12 December 2010
Rejoicing in Hope
3rd Sunday of Advent – A – 12 December 2010
Readings: Is 35:1-6; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
It’s 13 days to go before Christmas, and we get a feel of Christmas joy in the liturgy this Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete comes from Phil 4,4-6, which is the introduction to the Mass today: “Gaudéte in Dómino semper.” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”
1. Rejoicing in Hope
The joy here is in anticipation of great things to come. The First Reading taken from Is 35 speaks of desert and parched land blooming, the coming of the Lord to save His people, the healing of those who are sick, and the return of the exiles.
Even the Gospel Reading from Mt 11, where Jesus indirectly responds to the question of “Are you the one who is to come?” speaks volumes about anticipation. Jesus says: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” We get the feeling even these miracles are but signs pointing to even greater things.
The joy here is founded on hope. Gaudete Sunday is a visualization of the joy of Christmas. Similarly our joy comes from hoping that God’s promises will be fulfilled.
2. Defining Hope
Hope is different from optimism or positive thinking. It is different from mere expectation. It is deeper and stronger than either optimism or expectation. Hope is trust and confidence anchored in the person of Christ.
And what did God promise? He promised us a Savior who will free us from sin and death, from misery and meaninglessness. He promised to give us genuine happiness, and its ultimate fulfillment: eternal life. Jn 10,10 has Jesus saying: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”
Here’s a story: A young man dreamt that he had walked into a store where an angel was standing behind the counter. He hastily asked the angel: “What do you sell in this store?”
"Anything. You name it”, said the angel.
The young man began, saying: “I would like to order the following: a prosperous and peaceful Philippines, no more poverty, no more wars, no more break-up of marriages and families…”
At this point, the angel interrupted him and said: “Excuse me, young man, you did not understand me correctly. We don’t sell fruits and finished products in this store. We sell only seeds.”
God plants seeds of hope in our hearts, but in order to bear fruit, we have to welcome them, nurture them and let them grow as we grow in virtue. The Second Reading from James 5 advises Christians to be patient as “the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth”, to make the heart firm, and to face hardships without complaining. This is the proper way to wait for the coming of the Lord.
Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spes Salvi (#2) explains that the Christian message that brings hope is “not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative’. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
This means that the hope brought to us by our Christian faith should be life-changing and life-sustaining. The Gospel today has Jesus recognizing John as a prophet above other prophets. A prophet is one who speaks the word of God, and John’s message to prepare for the coming of the Savior is nothing less than life-changing.
A familiar Bikol Advent song captures succinctly John’s message:
“Buksan ta asin linigan pusong may kakundian
ta maabot na si Kristo satuyang Kagurangnan.
Burabod Siya nin biyaya asin kaginhawahan,
kaya an gabos magsarig sa Diyos, sa Diyos na makakamhan.”
3. Retrieving Hope
A few days ago I watched the Christmas episode of the popular TV show "Glee". For those who may not be familiar, it is a TV musical comedy with the cast singing songs generally following a certain theme. Now you know where GMA’s "Diva" and ABS-CBN’s "Idol" got their “inspiration”. Since it was a Christmas episode, the show featured Christmas songs.
Here’s the thing: Not one song among those featured mentioned the name of Christ. In fact, the show was able to portray Christmas without anybody mentioning Christ at all. One character even says these lines: "The Christmas tree's the foundation of Christmas. It's the heart of the Christmas home..." Really now.
How can you still call it Christmas without Christ in it? How can you celebrate the season by denying its very Reason? In some countries, there is an acknowledged “war against Christmas”. In some places in those countries greeting people “Merry Christmas” is discouraged, to be replaced by the ambiguous “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings”. For various reasons they have treated Christ as if he is the enemy of joy. In so doing they have lost the true meaning of the season. They have lost their sense of hope.
In our country, we hear people say Christmas is for children. True, but even they are not the center of the celebration. We hear people say Christmas is for families. True, but they don’t constitute the very purpose of the season. We hear people say Christmas is about being happy and feeling good. True, but they don’t fully define the meaning of Christmas. The center, purpose and meaning of Christmas is, of course, Christ Himself. All the other things that make up our Christmas experience become meaningful and life-sustaining in so far as they relate to Christ.
We rejoice because Jesus Christ came as our Savior as foretold by the prophets. We hope in confident faith that He will come again to give us fullness of life and eternal happiness just as He promised. We rejoice in hope.