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The child who comes to lighten our hearts
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Since last Sunday, this third week of Advent has been dedicated to joy.
Lighting the rose-colored candle at Sunday’s Mass, we prayed:  “Lord God, may we, your people who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.

“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.”

The Mass was permeated by the theme of joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord always - again, I say, rejoice!  The Lord is near.” These words of St. Paul to the Philippians (4:4-5) provided the opening proclamation (called the Entrance Antiphon), and they’ll continue echoing right up until the day of Christmas.

Pink is the symbolic color of our joy on “Gaudete Sunday”.  In the words of our instruction manual, “Rose-colored garments may be worn as a sign of rejoicing”.  My associate pastor looked very striking in his brand-new robe, which we call a “chasuble”.  Alas, pink and I just don’t seem to get along.  Ever-so-reluctantly, I forgo the honor and stay with the seasonal default color, purple.  But inevitably, someone has to raise the question. \I’ve developed elaborate theological explanations for my reluctance to don the rose-colored garments.  But this year, I got help from an unexpected source.  You could say that a little angel from heaven came to my rescue.

Just as I finished describing the significance of the rose-colored candle and began again to invent some lame excuse for wearing purple (“those darn mice!,” or “I’m color blind,” or “we sent the robe off to the missions” or, better yet, “alien spacecraft were seen this morning hovering over the church,”), a tiny creature began paddling her way up the aisle like a baby penguin.  As our capacity crowd looked on, she climbed right up the stairs before the altar and turned around, waiting for applause.  “She’ll be two in four months,” said her mother from ’way back.  She was dressed in pink.

Pointing out that the good Lord had provided someone to wear rose at the altar, I proceeded with Mass.  However, this strong-willed child of only 20 months had other ideas.  Strolling back to her mother’s side, she returned again and decided to camp out.  There, laying down on the first of two steps ascending to the altar, she looked out sideways at the captive crowd.

Given the coming holiday and the accent on happiness, I didn’t want to risk hurt feelings by obliging the mother to come retrieve her little lamb.

Instead, I simply picked up that pink bundle of joy.  She weighed a ton.

And it seems she got heavier and heavier, as she looked at me intently while I continued delivering my homily about the unbearable lightness of being for those whose hearts glow warm in this most delightful season.

Finally, I had to set her down.  She went right back to her new routine.

At the following mass, girls in pink seemed to be at epidemic levels.  For the initial procession, I gathered them up to participate in the rose-colored candle-lighting ceremony.  The flame illuminated their happy little faces.

Feast of Guadalupe: An encouraging celebration
We had just concluded one of the most encouraging celebrations of the year: the Feast of Guadalupe.  Because Dec. 12 fell on a Saturday, we were able to take full advantage of the opportunity.  All four masses filled our church.  By 3:30 a.m., the crowd was already standing-room-only.

Our newly-restored statue featured the Virgin’s rose-colored dress, itself encoded with floral designs, and that one, four-petaled flower directly over the womb of Mary, signifying a Divine Presence dwelling within her body.

Yes, joy was the order of the entire weekend, despite the falling of stars from heaven and the gloomy economic forecast for so many of our people.

Following Mass, children gathered in front to admire the manger scene.

By 4 p.m., we the remnant had finished putting things in order.  Another 450 to 500 faithful would come for Mass at 6:30 p.m., and most would be staying for the “Pastorela” play afterwards.  In that traditional, beloved allegory, angels from on high would be calling the shepherds to Bethlehem.

Inspired by their song, the simple care-takers would begin their journey.

Jealous of the Messiah’s birth, the devil would do everything possible to derail their pilgrimage.  Sending forth his fallen angels, he’d connive to distract, detain, demoralize, and even desecrate the hapless shepherds.

But, try as he might to frustrate God’s plans, the Prince of Lies would ultimately yield the victory to the Prince of Peace, the newborn Messiah.

A baby lost after 38 weeks
Between afternoon duties, attending to people and the evening Mass, I had looked forward to enjoying a Christmas gathering at the home of Bishop Blaire.  In fact, I was just pulling out of our driveway when my emergency phone rang.  “Yes,” I responded.  “I’ll be there as soon as possible.”  So much for the Bishop’s gathering.  I was already heading the opposite way.

Entering the silent hospital room, I felt the profound sadness.  Everyone was looking downcast.  Whatever joy had circulated in the life-blood of that young mother during her first 38 weeks of pregnancy was no longer there.  Beside her bed, in its own little crib, lay a 7½ pound, 32-inch baby.

The girl had done very well for nearly the full term of her gestation.  But then, inexplicably, her tiny heart had stopped.  She had died on Saturday.

I carefully pulled back the blanket wrapping this innocent creature’s body.

The pooling of her blood had rendered her skin a dull white.  Everything of her looked anemic, except her most remarkable lips.  I thought they’d been painted - deep pink.  And on her head, the child wore a rose-colored cap.

 I don’t know what color glowed through Jesus’ skin, as the infant Deity stared back quietly at the adoring shepherds. What I do know is this:  his little heart has been beating for us since the day it first kicked into action.

The fact that we might paint his cheeks some hue of vermillion, orange or even bright pink, takes nothing from his power as the living Son of God.

His power lies in drawing forth from us joy and gratitude even in death.

Yesterday, Friday the 18th of January, I buried that baby under ashen skies.

Gone was the morning’s bright sunshine.  Thirty mourners stood silently, not knowing what to say, as the child’s parents wept.  We sang Christmas carols: O Little Town of Bethlehem, What Child is This, and Silent Night.

If you listen to these most-beautiful of sacred songs and imagine yourself standing beside a baby’s miniature coffin as it lowers into the grave, I think you’ll get the point.  Jesus came to bring us the joy of salvation, but in order to deliver us all, he came prepared from the beginning to die.

The Wise Men brought him, among their gifts for royalty and deity, myrrh: a spice employed to embalm the dead.  The Child of Bethlehem promised from the beginning to redeem us from our oppressive collective depression by showing us the key to happiness.  “Blessed are you,” he would say 30 years later to the poor in spirit, the lowly and meek, the mourners, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful and the peacemakers.

And his disciples would recount the Good News of our salvation that our “joy might be complete” (John 15:11, 1 John 1:4).  The beginning of this Good News centers around the mystery of the Incarnation, as the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  This Christmas, may you experience that Joy once again, as the Christ-child is born again in you.