I don’t know about you, but I really hate watching the news anymore. I mean, all these people talk about it all that’s going wrong in the world. Occasionally, you’ll find some news thing that will talk about some good thing going on in the world but it’s always put at the end of the program and it’s like twelve seconds long after they’ve just spent the last thirty minutes telling you the world is doomed. It’s depressing.
Our lives can sometimes seem really dark and bland these days as well. No family gatherings, lowered participation at social events (except bars of course), everybody covering their faces up (thus hiding a part of our humanity from one another). It’s no wonder mental health issues are on the rise these days. We can debate all day long as to whether this is being done on purpose or not but the reality of our lives these days can be a little distressing.
Many Christians really don’t seem to be much better, if we’re being honest. We have joined the world in living in fear. We have allowed the harsh darkness of the state of affairs in the world today to dictate our attitude. We have surrendered our joy.
So, the readings this week seem to stand in stark contrast to the world. But, isn’t that what Christianity should be? Shouldn’t we live our lives in stark contrast to the world around us? We live in a world that has a lot of “happiness” on the surface. But, when we scratch the surface a bit, we see how shallow that “happiness” is. Which is why happiness cannot be the goal for our lives as Christians. Happiness cannot be the thing that we long for, that we set as our all-consuming target. But we do that, don’t we? We long for “happiness” so much, we are willing to sacrifice things we should not for it. We have confused joy with happiness.
Happiness is an emotion, one that can quickly change for a myriad of reasons. Happiness is fickle. Joy is different. Joy, if rightly placed, is eternal; which brings us to our readings today. Why is joy even a thing for us? Consider, for starters, the liturgical season we are in. We are in the season of Advent. This is a time for us to anticipate, with great joy, the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus. This is a time for us to anticipate, with supreme joy, the return of our Lord Jesus!
So, as we consider our readings today, I’d like for us to reconsider what we mean by joy and allow Holy Scripture to re-frame what we think joy is.
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Responsorial “Psalm” is Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Consider our text from the prophet Isaiah. Right out of the gate we see that the spirit of the Lord has anointed the prophet for joy! You’re like, that doesn’t say that. Of course it does. The meek is being preached to, the contrite of heart are being healed, the freedom of captives and deliverance to those who are shut up, the acceptable year of the Lord, the comforting of the mournful…and in verse 10, he outright says, “I will greatly rejoice…and my soul shall be joyful…” But it’s not just the joy we need to see but the source and goal of that joy. The source of the prophet’s joy?
“..he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bridegroom decked with a crown, and as a bride adorned with her jewels.”
The joy of salvation and justice being proclaimed to those who have no “right” to it is the joy of our souls and of our Savior! This is the joy of Christ. In fact, in His first recorded sermon from St. Luke’s gospel, he quoted Isaiah 61. Granted, He almost got killed for it, but this was the text He chose to preach as His first sermon. Why?
Because His joy comes forth “as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth her seed to shoot forth.” And what is the means of that joy? He preaches strength to the meek, healing to the contrite of heart, release from the captivity of sin, deliverance to them that are shut up, comfort to those who mourn; He causes justice to spring forth and His praise before all the nations.
That is joy!
St. Paul joins in the chorus of joy in our 1 Thessalonians text. He tells us to “always rejoice” and “in all things give thanks.” And why are we to do this? The apostle reminds us that this is the will of God for us. But not just the will of God but this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. It is the joy of Christ that fuels our joy. His faithfulness to the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2) is the foundation of our joy. St. Paul tell us this in verse 24 of our Epistle text,
“He is faithful who hath called you, who also will do it.”
We can be joyfully faithful because He is faithful. He has accomplished salvation and He will accomplish it in our lives.
In our gospel text today, we see the joy of fulfilling our purpose. Consider the joy of St. John the Forerunner. What joy John must have had to know that his purpose was accomplished, his mission fulfilled! And it wasn’t because things were great in John’s life. He ate bugs and honey and lived in the desert. He eventually was imprisoned and had his head chopped off. But he had joy in fulfilling his purpose which we find in verse 7-8,
“This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony to the light.”
When John went to his death, he did so with great joy, knowing that he had accomplished his goal. There is great joy for us in understanding that our purpose joins with that of St. John: we cry out in the wilderness of the world that Joy has come and salvation is here! Make straight the way!
