Be Joyful!

Third Sunday Of Advent, Year B.
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – John 1:6-8, 19-28.

Today is Gaudete Sunday when the liturgy calls us to ‘rejoice!’, to be joyful. The Third Sunday of Advent is not a time to be sad and miserable. We are urged not to become weary of waiting and longing for the Christ to come, because the waiting will culminate in the overwhelming joy and relief that the Saviour of sinful humanity has been born for us at Christmas. It is right that we should rejoice as we wait. We are meant for heaven, and so we celebrate! St. Teresa of Avila said that “all the way to heaven is already heaven for those that love the Lord”. In the 2nd reading, St. Peter tell us to ‘Be happy at all times; pray constantly and for all things give thanks to God because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus’. This happiness, this joy, must flow from within our very being. Only when this happiness has been internalised will we be able to communicate our deep joy in the Lord Jesus Christ to other people. We communicate an inkling of this joy through the practice of sending Christmas cards and good wishes to friends, relatives and neighbours. The joy we evoke in other people during this period through our gifts, phone calls and cards ought to present to others as more than mere material happiness. The gifts we offer should be understood as having been prompted by the divine joy that our Lord has put in our hearts, minds and souls. Divine joy, which is incomparably greater than earthly happiness, sprouts from the seed of faith sown in us at Baptism. Divine joy is rooted in the sure and certain knowledge that we Christians are grafted into Christ, the true vine (Jn 15:5). After having taught His disciples the importance of abiding in Him (John 15), Christ added: I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (Jn 15:11).

Today’s Readings provide us with solid reasons to be joyful. In the First Reading, Isaiah identifies salvation as the reason why he exults for joy in the Lord, and why we should too. In the Responsorial Psalm (an extract of the Magnificat) the Mother of Jesus, Our Lady, provides us with further reasons for joy. Through her gracious ‘fiat’ (‘let it be done to me according to thy word’ [Lk 1:38]), the Christ became Incarnate in her, the course of human history was changed, the course of salvation history moved forward, and in her humility she joyfully recognized how vastly blessed she was. In the First Reading John the Baptist, in his humility, readily acknowledged that he was not the Messiah. He openly declared that he was insignificant in comparison to the One who was coming after him. John’s mission was to be the forerunner of Christ, to point to Christ the Light of the world (Jn 8:12) and to administer the baptism of repentance (Ac 19:4). Like John, we too must point to Christ in everything we think, say and do, and we must have the humility to permit His joy to be sown in us. To achieve our objective, we must decrease, and Christ must increase (Jn 3:30).

In the Second Reading, St. Paul outlines the framework that will enable us to live out the joy of salvation this side of eternity: Be happy at all times, Pray constantly, and Give thanks. These three ‘legs’ of a tripod provide the stability we need to attain perfect joy in God. Now, St. Paul had heard about the disengagement from mission, from paid work and from society created in the Thessalonian church community by their misunderstanding of the parousia, the adventus, the Second Coming of Christ, a day of both joy and fear. The Thessalonian Christians expected it to come in the here and now. They couldn’t see the point of working today if the Lord were going to come back tomorrow, so they didn’t. Simultaneously, their imaginations were running riot and they were fearful of what awaited them after death because the parousia had not yet come. Might the souls of Christians who died in the meantime not be able to meet the Lord? Might the souls even pass the Lord in the air as He was coming down from heaven? As a consequence of these projections, the Christian community abandoned their daily jobs with a panic-stricken expectancy of Christ’s imminent return. St. Paul was directly opposed to their course of action. He preached aparousia (which means that he ordered them to resume their work and mission with a sense of urgency) and he got them up-and-running again with the three ‘legs‘. These three imperatives – to be happy, to pray and to give thanks – became the three hallmarks of a genuine Christian community.

These three imperatives apply to us. Every parish community should be known for its happiness. Imagine how uplifting our worship would be if joy were to permeate the community! Again, prayer should be a hallmark of every parish. Our physical presence alongside one another in church ought to reinforce in us the importance of communal and individual prayer. All members of the Church should be known for their thankful hearts, both to God and to one another. There is always something for which to be grateful to God, isn’t there? This Sunday’s liturgy urges us to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, both at parish level and throughout the universal Church. These imperatives are the ways in which we can, like John the Baptist, witness to the Light who is Christ. During Advent, during the dark days in the Northern hemisphere, we should invite Christ, the Light of our lives, to shine through us by the way we live out our lives. Let us pray to God that He, in His mercy, will assist us to let His Christ living in us shine out through us. Amen. God bless you.