Today, Holy Mother Church points the faithful to the joy of being a Christian. She urges all who come to celebrate, to celebrate the joy of Christ as a gift to mankind. The joy of being loved so much that we are given chance after chance after chance to gain eternal salvation through our Lord. The Collect (the Opening Prayer) puts this desire for this gift up front in the liturgy today and in our lives:
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
The desire and anxiety for such a gift is palpable in these words. Reminiscent of our youth as we long for Christmas day to arrive so that we can see what lies hidden under the tree, what gifts have been given to us. This eagerness is the what Christians, when they are truly open to God’s love, should be feeling – for the joy promised is ultimate and everlasting. The great 4th century doctor of the Church St Ambrose writes: “He who welcomes Christ in to the intimacy of his house will be satiated with the greatest of joys.”
But, our fallen nature gets in the way, we are sinful people and as such we fall short of the appreciation of this gift – we need helps to attain what the collect prayer asks for. Again St Ambrose from one of his hymns: ‘If the son of God is born in you, keep your life blameless.’ We need to clean ourselves of these barriers to God’s joys – we need to be healed of our sins. We need to turn to Christ – because as St Ambrose writes ‘Christ is everything for us: if you desire to heal your wounds, he is the doctor; if you are parched by the heat of fever, he is a fountain; if you are oppressed by guilt, he is justice; if you have need of help; he is strength; if you are afraid of death, he is life; if you wish for paradise, he is the road; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you look for food, he is nourishment.’
And Christ comes to us always to be those things for us – especially in the Sacraments and most powerfully in the Eucharist. Tonight we have the chance to receive Christ’s healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; tonight, brothers and sisters we can clean our lives of the things that keep us from the hope and joy that today’s Collect asks from God, tonight we can be satiated with the greatest of joys!