Third Sunday of Advent – Year C
15 December 2012 – 4.15pm
(Readings: Zeph 3:14-18; Is 12; Philippians 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18)
As we come to pray this weekend we are conscious of the tragic shooting in Connecticut where 26 people were killed, including 20 children. We ask God to console the mourning families and friends of the deceased, and for God “to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love” (Benedict XVI’s message). The words of the prophet Zephaniah in our first reading seem apt: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst …”
In the midst of those thoughts, the Liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent calls us to Rejoice in the Lord always. At first this has to appear anachronistic. How can we “rejoice” in the face of such tragedy? At any time, there are so many things that could mitigate against joy. So, how then can we rejoice and be joyful in the midst of difficulties and sadness?
As our thoughts turn to Christmas, we consider the Holy Family. When we look at Our Lady and Saint Joseph setting out for Bethlehem, they don’t appear as a totally fortunate family. Mary is about to give birth, and they undertake this journey to Bethlehem, without any certainty of where Mary is going to give birth. After the birth of Jesus, they become refugees: forced to flee the murderous envy of a tyrant. Having Our Lord himself as their child didn’t magically take them out of harm’s way; it didn’t free them from the ordinary and extraordinary troubles of life.
And yet we’d have to say that Mary and Joseph were joyful and that they rejoiced. Why? Because they loved each other, they helped each other, and because they were certain that God was at work in the story of their lives. Nothing can take those things away – no hardship, difficulty or present suffering.
In the past few days a nice reflection I saw recounted a man reflecting on his childhood. Whenever scenes of a tragedy would come on the television, we know how distressing it can be to adults, but how much more so to children. But he recalled his mother always saying when some horrible tragedy was being reported: Look for the helpers. There’s always people helping.
Rejoice in the Lord always …. the Lord is near. Christian joy is not reached only in heaven – where there will be no more suffering. And here on earth, Christian joy does not mean the absence of pain and trouble, otherwise it would be completely elusive.
Christian joy rests on certain fundamentals. The belief that – no matter what – the Lord is with us, that he is near. Even when we forget that, or when we turn away from the Lord, his grace reaches out to us to bring us back. The Lord is near!
Christian joy rests on the belief that God is doing something in the story of our lives. All things work together unto good for those who love God. Even when we are perplexed at how things turn out, God has a good outcome in mind.
Christian joy rests in the belief that love is more powerful than anything else. In case we forget we remember that God is love. God loves us with a love that never fails, and we share in that love when we love others. This love shines as a light in the darkness. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how much darkness there might be, we can always love and show love. And that light shines, a light that the darkness can never overcome.
If we are to know Christian joy, we have to remember the object of our joy. Rejoice in the Lord always. It’s not just anything that we rejoice in, but we rejoice in the Lord. Mary and Joseph knew true and deep joy because the Lord and His will was the centre of their life. They had his love in their hearts; they knew they were loved by him; they knew the Lord was working his purposes in the story of their lives. With that knowledge, they could rejoice and be joyful, even with difficulties, uncertainties, dangers.
It’s a nice custom – as we set up our Christmas cribs – to leave the manger empty until the Feast of the Nativity. The empty manger encourages us to lift up to the Lord the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come and be born in our hearts. Come and take centre stage. Come and be the love that animates my life, the light that shines through my actions, the truth that sets me free.
Come, Lord, Jesus, help me to rejoice in the Lord always!