The last time this happened was 2006. We had to know it would roll around again. We could have seen it coming, given it some thought, been better prepared. After all this is Advent, a time when we are encouraged to stay alert! Still, it is almost here. And the inevitable questions will be coming.
It was 2006 when the fourth Sunday of Advent fell on December 24. And yes, that means Christmas Day falls on a Monday. I can already hear the wheels turning in some folk’s brain…maybe this means we can get a Christmas two-fer! I’m waiting for an email from one of the faithful asking about the possibilities of attending one Mass and “getting credit” for two. They’ll ask if they attended a Mass on Sunday the 24, say the 4 pm Christmas Eve Mass, since it was technically still Sunday, and we have a Sunday evening Mass normally at 5:30 pm, couldn’t that count as a fulfilling the obligation for both the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas? Answer: no. Does the Church really expect people to come to Mass two days in a row? Answer: yes. Aren’t fourth Advent and Christmas really celebrating the same thing? Answer: no.
If my answers are as brief as “yes” or “no,” I wonder if I will get a follow-up email asking, “why….” I could quote Canon Law or Liturgical regulations, but I doubt that would be all that appealing to write, much less to read. Sometimes you need a worldly example that would make the point. I pondered that for a moment and then set my fingers to writing a query on our parish family database.
Would you have guessed that we have 37 parishioners whose birthday is either Dec. 24 or 25? We have 240 parishioners whose birthday falls between Dec. 20 and Dec. 29 – not on the holiday, but pretty close.
I wonder how they would react to this offer: “Hey, since your birthday is so near Christmas, let’s only celebrate once, OK? And I can give you one gift that will cover both celebrations, ok? I mean, in a way, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus … and your birthday, too. So, it is almost like the same thing. So, whaddaya say – one party, one gift?” I think we intuitively know that offer will have little chance of a warm welcome.
A few more clicks on the database, and it turns out one of the parishioners is turning 8 years old this year. Their birthday is Dec. 24. I am sure the above strategy is not employed in that family. Parents understand the importance of celebrating the birthday as a special event in the life of their child, as well as celebrating Christmas as a family. They do it every year and they celebrate both with joy.
In the midst of the comings and goings and the hustle and bustle that can be the holiday season, we are called to remember the “reason for the season.” Come for the fourth Sunday of Advent and receive with joy the words of the Annunciation that proclaim: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And then one day later, turn the page of the greatest story and hear, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” And that is reason anew to celebrate.
So next weekend, come and share your joy with us that our joy may be complete.