Joy is the theme that runs across the readings of this Sunday. That’s why on the third Sunday of Advent, called the Sunday of Joy, we are invited to rejoice. How can I rejoice, you may wonder, with all my struggles? Pertinent question indeed! But we may need to answer another question: does joy exclude struggles? Let’s explore together.
Bible readings Isaiah 61: 1-11 Luc 1: 46-50, 53-54 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24 John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Third Sunday of Advent, can I really rejoice in it?
In the first reading Isaiah proclaims: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation…” Similarly, in the second reading Paul exhorts the Christians of Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances….”
It’s easy to tell someone rejoice because it’s in the Bible and that the liturgy invites us to do so. As a result, the message may end up as a simple liturgical slogan with the risk of leaving some people feeling not recognised in the struggles of their lives.
Indeed, there are those who are likely to react: for what reason should I rejoice when I’m still battling with illness, when I can’t still find a job, when I can’t find happiness in my marriage or when even at this approaching Christmas I have no idea if I will have something to offer to my family? These are real situations that people are going through and this theme of joy shouldn’t overlook them. Nevertheless, we can still explore, how does joy fit in the concrete situations of our life?
The joy of Isaiah and Paul
Let’s try to understand this joy that inhabits Isaiah, also the kind that Paul urges the Thessalonians to have. When Isaiah says “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord” we may get a wrong impression that things are pretty good with him. But then we realise that in his mission he has to deal with the people of Israel in exile who are yet to return to their land and face the hardship of reconstructing their lives. And things are not any better for Paul. In the Christian community of Thessalonica there are conflicts, loss of enthusiasm and resistance among some members. Naturally, you are curious, and rightly so, to find out: but how do Isaiah and Paul manage to speak of joy even in such challenging situations? What’s the secret of their positive spirits?
Joy not as the world teaches
You will probably realise that the joy to which this Sunday invites us is not the kind that the world teaches us; the passing and sentimental joy which conditioned by how much money I have in my pocket or things I can buy. Of course, money and material things are necessary and we need them, yet, I can’t build our lasting joy on them. Isaiah and Paul testify the kind of joy that’s rooted in the awareness of the presence of God who has entrusted them with a mission and in whom they have placed their trust. Thanks to that they can shine with an all-season joy. We find such profound joy also in John the Baptist.
John led an austere life, in his dress and food: he “…wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Mt 3:4). Besides, he refused to appropriate for himself the popularity of being the messiah, something that he could easily do. Yet, despite such apparent deprivation John seems to be inhabited by profound joy. He’s content with who is and what he does: he’s not the light but its witness and the voice that cries in the desert “Make straight the way of the Lord….” Here’s what he testifies: “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (Jn 3:29-30).
Advent, joy in the desert
We realise then that the joy to which this third Sunday of Advent invites us is the joy which comes from trust in God, who is ever present in our lives and who empowers us to face the experiences of life with hope and courage. This joy does not come from, and is not conditioned by, what can possess. On the contrary, it makes us ready to face the changing situations of our life.
“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.” Carlos Santana
In order to attain such depth of joy we perhaps need to respond to the voice that cries in the desert. There, in the desert, we will learn not only to discover who we really are but we shall also learn to recognise Emmanuel (God-with-us), ever on our side, but whom we don’t notice sometimes. Indeed, in the desert we will learn to trust God, the source of true and lasting joy.
And then we realise that even in the midst of our struggles, yes, it’s possible; we can be inhabited by depth of joy, thanks to God who empowers us. Yes, on God’s shoulders you can rejoice!
Join our mailing list to be receiving new posts in your email box. And why don’t you share this message of joy with someone you care?