December 17, 2017 Third Sunday of Advent

[by Barbara Shanahan]

Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54;1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

I do not know to whom to give credit or thanks for this de nition of Joy, but on this Gaudete Sunday, when we are called to “rejoice always”, joy may seem a disconnect from the real world where we live and the challenge of how to live our faith in authentic ways. But this gives us something else to think about.

JOY: it is not the same as happiness or pleasure for joy embraces su ering, breathes through the cries of sorrow and lives inside the mansions of hardship. Joy is where realism and authenticity, integrity and balance, reverence and awe nd a common home. Joy is where meaning is found even in the midst of cultural meaninglessness. The foundation of Joy is gratitude—gratitude for the gift of life embedded in each ephemeral moment.”

Can you imagine the simple life described in the second reading for today’s liturgy? “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit….” How does one hold onto joy, live in gratitude, embrace all circumstances as the will of God, open to the Spirit and recognize this urging from other inclinations? So simple! But simple things are never easy! But can we not strive for this?

This cannot be a way of living that we simply put on when we are feeling particularly devout. It is impossible for such a perspective to be imposed from outside ourselves. It must spring up from one’s core relationship with God. It is born of trust and deep faith in God and established by our fidelity to prayer. Trust and faith, even in our human relationships, are not possible without knowledge and love for the person in whom we place our confidence. Is this not the greatest expression of love: to trust someone?

Just beyond sight in today’s readings there seems a world that cries out in anguish. Isaiah mentions the a icted and broken-hearted. The response to the readings this week is taken from Mary’s canticle, the Magni cat where mention is made of the lowly and hungry. For us today, this reality comes clearly into focus. We are stunned by one natural disaster after another that overturns the lives of thousands of people. Add to this the plight of refugees, victims of wars, civil unrest domestic violence and the list could go on. And none of us is far enough away from the specter of nuclear disaster. How are we to take Paul’s words to heart? Do we have any reason to hold onto hope, cling to faith and rejoice always, living in gratitude?

Listen to Isaiah and the hymn of Mary! Alongside the anguished cries there is a promise from God who hears the cries of the poor and breathes into human misery a reason to have hope. Can we ever understand how God does things? It is beyond us to imagine how God manages the a airs of the universe. But do we believe that he does? Do we know God well enough to trust this? The Spirit who anoints and empowers the servant releases into the darkened world God’s freedom, liberty, comfort and healing! In what ways do you see evidence of this today? Is this the “light” which the Gospel claims as the mission of John the Baptist to announce? Jesus released into the world the Spirit, the power and presence of God, that abides within God’s people. Such requires of us faith in the unseen! John’s response to the Jewish leaders seems to suggest that neither does he have all the answers. He just knows he is not the light that the world awaits. He, like ourselves, is a small voice, empowered by God, crying out in the desert as we do in the wilderness of our own world, trying to be heard and a rmed in our own faith. We must not give up being a voice of hope announcing one who is the light, whose coming among us changed history and our human condition.

If we believe this, if this truth de nes our life and our existence, it will open us to be able to rejoice always, to live in gratitude and abide in the peace of God as we await the coming of God’s reign in its fullness.