3rd Sunday of Advent (C)
The Path to Joy
The Path to Joy
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!
What do these word’s mean for us? What is our spontaneous reaction to this exhortation from today’s psalm response? Perhaps there will be those blessed ones for whom singing and shouting for joy at the Lord’s coming will come quite naturally and spontaneously. Then there may be those who will think immediately of the revelry that prevails at Christmas: the feasting and caroling, partying and gift-giving. Truly these are legitimate expressions of the joy that our readings speak of today. But might there not also be some among us who – perhaps because of the particular situations we might be facing in our lives – find ourselves resisting and even resenting the obligation to rejoice? Of course, we may force ourselves to go through the motions of the external expressions of Christmas joy, but deep within we may find ourselves continuing to nurse life’s unresolved aches and pains. Is this the kind of joy to which our readings are calling us today? Are we being asked to consciously or unconsciously suppress our less presentable feelings in order to offer others a more politically correct exterior if only till the festivities of the season have passed? Or are we being invited instead to claim the authentic Christmas joy which results from allowing the One-Who-Comes to soothe the guilty conscience, to calm the traumatized nerves, and to heal the broken heart?
Assuming the latter is the more desired alternative, how do we go about acquiring this experience of authentic Christmas joy? Our readings offer us several helpful suggestions of how we might come to sing and shout for joy from the heart.
First, we need to SEE. We need to see the nature of this joy that is our birthright as Christians. This is quite unlike the joy of those who win a race or the lottery. It is not quite the joy of ultimate gratification. Rather is it more like the joy experienced by the married couple expecting a long-awaited child. For, quite mysteriously, the readings tell us at once that the Lord is both in our midst and also very near. This is thus a joy that can coexist with ongoing struggles because it’s a joy that is born of faith and hope in the One-Who-Comes. And we are helped to receive this blessing also when we come to see the truth proclaimed in the first reading: that the joy we are seeking is really a participation in the very revelry of God. It is God who wishes to exult with joy over us, to renew us by his love, to dance with joy for us as on a day of festival.
Clearly, this kind of joy is not something that we can manufacture for ourselves, neither with log-cakes and pine trees, nor eggnog and tinsel, important as all these things are. Rather is it a freely given grace from the God-Who-Comes. Isn’t this why we need to SEEK? We need to heed the advice of Paul in the second reading: if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving. If we wish to receive this joy, if we wish our families and communities to experience it, we need to pray continually, perseveringly, hopefully for it. And then, that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand will guard our aching hearts and calm our troubled thoughts in Christ Jesus.
There is at least one more important thing we need to do. We find it in the advice of John the Baptist in the gospel: if anyone has two tunics, he must share with the man who has none. Our capacity to experience true Christmas joy is intimately connected with our willingness to SHARE. This is not a matter of clearing out the old stuff to make space for the new that comes at Christmas. We are called instead to cultivate the awareness that the poor have a claim on our possessions. In the words attributed to St. Basil: The bread in your board belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.
Sisters and brothers, what is our next step on this path to Christmas joy?