Homily of 16th December 2018
ZEP 3:14-18A; IS 12:2-3,4,5-6; Phil 4:4-7; LK 3:10-18
Today, as we do every third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate “Rejoice Sunday.” Besides reminding us “That what we wait for is already here” it also reminds us of how essential joy is to our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Zephaniah proclaims, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart.” The same sentiments are expressed beautifully in the responsorial psalm: “Cry out with joy and gladness for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” Paul to the Philippians exhorts, “Brothers and Sisters: rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice!” We have also been reflecting on Mary’s words this Advent, “My soul proclaims the greatness of God, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
For many, this is a hard recommendation to follow given the present state of our country at such a mean spirited time in our history, the state of our Church when a second cardinal has been charged with sexual misconduct, the state our our universe were so many still deny climate change, and the state of those from other countries at our borders seeking peace, not to mention all those afraid to leave their houses for fear of getting shot, or even within their houses – over 40,000 killed thus far in this year from gun shot wounds and 4,000 guns detected in carry on luggage and many loaded in a country supposed to be at peace. Then we have our own personal worries and those for our loved ones. God knows all this, yet, in spite of it, God’s Word insists we cannot live as persons and, above all, as Christians without joy.
But what is joy? Perhaps it is best to begin with what it is not. It is not mere pleasure (although we can certainly rejoice in sights, sounds, readings that reach our hearts through our senses and cause us to praise the creator of all.) Again, joy is not mere satisfaction in possessions (some of the most joyless people on the world are those who have everything.) Neither does joy come from success or when everything is going well. One of the main causes of joylessness is a tired lack of involvement in the lives, concerns, sufferings of our fellow human beings, and close to this lack of involvement is a refusal to use and develop the talents God has given us.
Br. Don Bisson, a Jungian psychologist, says that the greatest obstacle to joy is fear. We are afraid. Fear comes form the wound of lack of trust. We are afraid of getting hurt or disappointed. We are afraid of being let down or possibly, that which we desire is available. Fear is part of the human condition. But it is not the events of our life that cause fear. Fear is a way of coping with the events of our life, that lets us be in control.
Another expression of fear is negative intuition. Negative intuition is imagining all the bad news that can happen and bringing it into the present moment. It is fear of the future. It takes away our ability to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Cooper River or takes away Spring to the point where I cannot celebrate anything anymore. Panic creates more panic.
What are the positive elements of Joy? It has many ingredients, but certainly chief among them is an awareness of being possessed by God or possessing God, or as Mary puts it, “My soul rejoices in God…my spirit finds joy in God my savior.” It is the awaking to the realization that what we are waiting for is already here. In the words of the great African American mystic, Howard Thurman, being free to enjoy “God coming to Himself in me.”
Joy has also been described as a condition of heart and mind which comes from reaching out to our neighbor, opening our hearts to them, becoming involved in their sufferings as well as their joys. It is hard to imagine any person expecting joy in his/her life without this basic Christ-like concern for all who are troubled in any way. We experience joy in the measure in which we give and receive it.
Perhaps one of the greatest sources of joy is the experience of forgiveness – the experience of forgiving or being forgiven. No wonder Jesus could say, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.”
Finally, a great source of true joy comes from entering enthusiastically into the spirit, the mood, the meaning of the words, the songs and the contents of liturgical celebrations like the coming feasts of Christmas and Epiphany.
So, we pray as we did at the opening prayer:
Father, the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming…
Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from the feeling of joy and hope his presence will bestow…