Saturday, December 15, 2018

C-P-R


3rd Sunday of Advent (C) (Gaudete Sunday)
Video: YouTube D M

Wherever you go, wherever you may wander in your life,
Surely you know, I always wanna be there.
Holding your hand, and standing by to catch you when you fall.
Seeing you through, in everything you do.

Let me be there in your morning. Let me be there in your night.
Let me change whatever's wrong and make it right.
Let me take you through that wonderland
that only two can share.
All I ask you is let me be there.

My dear friends, do any of you still recognise these words? Perhaps some may recall that they are taken from an old song, first recorded by Olivia Newton John, back in 1973. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be mentioning this song, if this were the 8:15 am Family Mass, or the 12:15 pm Youth Mass. But since this is the Saturday Sunset Mass, I thought these words might have a better chance of being recognised… I may be wrong.

As you know, in the song, someone professes a fervent desire to be with the person he or she loves. To always be there for the beloved. In good times and in bad. In the radiance of the morning, as well as in the darkness of night. And the singer believes that his or her presence has the power to make a difference in the beloved’s life. The power to change whatever’s wrong and make it right. The power to soothe the worried mind, and to console the broken heart. The power to put a skip in one’s step, and a smile on one’s face. The power, in other words, to bring joy and meaning back into one’s life. All the beloved has to do, to receive this gift, is to let the singer in. All I ask you is let me be there… Let me be there…

Of course, the song doesn’t actually tell us how this is done. It assumes that the beloved knows how to let the singer in. The better to enjoy the benefits of the singer’s presence. And yet, isn’t it true that we don’t always know how to do this? How to let others into our lives? Especially if our lives are already so full of many other things… Many other activities and people… Thoughts and feelings… Dreams and ambitions… Frustrations and resentments… Worries and preoccupations… And if I find it so difficult to let another person into my life, how much more difficult it is, when the One asking to be let in is God!

Which is why our prayers and Mass readings for this 3rd Sunday in Advent are so helpful. For, like that old song, our Mass texts also invite us to allow God to be there in our lives. The better to experience the joy that God’s presence brings. Isn’t this the grace we prayed for in the opening prayer just now. We asked God to enable us… to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always…

But how exactly do I do this? How do I let God into my life? Our readings offer us three suggestions. The first reading is addressed to a people living under threat of foreign invasion. A threat probably far more fearsome than the recent incursions on our territorial waters. Serious though they may be. And yet, quite incredibly, these very worried and fearful people are asked to rejoice. To shout for joy. To exult with all your heart… Why? For the Lord is in your midst…  you have no more evil to fear… But isn’t this far easier said than done? How can people be expected to rejoice when their hearts are filled to the brim with fear?

The reading shows them how. By giving the people a very moving image to contemplate. To imagine. It is the astonishing portrait of a God, who not only comes close to his people by fighting on their behalf, but even goes so far as to dance for joy over them. The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult for joy over you… he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival. Contemplation of a God joyfully dancing over his people. This is how the 1st reading teaches us to rejoice even in the face of fear.

The 2nd reading offers us another suggestion. Here too there is a call to rejoice. I want you to be happy, St Paul tells the Philippians, always happy in the Lord. But how to do this? How to be continually happy, especially when you are burdened by the many anxieties of life? What is Paul’s approach? There is no need to worry, he says, but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving. Engaging in the prayer of petition. This is the 2nd reading’s recipe for joy.

But, lest we be mistaken, it’s important to note that Paul doesn’t quite say that God will give us exactly what we pray for. Instead, he promises us something else. He assures us that, if only we pray for what we need, in a spirit of gratitude for what we have already received, then that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Whether or not we get what we pray for, persistent petition, accompanied by grateful recollection of gifts already received, always gains us a peace that the world cannot give. A peace that then makes possible joy.

Finally, in the gospel, John the Baptist offers us a third suggestion. While the first reading calls us to contemplation, and the second to petition, the gospel teaches us the way of replacement. Replacement of what? First the replacement of selfishness with charity: If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none… Then the replacement of greed with contentment: No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay! And, lastly, the replacement of shortsightedness and misrecognition with patience and hope. I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am… and he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…

Contemplation, petition and replacement. Or, in short, C-P-R. This is the way that our readings offer us for resuscitating our joy. For however full our lives may be with all that might distract us from the true Source of happiness, our loving and merciful God continues to desire to enter into our lives. To be there for us. The better to change our fear and anxiety, our selfishness and sin, into joyful trust in the Lord, the God of our salvation.

Let me be there in your morning. Let me be there in your night.
Let me change whatever's wrong and make it right.
Let me take you through that wonderland
that only two can share.
All I ask you is let me be there.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord’s fervent wish is to enter ever more fully into our lives this Christmas to bless us. Both as individuals and as a worshipping community, what must we do to let him be there for us today?

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