3rd Sunday of Advent (B)
Waiting At The Right Terminal
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11; Luke 1:46-50,53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
Picture: cc choonMing
Sisters and brothers, someone once went to receive a visitor at the airport. But after waiting for a very long time, he saw no sign of the guy. What’s going on? He thought. Had his guest changed his mind about coming? Had he fallen sick? Whatever it was, he eventually gave up waiting, and went home in frustration. Only to discover, later on, the real reason for his guest’s apparent no-show. It was really quite embarrassing. You see, while at the airport, our friend had been waiting at the wrong terminal.
To avoid frustration when waiting for another, it’s important to be sure that one is waiting at the right place. This too is a lesson that our Mass readings teach us today. As you know, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete–the first word of the entrance antiphon. A word that means rejoice! Today, even as we continue to wait for the God-Who-Comes, our readings encourage us to keep up our efforts by speaking to us of the great joy that God brings to those who remain alert. To those who have the patience to wait. Indeed, we are reminded that there is something truly amazing about this divine gift of joy. Although we may sometimes think that joy is experienced only when the one for whom we are waiting finally shows up, our readings tell us that this is not really the case with God. With God, joy can be felt not only upon arrival. With God, joy is already ours to experience even while we wait.
Consider what is happening in the first reading. Although the prophet proclaims to the people that they will very soon be brought home from exile, this happy event is still in the future. It hasn’t actually happened yet. Even so, the prophet declares that he is already exulting for joy. In the responsorial psalm, in her Magnificat, Mary rejoices in the coming of the Messiah even though he hasn’t even been born yet, let alone accomplished his mission. At this point in the story, Mary has only just conceived the Christ-child in her womb. Who knows what could happen in the course of her pregnancy and beyond. And yet, Mary’s heart is already filled with joy. In the second reading, even though St. Paul acknowledges that we are all still waiting for the Lord to come again, he also reminds the Thessalonians to be happy at all times.
Clearly, the joy that our readings offer us today is something really extraordinary. Not only is it never frustrated, but it can be experienced even while we wait. This is the joy that we are celebrating in these days. This is the grace of the beautiful season of Advent. But in order for us to receive this gift, we must take care to wait at the right place.
For our world often leads us to places other than the one found in our readings. So that, like our friend at the airport, we can end up frustrated, because we’ve been waiting at the wrong terminal. All too often, for example, we are led to look for joy at the terminal of acquisition. Whether we realise it or not, we are seduced into thinking that joy comes only from what we have. On a daily basis, everywhere we turn, we encounter all kinds of advertisements, which not only claim to reveal to us needs we never thought we had, but also promise to satisfy all of them. There was a time, for example, when I didn’t think I needed to carry a phone in my pocket. But now that I already have a cellphone of my own, I find myself thinking that perhaps I need a new one, a smarter one! Here, at the terminal of acquisition, happiness depends only upon what I have. But what happens when, for one reason or another, I’m not able to get what I want? Or when, having finally gotten what I want, I discover that someone else has something even better? What happens to my happiness then? It just keeps getting postponed, doesn’t it?
Nor is the terminal of acquisition the only place where our search for happiness is frustrated. Especially here in Singapore, there is yet another problematic location that many of us like to frequent. Let’s call it the terminal of activity. Here, we meet many different kinds of people: Students as well as office-workers. Priests and religious as much as lay people. Here, happiness has to do, not so much with what we have, but, above all, with what we do. Here, to be happy, we have to do something significant. We have to make something of ourselves. And, of course, what’s significant, what counts as something, rather than nothing, invariably depends upon what everybody else is doing. So that to be happy I have to keep doing things that are better or bigger, higher or faster, stronger or shinier than what others are doing. And, if I’m a religious person, I may even think that I’m doing it all for the greater glory of God. But, in fact, competition is the name of the game. And, with competition, of course, comes overwork. And, eventually, with overwork, burnout. For even if I happen to come out on top at some point, it’s always only a matter of time before someone else does better. Also, being a mere human being, there inevitably comes a time when I can no longer perform at the same level as I did before. A time of rest and retirement. Even of deterioration and decay. What happens to my happiness then?
Sisters and brothers, in contrast to the terminals of acquisition and activity, our readings invite us to wait at a very different place. Here, happiness depends, not so much on what we have, or on what we do, as it does on who we are. At first glance, this place bears a passing resemblance to the previous one. For, in the gospel, when people ask John the Baptist who he is, he appears to respond by talking about what he does. I am a voice that cries in the wilderness, he says: Make a straight way for the Lord. Similarly, the prophet in the first reading speaks about bringing good news to the poor, of binding up hearts that are broken, and of proclaiming liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison.
But, when we look more closely at what is going on, we see that, for both the prophet in the first reading and the Baptist in the gospel, what is crucial is not so much what they do as what the Lord has done to them and for them. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, says the prophet, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me... The Baptist too speaks and acts not for himself but on behalf of someone else. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. Both for the prophet as well as for the Baptist, who they are depends not so much on what they do as on their relationship with God, on who God calls and empowers them to be. And it is in living out of this deep sense of who they are that brings each of them a profound experience of joy. An abiding joy, which endures both in good times and in bad. As much when they are made to wait for the Lord’s coming as when they experience His arrival. And the place where this joy is to be found is neither the terminal of acquisition nor of activity. It is, instead, the terminal of anointing.
For us too. It is only when we are willing to wait at this same place, when we are willing to heed God’s call and allow God to take control of our lives, that we finally receive lasting joy. A joy that the world cannot give. A joy that is the grace of this season of Advent. A joy that is the gift of the Christ-child, who comes among us and within us, at Christmastime and throughout the year.
But, sisters and brothers, perhaps the crucial question we need to ask ourselves is: Am I waiting at the right terminal today?