My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
So we are getting closer to Christmas. We are doing these days the novena to Christmas that usually has beautiful celebrations like the tradition of the Simbang Gabi Mass in the Filipino community and also the Pasadas in the Latino community and many other ways of celebrating the preparation for Christmas.
I think the question that we are asked many times is: Are you ready for Christmas? Isn’t it true?
I was talking to somebody the other day and that person said, “I’m materially ready for Christmas — I’ve done all my shopping — but I’m not sure that I’m spiritually ready for Christmas.”
And I think that that’s really our challenge. You know, buying gifts, we can do it. It’s no problem — you can even do it through the internet, isn’t it true? Hopefully you get your packages on time.
But the challenge that we have is in the middle of this society — a society that tends to be so concentrated on material things — and our busy lives, the challenge is to spiritually prepare for Christmas.
The challenge that we have is to remember that Christmas is always about Jesus. It’s hard sometimes, because as I said we are concerned about so many other things. But the church today — in the readings of the Mass — gives us three practical suggestions that we can reflect on and maybe those three things can help us to better prepare us for Christmas.
The first one is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Then the call to holiness that we are called to the perfection of the Christian life throughout our life and with the goal of going to Heaven. And finally, the example of St. Joseph.
So I think it is beautiful to try to find the way for each one of us to really prepare for Christmas.
So we heard in the first reading of today’s Mass the beautiful words of the prophet Isaiah, which we have heard so many times before. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel!”
Emmanuel. The name Emmanuel, as we know, means, “God-with-us.” This is the joy of Christmas.
God wants to be with us. When you think about it and stop — I say this many times because, for me, it is so special to think that God wants to be present in my life, in your life, in our lives, in our families — everywhere! Personally. He’s coming so that we can share his life with us, with each one of us.
And that happens obviously not only at Christmas. The line in the prophet that we heard today that is in a new way is the line: “Therefore the Lord himself with give you this sign.”
God is with us always. And especially when we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate God’s presence among us. So as we prepare for Christmas, I think it’s good to try to remember every single day that this season is about God being with us.
God is everywhere, and God comes to us in ordinary ways — especially through the lives of the people around us. Yesterday, we had the beautiful celebration here at our Cathedral of Adopt-a-Family.
We have it every year — I think it’s been going for more than 25 years. And it’s a time when we go and give some gifts to poor families, especially in downtown Los Angeles. We have hundreds of volunteers and I had the blessing of going to three families to give some gifts that were collected through the efforts of the staff and volunteers that come to help us at Adopt-a-Family — maybe some of you were there too!
It’s so beautiful and that’s a reminder for them that God is there present in their lives. Because that’s what Adopt-a-Family is all about. That’s what our faith is calling us to do. To really make a difference in the lives of the people around us, especially the ones that are in the most need.
So think about it. If God wants to be with us, and he is with us, especially in our brothers and sisters that are close to us, let us try to recognize God in the lives of the people around us and try to make them happy during this time.
Then in the second reading of today’s Mass, St. Paul tells us that the “gospel of God,” the good news is that we are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and we are “called to be holy.”
We really need to believe this, my dear brothers and sisters. Because God’s love is the whole reason of our lives. That’s why we were born and our families were born. This is the beautiful reality of our lives.
Holiness is not just for some special people — it’s for each one of us. It’s the call of our lives — going to heaven because holiness happens when we go to heaven.
So we were made because God loves us — because he wants to be with us. Because he wants us to be holy — like he is holy. He wants us to “belong” to him in Jesus Christ.
What a beautiful meaning for our lives, when we really think about what our life is all about — it’s God with us, calling to be like him and calling us to go to eternal life. It’s a beautiful life. It is a beautiful gift that we have received from God and that’s what we have to share that with our brothers and sisters.
And holiness looks as challenging as we can imagine, we have the beautiful example in today’s passage of the Gospel of St. Joseph.
The passage of the Gospel today is the story of Christmas that we are going to celebrate next week — next Sunday. And there is the beautiful figure of St. Joseph.
Somebody who was able to do God’s will in the simplicity of his daily life. It is interesting to see that in all the stories of Advent and Christmas, St. Joseph is totally silent. He never speaks. Not one words. He only listens and responds in faith.
So in the Gospel that we heard, the angel comes to Joseph and talks to him. And then the Gospel tells us: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”
What a beautiful model for us, my brothers and sisters. Because God is speaking to us all the time. He is challenging us through the different situations in our lives. Let us ask for the grace to alway respond as St. Joseph — yes to the will of God. Whatever it is.
Those challenges that we have in our lives, let’s learn from St. Joseph and accept God’s will and try to do it in every single moment of our lives, whatever it is that God wants us to do.
But we should be paying attention, we should be ready to do what God is asking us. Here’s the beautiful thing in the life of St. Joseph is that he paid attention and then he probably reflected on what God was asking him and then he did it!
Don’t you think that that would be a beautiful way for all of us to try to live our lives. Just thinking of what is it that God wants me to do. Listening and then doing it. Because in that way we will find the peace and happiness that we all are looking for.
So as we get ready for Christmas this week, let us try to continue accompanying Mary Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. Let us ask them to teach us to alway stay close to Jesus. Let us ask them to teach us how to hear God’s voice in our lives and how to be faithful and go about doing God’s will in our personal lives — making especially life happy for others.
So I’m praying that this week will be a very special time of preparation for Christmas for all of you and your families. That you can really say that we are ready for Christmas — materially and spiritually, especially. And that all of you and your families and loved ones will have a beautiful, holy Christmas this celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Readings (Fourth Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A): Isa. 7:10–14; Ps. 24:1–6; Rom. 1:1–7; Matt. 1:18–24.