Third Sunday of Advent: Joy
In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist heard about Jesus' preaching and healing. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus told John's disciples to look around.
"The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
What a scene those disciples of John reported back to the Baptist!
It was a scene is full of excitement and joy. This is what the Messiah came to bring: healing, peace, hope, and joy. John would know that the prophecy of Isaiah recounted in our first reading was being fulfilled:
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
All John's disciples had to do was look around. The joy around them gave testimony to the presence of the Messiah.
We also need to look around.
There are tremendous reasons for us to be joyful. We are loved, and we have people we love. We have the sacraments. The presence of the Lord is real in our lives, as our young people experience at Eucharistic Adoration.
This real presence of the Lord is seen in all the sacraments. Consider the sacrament of matrimony. So many of our young adults are taking seriously their entrance into this sacrament. They are not concerned with sunsets or destination weddings. They are concerned with union together with God. Consider your own marriages. The vast majority of you have great marriages, despite the human failing you continually experience in each other and in yourselves. In fact, the very messiness that is humanity draws husbands and wives closer to each other and to God as you focus on your deep love. You continually reaffirm your marriage commitment in accepting each other every day, even though you live in a world where many people who refuse to make this commitment or take their marriage vows seriously.
Consider the sacrament of penance. Catholics particularly at this time of year are finding joy in this sacrament. The old days of this being a harsh, cold sacrament, where a person sat in the dark and was scolded by a priest who showed little compassion exist only in the movies or on television, if these days really ever existed at all. I never experienced that, and I’m old. I get so upset when I hear people speaking negatively about this sacrament.
Penance is a sacrament of joy. People approach it to return to joy or to reaffirm their joy.
God's love is evident all around us. People are returning to worship out of love and desire to worship, not out of fear. That is certainly a reason for joy. People are realizing their need to receive the Eucharist regularly and are approaching the Lord's table every week with joy.
Perhaps we all suffer from focusing so hard on particular problems that we do not see the total picture. All of us have battle stories. But when we focus on the negatives of our lives, we overlook the beauties and wonders of God's love we have been called to share. We forget about the joy of our children growing. We forget about the joy of our Lord’s presence among us. We forget that we have people we love. We forget that we are loved, both by other people, and particularly, by the Lord.
It is true, that we have to recognize that there are many around us who live in fear. Sickness, financial problems, questions about their future, struggles within their families, can cause people to live in fear. Many people are afraid to stand up for their faith, afraid that they will be mocked and excluded or at least marginalized from society, be that society in general or at school, work or the neighborhood.
These people need us to take up the commission that God gave to Isaiah in the first reading:
“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: ‘Be strong, fear not! Here is your God. He comes with vindication; with divine recompense. He comes to save you.’”
We are called to be people who bring joy to a fearful world. The basic attitude of a Christian is joy. I can't help but think of St. Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa worked in the most loathsome conditions in the world. She and her sisters pulled dying people out of filthy streets and gutters, giving these poor people the gift of dying with dignity. Now, you would think that the Missionaries of Charity would be serious and somber.
They experience so much suffering. But if you ever heard St. Teresa speak or seen a program where her sisters are interviewed, you know that this is a cheerful group of Christian women. They are happy because they know that as they draw close to those who are dying in such horrible ways, they are drawing closer to God. They experience the presence of the Lord. How can they keep from singing His praise. The Lord is close to them.
And the Lord is close to you and to me. He is closer to us than our fondest imagination. The Kingdom of God is at hand, as close to us as our hand is to our face. God loves us. He cares for us. We are His. His Son, Jesus is with us. His Spirit is our life-force. Our lives have meaning, and purpose. Our lives will have fulfillment. The New World of the Kingdom of God is so close.
We must rejoice!