Today is the third Sunday in Advent. In Latin, it is traditionally called “Gaudate Sunday” which literally means “Rejoice Sunday.” If we look more closely at the Antiphon, Opening Prayers and Readings used in today’s Mass, the whole theme is on the message of “joy”; the joy of welcoming the Lord, our God and Saviour into our midst and becoming part of our daily living.
I am aware that some of us here are able to sense this Advent joy in our hearts deeply while others only have vague feeling or even don’t feel the joy of Advent at all. In fact, some of us may even be feeling pretty miserable, instead of the joy that the liturgical celebration proclaims. So, where do we go from here?
Let me begin by quoting St Paul who in today’s Letter to the Philippians say, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. How can we have such happiness, you may ask? Well, St Paul’s advise to us is, “Be considerate to everyone . . . do not be anxious about anything . . .turn to God in our prayers . . . and we will experience His peace and thus, the joy we long for in life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, “Believe me, St Paul’s advise works!” All we need to do is to bring such advice to a greater level of consciousness and try to live it out. I have come across many real cases of people who are experiencing great pains in life and are on the verge of giving up on their many years of committed and marital relationship. But, when they are able to change their attitudes and begin to be considerate and show genuine care for the other person, things will begin to fall into place because God’s Spirit can then gradually transform their pains into one that is filled with peace and joy of God’s blessings in their lives.
Self-centeredness that comes in many forms is the main cause of pain and confusion in relationships and in our lives. It is good to remind ourselves that when we are considerate, our hearts are no longer self-centered; we are no longer solely insisting our ways and pushing for our own needs. Other people have become important to us. And, when we have such qualities, God’s Spirit can work within us and help us to grow in God’s ways as a person. Then, when we pray, God can surely be able to give us His peace and deep joy.”
The joy that we are referring to on this Third Sunday in Advent is not the superficial joy and contentment of life that the secular world gives in so many different forms; such joy we all know so well do not last because the basically feed our egos and if we are not careful after sometime they make us feel self-sufficient and eventually even self-centered.
However, the joy that come from God is totally different; God’s joy is always life-giving to others. With God’s joy, our focus in not in about the getting, grabbing and gaining from situations and people, but the giving and sharing of ourselves to others that Jesus has shown us. When we share our time, talents and wealth our lives we become a more wholesome and integrated person. Our faith become so much more alive that we can even draw upon the pains and needs of others and integrate them into our own lives – and this is expressed through our care and service for them.
One very good illustration of this way of living and coming to experience the joy of God can be in our involvement in our Parish Social Mission Ministry. If we are to help and serve the needs of the poor and needy, we are not merely providing them with material and financial needs which they lack or do not have. In fact, our involvement and service of the poor are opportunities given to us by God to enter into privilege moments of bringing consolation, affirming and restoring the dignity of the poor and needy who are also children of God. And when we serve God and know that He is using us for such needs then we will experience the real spiritual and deep joy that God will give us; the joy of realizing that in our giving we are actually gaining more blessings than we give in our services.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every single person in this world is precious to God. He loves every one of us and also the poor and needy. If we truly want to grow in God’s ways, we have also to change our views in life. The service of the poor and needy is more than a ministry that takes up our time, demands hard work and commitment, but more importantly it is a joy and privilege of being invited by God to serve His people who are in need. Thus, if we say we have no time for the service of such needs, then we are also saying to God, “Lord, we don’t want the opportunity You are giving me to experience the fulfillment and the joy of serving your people.”
One of the reasons why people find it so difficult to be considerate and caring to others, that St Paul speaks of, is because we don’t seem to have quality time for others. We live such hectic, busy and anxiety filled life that we are becoming more like impersonal robots who are preoccupied with trying to get things done, but forgetting that we are each human persons dealing and relating with other human persons. We first, need to learn to slow down and take time off daily to reflect on the deeper meaning of life. We need to find out why we are doing what we are doing. I came across this poem which I believe was written by David Weatherford. I will adapt it according to our needs.
Have you ever watched kids
on a merry-go-round
or listened to the rain
slapping on the ground?
Don’t dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last.
When the day is done,
do you lie in your bed
with the next hundred chores
running through your head?
You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last.
Ever told your child,
we’ll do it tomorrow
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?
When you run so fast to get somewhere
you miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
it is like an unopened gift, thrown away.
Life is not a race.
Do take it slower
Hear the music
before the song is over.
We need to slow down; we are rushing all the time; doing all kinds of things and finding ourselves in all kinds of situations. But, the question is, “Do we really need to do all that we are doing?” Are they all really that necessary? If they are, then they should improve the quality of our relationshipswith our loved ones, and our faith, hope and love for God. But, if they don’t, then we should seriously re-look and reflect on the way we live. Such mad rush in life for many of us begins at an early age for our children and I am sure you know full well what I mean.
We keep rushing and thus have no time to give ourselves the needed spaceto compose ourselves and to reflect on the deeper meaning of life. Even coming for Sunday Mass is a rush for many of us. This is evident in some of us rushing off immediately after the final blessings,without having to wait for the final hymn to end. Why are we in a hurry? Do you know why you are rushing? Do you know why drivers are getting mad and honking each other in traffic? If you do, that’s good. But if this is a habitually rushing, then I believe the truth is that many of us don’t even really know, we just do it . . . and some of us out of habit . . . we rush home and end up doing nothing much . . .
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, I would like to remind ourselves that today’s celebration of the Third Sunday of Advent is truly a celebration of the Joy of welcoming the Lord into our lives. Prophet Zephaniah of the First Reading urges us to “shout for joy”, the Psalm responses with “Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel,” St Paul in the Second Reading too tells us explicitly that he wants us to be happy all the time. And in the Gospel John the Baptist points us to follow Christ faithfully and fully, to find the fullness of joy.
Concretely, for St Paul, this means that we have to learn to spend quality time with people in our lives and not live like impersonal robots who are on the rush to get things done, but forgetting that the people we relate to are human beings with flesh and blood.
After we are able to slow down and begin to be considerate and show genuine care to others, and show this in deeds of service of the poor and needy (who may be our parents in our very homes), then things will begin to fall into place.The Holy Spirit can then transform our lives and give us the fullness of peace and joy of God’s blessings that all of us long for, that begins now and lasts for all eternity. And, this is the meaning of today’s celebration of Joy; the joy of living together in God’s ways, and loving and serving others, especially the poor and needy because of God.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.