Sunday, December 11, 2022

Between Sleep & Joy

3rd Sunday in Advent (A)

(Gaudete Sunday)

Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-6,10; Psalm 145 (146): 6-10; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11

Picture: By Tony Tran on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever had trouble sleeping? Anyone who has will know that sleeping is not exactly the same as eating or drinking, both of which I can usually do whenever I wish. But sleep is not within my control in quite the same way. When I tell someone, I am going to sleep, what I really mean is that I am preparing to welcome sleep when it comes. This usually involves being in a particular place, and adopting a certain posture. I go to bed, lie down, and wait for sleep to come. Bed and lying down. Place and posture.

But why talk about sleep in Advent, when we are so often told to stay awake? It’s because, in Advent, we are also told to do something else. Especially today, our liturgy is filled with calls to rejoice. And our readings show us that joy is rather like sleep, the coming of which we can only prepare for, by waiting at a particular place, and adopting a certain posture.

In the first reading, those asked to rejoice are actually in the wilderness of Exile, while the people in the second reading are enduring trials of some sort. And, in the gospel, John the Baptist is stuck in jail, for speaking out against King Herod. It’s also helpful to note that, just as I can decide whether or not to go to bed, all these people can actually choose to leave this uncomfortable spiritual place. By forgetting about the homeland from which they have been exiled, or forsaking the faith for which they are being persecuted. 

But the joy promised them is not the kind that comes from escape or avoidance. Rather than distracting themselves or running away, they are encouraged to adopt a certain spiritual posture, comprising at least 3 aspects: courage, patience, and alertness to the signs of the Lord’s coming. Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming… to save you.’ … You… have to be patient; do not lose heart…. Go back and tell John what you hear and see…. and (blessed) is the (one) who does not lose faith in me…

Choosing to remain in a painful place of trial, while adopting a  courageous posture of faith. To do this is also to follow the example of the prophets of old. And not just the prophets, but Christ himself, who has already died and risen to life to set us free. Preparing for joy, through place and posture. Perhaps this is what Pope Francis was doing, when he recently shed tears while praying before a statue of the Immaculate Conception for the people of Ukraine.

Place and posture, prophets and prayer. This is how we Christians welcome joy. Something we do well to remember particularly in these troubled and troubling times, when the temptation is great to turn to cheaper, shallower, less enduring, and far more dangerous forms of consolation.

Sisters and brothers, if rejoicing is truly more like sleeping than eating and drinking, then how might we better welcome the joy of the Lord into our hearts and homes this Advent?

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