Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rest & Rejoice

Readings for Sunday, December 15/ 3rd Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Psalm 146:6-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice! 

These words from the Introit or Entrance Antiphon today give us the title of this weekend – Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday – and call us to a state of joyfulness. But what is it to rejoice? What does joy look like? We can often mistake a simple human happiness as joy, this exciting emotion that lifts up our spirit, but this is not joy. Nor is joy that mask of false optimism or nicencess that can easily be put up when we know that it is expected from others. Instead, joy is something that God does within us. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and as such comes to us only in response to an encounter with the living God. In His love for us He infuses His life within us and from that we have the fruit of joy, which is truly a state of contentedness in the Lord despite all the things that may be going on around us. And this can only happen after encountering Him and knowing that we are welcomed to His embrace and loved. This is what we hear in the Scriptures tonight.

The prophet Isaiah speaks to us of the many things that will take place at the coming of the Lord. The desert will exult, the steppe will rejoice and bloom, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like stags and the mute will sing. Not just talk – SING! At the coming of the Messiah, everything will change, even creation itself, and all things will be filled with joy at His coming. That’s what the Lord speaks to in the Gospel when the disciples of St. John the Baptist come with the question “Are you the one or should we look for another?” To this question he says ‘Use your eyes and ears! The deaf hear, the dead are raised, the lame walk, the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them!’ With this He essentially says, ‘Yes! I am the one!’ and then draws their minds back to the prophet to the attitude of rejoicing that should well up in their hearts at His presence. And that same rejoicing should be in our hearts now and always. But is it? Are we really a joyful people?

In his Angelus address Pope Francis spoke to the crowds gathered in Rome and reminded them and us that the Church is supposed to be a house of joy. A house of JOY! It’s easy for us to be quite un-joyful. That’s what St. James speaks to tonight when he challenges us not to complain against one another. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to find fault, especially in others, and we have an endless list of options – our family, our friends, the community, the president, the government, the state of the world today, etc. But when we complain we don’t really encounter the Lord who comes to give us joy but rather turn in on ourselves. Nobody wants to be around that kind of person, right? We want to be around people that really pick up our spirits. We want to be around people that no matter what are able to continue to press forward because there is an underlying joyfulness, or contentedness in the Lord, that enables them to see past the temporal and into the eternal.

In his recent Exhortation Pope Francis calls us to that same state of joy and rejoicing. The document has gotten all kinds of air time as some politico-economic treatise that the Pope has no place speaking to, but the fact is that the economic, political parts of the document are part of a bigger picture that calls us to a general joy of life and concern for others that is rooted in the encounter with Christ. After all, it IS called THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL! [While on this point, I want to encourage and really challenge each of you to take a few minutes and read just the first ten paragraphs of the document HERE, which speak powerfully and simply to the source and need for joy in our lives.] One of the things that he spoke of in that letter which affects all of us especially this time of year is that we are robbed of joy because we rarely stop for a moment to enjoy things. Speaking for myself, and presumably many of you as well, it is easy to get caught up with so many activities that we run from place to place to place marking off all the tasks the we have to do and never stopping to really enjoy any of them. I use the word ENJOY purposely because when we stop for a minute we open ourselves to the encounter with the Lord who is already there waiting for us to recognize Him and be filled with His life. After all, the Lord isn’t just here in Church or at the chapel when you stop there or when we pause to pray or read some spiritual reading. He is everywhere at all times and is speaking is to us in so many ways. When we stop for a moment and really enter into the moment we will surely begin to see the face of God and have His joy well up in our hearts. But we have to be willing to stop.

'Joy!' by Eugene Salandra
To help us with that the Church makes her own the words of the Lord – use your eyes and your ears! The readings speak of rejoicing and a spirit of joyfulness that should strike us as we are listening because they become a sort of refrain that sticks out. Also, it’s pretty obvious that these rose/pink colored vestments are not the norm. They are worn in connection with that third candle we light tonight which as we go around the Advent wreath illustrates that we are over halfway to Christ. The unique color joined to the words of the Scriptures are meant to give us the opportunity to be filled with joy at the Lord’s coming that has taken place already, that is taking place in this celebration, and that will take place in our celebration at Christ and the Lord’s final return. So let us encounter the God who loves us and be filled with His joy which we desire.

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.