Sunday, December 12, 2010

Joy


3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:

Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, Rejoice: the Lord is near. This is the opening antiphon for today's Mass, which is why we call this Gaudete Sunday, Latin for rejoice. It is one of only two days during the Church year that we wear pink or rose colored vestments, which are symbols of joy. You may wonder where we get this color. The color of Advent, and Lent, is purple, the color of penance. And, we wear white during Christmas and Easter as a sign of our joy. The pink vestment is a mixture between purple and white. It reminds us that even in the midst of our time of preparation, we should not forget the joy of the approaching feast of Christmas. Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice. This is a season of Joy.

I've always loved Advent. When I was little, I loved it for 2 reasons. First, because it meant I was closer to getting presents! There was nothing quite as exciting as opening a stack of presents on Christmas morning. Also, I loved it because I knew that when Advent began, Christmas vacation was not far behind. So these were the two reasons I loved Advent: school would be over soon and I would get my grubby little paws on some presents. These were not the best of motives, but they did make me love Advent.

But, something can happen to us the older we get. Sometimes we lose some of that sense of anticipation. Part of that is natural, of course. I mean if we look at what causes us that sense of joy and anticipation when we are little, much of that is gone. There is not always a pile of presents under the tree, nor do we all get a long vacation at Christmas time. Instead, for many of us Advent becomes a time of worry and anxiety. It is filled with trips, parties, shopping, and bad weather, all of which can lead to stress. How can we renew our sense of Joy and anticipation during the season of Advent? How can we heed the command of Gaudete Sunday to rejoice in the Lord always?

Our readings give us some insight. In the book of Isaiah we hear about many wonderful things. We hear about exaltation, joyful singing, the strengthening of our hands and hearts, the eyes of the blind opened, and the ears of the deaf being opened as well. When will these wonderful things happen? These things will happen when the Lord comes with salvation for his people. Jesus tells us in the gospel that this has already taken place. Jesus has already come into the world: he has already opened the eyes of the blind, healed the deaf, and made the crippled whole. We should be joyful because we remember that Christ has already come with salvation for his people.

    So, while I might have been filled with joy at the prospect of presents and a vacation when I was little, how much more should we be filled with joy if we remember what Advent is all about? Jesus Christ has come with salvation for his people. This is certainly a stressful and difficult time for many of us. There is much to do and there are many responsibilities. But, if we can keep the coming of the Lord as our focus, our joy will be great.

    For many of us, all this talk of joy can ring hollow. With my work in the confessional I know that many of us are hurting, many of us face problems in our lives, problems in our family, moral problems, financial problems, etc. Hearing me talk about joy might make you think that joy is something that we can just create out of thin air, that it is some kind of bubbly or Pollyannaish denial of the harsh reality of life. Rather, I would say that joy is a gift from God. We cannot create joy by our own willing it. If you are feeling a lack of joy in your life, pray to God for the gift of joy. Also, joy is not simply bubbly enthusiasm. Rather, joy is the quiet confidence that in the midst of our crazy lives Christ has already won, that Jesus, who was born of Mary, suffered and died, but rose for the sake of our salvation.

The command of our opening antiphon this morning (rejoice in the Lord always) is really a command to ponder the truth of the gospel. To acknowledge the fact that the Lord truly comes to save us. As a kid I may have been motivated by presents and vacations. It is not so different now. The gift is the person of Christ, truly made present even now in the Holy Eucharist, and the vacation we await is the salvation Christ won for us on the cross.

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