Sunday, December 12, 2010

3rd Sunday in Advent (A) (Gaudete Sunday)
Waiting, Watching and Wagging Our Tails 
Picture: cc tinou bao

Sisters and brothers, sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, when you walk along Downtown State Street, especially on a busy weekend, you may see something very impressive. Or at least I find it very impressive. You’ve probably seen people leaving their dogs on the sidewalk when they go into a store or a restaurant. Have you ever noticed how these dogs can behave so very differently from one another?

Some dogs just lie on the floor, put their heads on their paws, and look like they’re really depressed at having been left behind. Others are just the opposite. They get very excited and distracted by everything that’s going on around them. They sniff at the trees, the dustbins, and the people passing by. You just know that, if they weren’t on a leash, they’d probably be running off somewhere. Then there are also the really impatient and demanding ones, who won’t stop barking until their master comes out and gets them.

But, if you’re really lucky, you’ll come across a dog who behaves quite differently. This fellow doesn’t bark or make a fuss. It doesn’t give any obvious sign of being impatient. But neither does it get distracted. Nor does it look depressed. On the contrary, although this dog remains quiet, its full attention is focused on one thing. Its body is positioned firmly in the direction of the doorway through which its master entered. And if there is a glass window, the dog will be eagerly looking through it, scanning the interior, watching for its owner. But what I find most impressive of all, is that very often, even while it watches and waits, this dog will continue to express its happiness by wagging its tail. Imagine that: left all alone on a sidewalk, while its owner is off having fun, and this fellow not only keeps watching and waiting, it even continues to wag its tail when it catches sight of its master through a window. I’m not sure about you, but that’s really impressive to me, because it’s something that I find truly difficult to imitate. Being patiently watchful in a bad situation is difficult enough. But being joyful while you’re at it? I find that a really tough act to follow.

And yet that is precisely the kind of mood we are being invited to cultivate on this 3rd Sunday of Advent. As you know, today is also traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete: that’s the first word of the entrance antiphon that begins our Mass today. And it means: Rejoice! As you watch and wait for the Lord’s coming, rejoice! Even if you are finding yourself in a bad situation right now, rejoice!

That is the central message of our Mass today. And if, like me, you find this call more than a little difficult to answer, then it’s important that, together, we pay careful attention to what our readings are telling us. For, as you’ve probably noticed, most of the people in our readings are finding themselves in really bad situations. In the first reading, the people of Israel are living in exile, far away from home, in Babylon. In the second reading, the Christians whom James is addressing are undergoing some kind of persecution because of their Christian faith. And, in the gospel, for speaking out against Herod, not only is John the Baptist sitting in prison, but before long he will have his head chopped off.

Finding themselves stuck in these bad situations -- not unlike those dogs left all alone on the sidewalk along State Street -- it must be truly tempting for all these people either to give in to depression and despair, or to get distracted by everything that’s going on around them and to give up their faith in God.

But even as they continue to suffer, all of them are being asked to remain true and not to give up hope. Isaiah tells his people to make firm the knees that are weak, to be strong, to fear not! James tells his people to be patient, to make your hearts firm. And, in the gospel, Jesus promises the Baptist that the one who doesn’t take offense at Jesus will be blessed. But that’s not all. These people are not just being left alone to do the impossible. They are also being given instruction. A secret is being shared with them. A secret for obtaining the grace from God to stand firm, the grace to rejoice even in their suffering.

This is the same secret that those impressive dogs on State Street seem to know so well, as if by instinct. When it feels like you’ve been left behind, and you find yourself in a bad situation, how do you keep waiting patiently without giving up hope? How do you even find joy in the midst of your sorrow? Much depends upon where you look. If you put you head on your paws and stare only inward, at your own difficult situation, you’ll get depressed. And if you focus your attention only outward, on the many things that are going on around you, you’ll just get distracted. But if eagerly you keep looking forward, to the coming of your Master, if you carefully keep watch for signs of his coming, then perhaps you may receive the incredible ability, the unbelievable courage, to wag your tail.

So, in the first reading, although the people may feel as though they are living in a barren desert, the prophet invites them to look forward, and to work towards, a time when the parched land... will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice in joyful song, a time when the Lord will return them to their homeland, a time when sorrow and mourning will flee, when they will be crowned with everlasting joy. In the second reading too, although the people may feel that God has abandoned them -- that they have been left all alone on the sidewalk -- James reminds them to continue looking toward the Lord who is already very close. Even now, the Judge is standing before the gates. And, in the gospel, Jesus has a similar message for John. To the one who is experiencing such bad things in jail, Jesus sends news of the many good things that are already happening for those outside: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

Sisters and brothers, when we look closely at our lives, deeply into our hearts, and carefully around our world today, it is likely that we will find much to feel sad about, and much to distract us from the Lord. But this doesn’t mean that we should just close our eyes and stop looking. What it does mean is that we should also look even more closely at the Lord who has come, and who is coming again, to make all things new, the same Lord who’s life, death and resurrection we are celebrating at this Holy Eucharist. We should keep looking for signs of his coming, in our hearts, in our lives, in our world.

Sisters and brothers, today is Gaudete Sunday. Today, even if we may be finding ourselves in a difficult situation, even if we may be feeling abandoned and alone, we are all being invited to rejoice.

Sisters and brothers, as we continue to prepare for the Lord who comes, how might we remain waiting, watching, and wagging our tails today?

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