23 December 2009

The Joy of Advent

Third Sunday of Advent (C) – 13 December 2009

Readings: Zep 3:14-18a; Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

The Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice”. It comes from the Latin verb “gaudere”, “to rejoice”. Gaudete is in the imperative mood, which means that it is not a simple statement of fact but a command – rejoice!

In Phil 4:4 (in the Second Reading), St. Paul tells his audience: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

Now we ask: What if I have just lost my job or failed in my business, do I have reason to rejoice? What if I have lost a loved one, or my spouse left me, or my beloved rejected me, do I have cause for rejoicing? What if I were seriously ill or some misfortune fell on me, should I just grin and bear it?

St. Paul and our particular celebration this Sunday do not teach us to resort to denial or to a form of spiritual escapism. Rather, the readings this Sunday tell us that Christian joy is in the heart. And it is not incompatible with physical and emotional pain or difficult situations. The problem is when we have become so fixated with our troubles that we forget or fail to sense the general positivity of life. Or if we identify our happiness with people or things we don’t have and most likely can’t have.

Where then can we find true joy?

1. There is joy in right living, or living righteously.

(Ever notice how people tend to avoid using the word “righteously”? Maybe for fear of being judged to be self-righteous. There is a clear but often overlooked distinction, but that is for another day.)

In the Gospel passage, John was asked by three different sets of people (the crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers), the same question: “What should we do?” While his general message was a call for radical change and repentance, his answers to the question were not so much extraordinary as sensible.

Share whatever extra you have to one who needs it most. Do not cheat and steal. Do not use power or violence to have your way.

The unsaid message is: do what is right and just in the eyes of God and you will have His peace. Remember Zacchaeus and how his repentance prompted Jesus to say: “"Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19:9).

Even worldly happiness is founded on doing the right things and being consistent with them. A local taipan once said in an interview: “He who does not have discipline, do not deserve to dream.”

2. There is joy in knowing the Lord.

Most, if not all, of us are familiar with these lines from a Christmas song:

Whenever I see girls and boys
selling lanterns on the street,
I remember the child
in the manger as he sleeps.
Wherever there are people
giving gifts, exchanging cards,
I believe that Christmas
is truly in their hearts.

Let's light our Christmas trees
for a bright tomorrow
where nations are at peace,
and all are one in God.

In these popular lines, Jose Mari Chan sings of how the many scenes of Filipino Christmas lead him to the presence of God – which is the point of celebrating Christmas. Christ is with us. He has made his presence known. And so we rejoice at this great and singular grace.

There is joy in knowing the Lord. And when we worship and adore God, we become like the God we worship and adore.

On a similar vein, this is also how we may describe our joy at the Installation a few days ago of our new Bishop of Legazpi, Most Rev. Joel Z. Baylon. It was not only an expression of how we feel at finally having a new bishop, it was also a reflection of our optimism and high hopes for the kind of Church we wish to become. We become the kind of Church we dream about and get involved with.

The more we get to know our God and get closer to Him, the more God configures us to Himself and makes our heart like His own. Thus even our following His ways becomes not a burden to follow, exacted by a God who demands, but a labor of love, a happy thing to do.

A blessed cycle emerges from this realization: We get to know God. We live righteously. We find joy in it. The cycle goes on and on.

In every prayer and every song
the community unites,
celebrating the birth
of our savior Jesus Christ.
Let love like that starlight
on that first Christmas morn
lead us back to the manger
where Christ the child was born

So come let us REJOICE…
come and sing a Christmas carol,
with one big joyful voice,
proclaim the name of the Lord!

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