Advent 3: Moments of Joy
The Third Sunday in Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete meaning Rejoice! The Trinitarian God we acknowledge is a community of joy and the purpose of creation and redemption is to share in that joy. Everything in the Christian life is designed to carry us to that joy.
Years ago in spiritual direction I was complaining discontentedly about the state of my life , the state of the world, the circumstances in my life I found frustrating and not life -giving or affirming. The person I was speaking to started laughing which added to my displeasure and I asked her: Why are you laughing; this is serious? She replied simply:Why do you throw your joy away. The question hit me like a thunderbolt, and has stayed with me. Why do we throw away the joy given to us.
The joy given us is simply summed up in Romans 8:38-9 which states: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not only are we never separated from the source of our life and consolation but in Guadete Sunday we celebrate the activity of that divine concern in our world. The joy gives us the promise of a Messiah who will transform the brokenness and pain we experience into a new life. We rejoice because the salvation promised us has come and has shown us a path to the fullness of life. Isaiah in the first reading says that when the Messiah comes the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, the mute speak.
Jesus in his earthly ministry healed the sick and his earthly mission caused the exile created by sin to be overcome. God keeps his promises for as the Psalmist tells us, “The Lord God keeps faith forever.” The keeping of God’s faith in and for us is a cause of rejoicing. It means we are not abandoned to our own devises and to the whims of the world.
In each of our lives we may have come to a dead end and found ourselves trapped and God intervened personally and we were liberated. I remember being in a Third World country and needed to get to Canada and so joined the long queue one morning outside the Canadian embassy there. I waited all day, knowing that such visas take years to get, if one was lucky. I was the last to be called and was interviewed by an obviously tired civil servant who clearly just wanted to get home. He was grumpy and abrupt but when he found out that I belonged to a religious order at whose school he went to and that I knew people who had taught him, he became quite friendly and I got the visa the next day. A moment of joy.
Years later I heard of a woman who had spent years in a refugee camp in Asia who would walk day after day with her tin can to the one standing pipe, wait patiently for her turn, fill the can and walk back to her pieces of cardboard and there water her morning glory plant whose blooms last only one day. Another moment of joy.
And there is Nelson Mandela who was incarcerated in Robben prison 18 of his 27 years, or Mother Teresa who despite her loving commitment to the radically dispossessed suffered from what some might term depression. She writes: “Depression surrounds me on all sides – I can’t lift my soul to God – no light or inspiration enters my soul . . . Heaven, what emptiness – not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind – for there is no hope. . . The place of God in my soul is blank.”
St.Ignatius of Loyola writes in the Principle and Foundation of his Exercises that in becoming passionate for God, as far as we are concerned we should prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life. The same holds for other things.
Christian joy then seems to be different from entertainment pleasure, distraction, contentment, or even happiness —that state when things come together for us as we are. The joy we rejoice with this Sunday comes from a profound awareness of our rootedness in God’s love, even if it is not felt on a sensible level. This rootedness is so deep and so committed that it is the basis of our identity. Pope Francis in one of his homilies, notes that the joy of the the Lord is our strength, for it is only in God that we find our identity and he exhorts, “let not the longing for God be extinguished from our hearts.”
That longing is Advent longing it is tested by the forces of this world who would seek to dismiss such longing as childish fantasy or convert it into an excuse for spectacle. The gospel puts paid to both of those illusions. John the Baptist embodies Advent longing. He sees the sorry state of the world and calls for conversion. His life is a longing for the Lord, so much so that he offends the status quo of his day and is imprisoned. His question whether his cousin is truly the Messiah is answered by Jesus who simply repeats that what he has done is fulfil the prophesy of isaiah; the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and more, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
But how are we today to live the joy of the promise? Once again we look to those who believe it and embody it in their lives. They discover that joy is one of being rooted in the Father and this sharing in the mission of the Son. The second reading tells us: Be patient, brothers and sisters, You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Teresa of Avila tells us: patience obtains all things. Patience manifests itself not in apathy but in a trustful abandonment to the Divine Providence that the power of God penetrates the twisted energies of this world and transforms them with our help. The help we give is to show forth what we believe in a joy-filled manner. We rejoice that our salvation is coming, that this salvation has judged us worthy to assist in that coming and that we find our meaning and integrity in what little we can do to show forth the kingdom of God.