I was speaking to some of the children this week and I saw that they were making a list for Christmas. As I looked down at their the lists I couldn’t help thinking, that’s a lot of things to be asking for, it seemed to be an endless list of things they wanted. I couldn’t help noticing too that it was top of the range things, costly, break the bank kind of items. One of the children I could see working their way through the Argos catalogue, he would gladly have taken everything but couldn’t quite get it all onto his list.
It was harmless enough. They were dreaming of things that would make them happy. Toys and gifts that would give them pleasure. I suppose we have all been that child, looking at the catalogue, watching TV adverts, looking in shop windows, dreaming of those things that we might get for Christmas. If only I could have those things, we would think to ourselves, that would make us happy! If it only were that easy!
When you are happiness is a bit of a puzzle. When you are older your realise that some things make you more happier than others. Some things only give you short term pleasure, before you know it you lay the thing to the side you tire of it and are looking for something else.
Happiness sometimes can seem a very elusive thing, like water it passes though your fingers. One minute you are happy, the next minute you are not so happy. It seems too that there are many things that give us a burst of happiness but few things that give us long-term happiness.
Advent and Christmas is supposed to be a time of happiness. But if we are really honest it can be a hard time. If you have nothing it can be an anxious time. If you are on your own it can be a lonely time. If you have plenty, all those material things can leave you feeling a bit empty – you can know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I am not sure that you would say that John the Baptist looks or sounds like a happy man. He lives in the wilderness, dresses in camel skin, eats locusts and honey and seems an angry man as he berates others around about him.
But then again we would say that he is the happiest of men because he is in the business of shoe horning the messiah into the world, one who is coming with a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
You know yourself that not all those who are smiling and laughing are really happy. Some of the happiest people turn out to be the saddest of people. Those great jokers in life turn out to be the most troubled of people underneath. Those who look sad sometimes can be the most contented of people, untroubled, at peace with themselves.
One of the things we are often asked and you often hear people ask children is: what do you want for Christmas? It goes back to the list that I mentioned at the beginning. Or turned round another way, what is it that would make you happy?
I think, strangely enough God asks us this same question each year. What will bring us happiness this year? What is the thing that will bring us real joy? What is the thing that will make us feel like the sun is shining? What will give us a skip in our step? We know that the red coat which we yearn for will only bring us short term pleasure. That new laptop will be a passing joy That bottle of wine will soon by drunk, those chocolates soon will be eaten.
We know that in life many things only bring us short term pleasures there are few things that bring us long term happiness.
Advent and Christmas invites us to dig deep, where will lie that happiness, that profound happiness in life? God knows where that happiness lies for the human heart - to have him in our lives. To know him in our lives. To want his life to be in us. This will bring us that happiness that we are searching for.
In life you could spend your whole life trying to be happy with material things, but these only bring short term happiness. Like those toys or games they soon become yesterday’s toys or games. That coat become yesterday’s fashion. That meal becomes yesterday’s left overs. You are left feeling an emptiness until the next thing come round.
Is there one thing that will make us happy. John the Baptist, this strange prophet, would seem to say that there is. The thing that will make you happy is the one whom he has come to announce.
Advent more than anything would seem to ask question of us : what will make you happy? What will make you really happy? What is it that you really want for Christmas?
John the Baptists could tell us, that man whom he has come to announce, that person who will baptise, that person win whom the spirit descends. He has the capability of making you profoundly happy and at peace with yourself.