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As Christmas draws closer, the Church’s liturgy today emphasizes the theme of joy, which is not simply a happiness based on good circumstances, but a profound exultation of spirit based on the salvation that comes from God himself. Every human spirit longs for joy, but often does not know how to find it. Instead, we are all too aware of the things that rob us of joy and peace, and the evils, both in our own lives and in the world, from which we need to be saved.
Advent is about the expectation of complete salvation. It is not a time that we pretend that Christ has not come and try to imagine welcoming him for the first time; rather, it is a time when, acknowledging that Christ has already come, we await the full unfolding of the effects of the salvation he brings. That’s what the first and second readings today refer to. “He has turned away your enemies…you have no further misfortune to fear…Have no anxiety at all…” People may find these assurances unrealistic, but they are not. For one thing, the coming of Christ has destroyed the power of sin and death at its roots. No matter what misfortunes may still happen, or what causes of anxiety may still torment us, the fact is that we always have access to God. That is why we dismiss anxiety from our minds. He has baptized us in the Holy Spirit, as John the Baptizer promised (today’s Gospel). That Holy Spirit gives us total access to God, to an understanding of his word, and to the grace of salvation. Hence, no matter what is happening in our lives, we can say “Merry Christmas.”
The total salvation Christ brings, which is unfolding each day, is physical as well as spiritual. The whole universe will be transformed. All physical violence, such as abortion, will be overcome. Therefore, we rejoice now, as we embrace the Christ who has already come, and as we wait in joyful hope for him to come again.