Third Sunday of Advent (December 17, 2017)
“Rejoice” is the high frequency word in today’s Mass. Today is Gaudete Sunday; the pink candle of our advent wreaths is lit. By God’s grace we do not have pink vestments, which I prefer not to wear - for reasons that have nothing to do with liturgy.
We hear “rejoice” in church, but when we walk in the mall, we see few smiling faces. Shoppers seem to be intent and tense.
As William Sloane Coffin remarked: “So why are Christians so often joyless? It is, I think, because too often Christians have only enough religion to make themselves miserable. Guilt, they know, but not forgiveness. Nietzsche correctly noted, ‘Christians should look more redeemed.’”
Perhaps we are experiencing increased stress, painful family memories, broken relationships, shattered dreams, unrealistic expectations - to name a few experiences that impact us in this season.
Does it not seem inappropriate, incongruous to hear about rejoicing? Not at all!! The reason for rejoicing is not finding the perfect gift for someone you really love or finding the adequate gift for someone you really don’t. The reason for rejoicing is not a shallow, temporary change from emotional “business as usual.”
Where is joy to be found? Today’s scripture readings teach us our source of rejoicing. Isaiah, in the first reading, speaks to the children of Israel who suffered so much for so long: “rejoice in the lord.”
In the responsorial psalm, we answered: “My soul rejoices in my God.”
Paul was shipwrecked, flogged to within an inch of his life several times, publicly mocked, run out of town. He said to those who were waiting for the second coming of Christ: “Rejoice always, render constant thanks.” This was surely more than urging a positive attitude toward life, more than a first-century, pop psychology of positive thinking.
Paul also says, “render constant thanks” for the forgiveness Jesus brought.” He deeply believes that real joy abides in the soul of the one who has absorbed this and has entrusted himself totally to the hands of God. It is anchored in something more stable than the shifting sands of life’s fortunes. It is rooted in god himself.
Joy is a resilient choice no matter what happens to us. Joy arises out of a contented heart where the contentment is based on the lasting presence of God.
Joy is a fundamental stance of the heart: a conviction, a gift of God. It is rooted in our enduring relationship with god, remembered during advent as we recall the coming of Jesus who made our relationship a reality.
Joy is a constant glimpse of eternity. It is a whisper in the night of difficulties that will become a resounding chorus of the full presence of God.
Jesus’ gift of joy is recalled in the holy card that portrays him in the scene described in the book of revelation: standing outside a door knocking. The door has no handle on his side; it has to be opened by you, by me on our side.
In the morning, preferably, before the day begins to roll like a snowball downhill, gathering chaos, we take the time to enter within ourselves. We picture our lord vividly before us. We look at the expression in his eyes. We “waste” time with him - first in total silence -- just looking at him with his loving eyes that encompasses forgiveness, acceptance, and value.
I acknowledge my total reliance on him.
The experience that follows is joy.