And now our joy is complete! Now we can join with the song of the Blessed Virgin who proclaims,
“My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him…He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:”
Brothers and sisters, be joyful! The Light of the world has come, freedom is proclaimed, the contrite are healed, justice will reign once more when He returns.
Be joyful in the faithful One who has come and who will come!
Anyone else feel like we’re living in some kind of weird time suspended state or something right now? It’s like this strange, world-wide Orwellian dystopia in which the world as we knew it seems turned inside out. Right is wrong, up is down. We’re all being put under house arrest and forced to cover our faces, prohibited from gathering with family or friends for fun and laughter and even holidays, even prohibited in gathering for worship. Our so-called leaders tell us that it’s our “patriotic duty” to submit to these oppressive tactics of our government.
Things are weird right now.
And, do you know what is wonderful?
The timing of Advent could not be more perfect right now. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is a time of hope and anticipation, but not just any hope and anticipation; it is the hope and anticipation of One who will come and set right the things that are wrong. Justice will prevail, the final reign of the Christ will conquer all evil, hope and promise and goodness will rain down from His being soaking everything in holiness and wholeness.
Man, don’t we need that right now?! I’m reminded of what Legolas says in The Lord of the Rings, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
It feels like we’re living in a time when all is forlorn. There is trouble in the world and our human society. There is trouble in the Church with corruption inundating and apparent capitulation to the world from some of our bishops.
It feels forlorn.
What a perfect time for hope!
Advent has traditionally been a time marked by the Church to celebrate the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ but also to mark the anticipation of the second coming of the Christ. The emotions expressed in our texts this week help us to feel this way as well; a longing, a yearning for something outside ourselves to come and save us.
Consider our Old Testament text, Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7.
We see here the longing for the return of “our father, our redeemer.” We get a sense that we don’t want to go back to the way it was in “the beginning, when thou didst not rule over us, and when we were not called by thy name.” There was a time when things didn’t make sense, the prophet says, when God didn’t rule over us and we had no identity and that was a dark time. But if we wait for our father and redeemer we, like the people of Israel can say with the prophet, “From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou has prepared for them that wait for thee.”
Wait for Him.
The Psalmist reminds us that our waiting is not for some vague esoteric reality. Rather, the reward of our waiting is our very salvation. Look at Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
We read this twice. It is repeated so that we may notice it, pay attention to it, meditate upon it. Turn us again. Return to us again, the Psalmist cries, and let us see your face. And the result of His return? We shall be saved. Our waiting is not in vain. Our waiting, our hope is for the salvation of our souls. It is more than just peace or no more sickness and no more death. It is so much more than we can even imagine. It is the very salvation we so desperately need. It is the antidote to forlorn. “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine: and we shall be saved.”
Wait for salvation.
In our gospel text, Jesus, the very One we’ve been waiting for, reminds us to “take heed, watch and pray.” We see this in St. Mark’s gospel 13:33-37. Like the parable, Jesus has gone into a far country and has given his authority to his servants over every work of the Church and commanded us to watch and pray. He may come at any moment or he may tarry long in that far country. It is our responsibility to wait faithfully.
Wait in prayer.
Finally, St. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, that we are to wait in the grace of Christ for the day of his coming. In Him we are made rich, through the confirmation of the life of Christ in us as we await His return. And how can we be sure? I mean, it’s been a long time and things aren’t going so well so how can we be sure? St. Paul tells us, “God is faithful: by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” We can be sure because God is faithful.
Wait in assurance.
Two of the greatest writers and thinkers in the English language, I believe, are JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Their story telling has been profoundly impactful for me and many others. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a masterful telling of the salvation of the world. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was also good friends with Lewis. Lewis’ telling of the story of salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia is wonderful. I grew up reading those books, not really understanding the story I was reading. As an adult, I have come to love the mythical beauty of both these writers.
The major figure in all the Narnia chronicles is the mysterious lion Aslan, who is a clear personification in mythical form of the Christ. He always comes and goes and disappears for apparently centuries at a time…much like Jesus. He has come and gone in one form or another (theophanies of the OT come to mind) until He was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And He’s been gone now for a long time.
Like Narnia, Advent reminds us that Good will come again. We read, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
The King will return and when He does, there will be no more winter in our souls. Only the sunlight and warmth of His love and the strength of His embrace.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Thy people await thee.