministry: “Blind regain their sight, lame walk…
Now we have every reason to believe that John was able to let go and accept Jesus as the Christ. Many of us might have to follow the example of John as Christmas approaches. Because of all the times of the year, none places more expectations upon us than Christmas. We have expectations of what Christmas should be that go all the way back to our childhood. We want it to be a calm and joyful season. We want our gifts to be perfect. We want our family to be at peace. We want our hearts to be filled with love and hope.
There is nothing wrong with any of these expectations. But from year to year life does not always cooperate. If we are worried about our job or our future, it is hard to have a heart that is filled with joy and hope. If we are dealing with the loss of someone in death or a serious illness that is affecting someone whom we love, we do not have the energy or the desire for Christmas shopping or for celebrations with family and friends. When our families are marked with anger or divorce, it is unlikely that we will find peace under our Christmas tree.
In those circumstances we can feel very much like John the Baptist. We can ask Christ, “Is this really the Christmas that I have to celebrate this year? I would prefer to wait for another.” Jesus in his own patient way responds, “Yes, this is what Christmas is this year. But I hope that you can see the good things that are still happening in your life. Blessed are you, if you can see them. Blessed are you, if you do not take offense that the Christmas you expected is not the one you will receive. Blessed are you, if despite your worries and your fears, you can still be thankful because of your family, your health, your friends, your home. I know that you wanted more. I know that you expected it to be different. But if you can find the good things that are present in your life, they will be enough.”
The good news about Christmas is that it does not need to meet our expectations. It does not have to be big. It does not have to be the same as it was ten years ago, or even last year. It does not have to compare to anybody else’s Christmas. At the heart of this season is the good news that God comes to us. And God comes to us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, even if they are ones that we were not expecting. For many of us, then, it is important to follow the example of the Baptist. We must let go of what we were expecting and accept what has been given. We must forget the things we cannot have and claim the good things in our life that are ours. If we can do that, if we can claim the blessings that God has indeed given us, we will find Christ. And if we find Christ, we will find Christmas.
So let us find him and rejoice.