12 December 2010: 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35: 1-10; Psalm 146; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11
John the Baptist lives in the desert that is dry and covered with brushwood. This image is often used to describe Christianity. There is a type of Christianity that is gloomy and dark. The type that thinks that our faith is a faith of seriousness and rigidity, marked by the strict following of rules that begins with “Do not…. or else you go to hell.” Eventually, this type of faith produces a religion of fear or a religion that is stuck with suffering. But the last word in our lives are not our crosses: Christianity is attractive because Christ’s suffering did not end on the cross, but on the resurrection.
And thus, in Liturgical Seasons with an ambience of reparation like Advent and Lent, a break is often made. During Lent, the Laudate Sunday reminds us that our suffering will end in triumph. Today is Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It is literally a celebration. We light the rose or pink candle that symbolize joy. It breaks that misconception of Christianity as a religion of seriousness and stiffness. St. James writes in the second reading that our mood should be like a farmer who waits for “the precious fruit of the earth.” The Lord promises in the mouth of Isaiah that the “desert and the parched land will exult.. They will bloom with abundant flowers.”
Joy is at the very core of our faith. Isaiah in the first reading urges us to meet the Lord in gladness and singing. Paul set before the Philippians the quality of joy: he stressed, “Rejoice!” When he was writing his letter to the Philippians, he was in prison almost certain of his death. But still, he said, “Rejoice!” The prophet Zephaniah also said, “Shout for joy!”
You see, Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because its source is the continual presence of Christ no matter what situation we may find ourselves in. Take for example two sweethearts. They are always happy when they are together, no matter where they are. Whether they are in middle of the smelly fish market, the garbage dump of Payatas or the scented ambiance of cafés, as long as they are together, they are happy. Their joy is not dampened by their human situation. The source of their joy is beyond their life situation. They said, “kahit saging, basta loving.”
The message of John lays down important principles of joy. First, John stressed our social responsibility. He tells us that we should share what we have with one another. There is a certain deep fulfillment when we are able to help others. Joy is found in generosity. When we ‘empty’ ourselves, we find happiness. We find joy in giving, not in hording. That is why our Christmas tradition should be a tradition of gift-giving; its focus is an altruistic love, more than the receiving.
Second, there is joy in our daily, routine work. John said that our salvation is worked out in the daily grind. John ordered that a person should not have to leave his job to work for his salvation. For example, many of us compartmentalize faith — we do our daily routine as if they are separated from faith, and we go to mass to fulfill our duties to God. But John tells us that our daily menial work is part of faith. If one is a tax collector, be a good one; if one is a soldier, be a good soldier. Do not take advantage of one’s position. In our present situation: if you are a teacher, you will be saved by becoming a good teacher. If you are a student, you will be saved by becoming a good student. If you are church or civil official, you don’t have to leave your work to be saved, but do your job excellently and you will be saved. Our faith teaches us that nowhere can a person serve God fully well than in one’s daily work.
Finally, there is joy in prayer because we meet the very source of our joy: God who loves us. When we pray we remember the love of God, and only desires what is best for us. He the joy lies in the very quality of God’s love for us: He loves us for whatever and whoever we are.
A few weeks ago, a husband said to me: “My wife had a mudpack, and she looked great for two days. Then, the mud fell off.” (joke! Just testing your rigidity!) With or without the mudpack, God loves us. Isn’t this a real source of joy? It is not surprising therefore, that Jesus described to us the Kingdom of God as a “a banquet” — a celebration, a party, a gathering. And that is why we gather at Christmas to taste the ‘Kingdom of God’ — when families and friends come together and share a meal, they taste heaven!
Christianity is about joy: we know when a person has Christ in his heart, because the person lives and exudes a certain joy in his heart. Perhaps a practical exercise: look at yourself in the mirror. Is your face exuding the dryness and lifelessness of the desert, or is joy emanating from it? And oh, there is another way: ask children. They will tell you the truth.