We continue our Advent message series entitled, What are you waiting for? From first reflecting on FOCUS, to last week’s theme OBEY, and now this week REJOICE! And the color of the Advent wreath candle and vestments on this Gaudete Sunday remind us that Christmas is almost near … and we are called to REJOICE! Even for someone who does not come to Church, the ability to know that the Lord is near should be evident from us … the Christians who practice faith and follow Jesus … our words, actions and temperaments are called to reflect a joyful nature. Unfortunately, many Catholic Christians are miserable, unhappy human beings. But why? Surely there are many reasons, here’s a few: 1. Being religious does not make a person a Christian. There are a lot of legalistic or fundamental individuals that believe in the words of the Scripture at face value. They take the words from the inspired Word of God and try to force fit the text into the context of a living situation of 2020. It just doesn’t work … and when that forcing backfires, it makes the “believer” unhappy, perhaps even miserable. 2. We live in an unjust world. There’s just no way around that. While America may be called a “Christian nation,” it’s not as Christian as it’s marketed. So when the believer sees the activity of people, corporations, and even family members not living up to Christian principles, it can make one frustrated, angry, and even miserable … especially when that person is really trying him/herself to live the Christian life. The environment and culture can be a very dog eat dog world and it can really make one unhappy. 3. There are many Christians that have not managed their emotions well. They have taken their eyes off of God. And have placed them on what they can see in front of them. Plain and simple. Being a Christian isn’t for the faint of heart, and we cannot have only one foot in the life. When one sees those who are merely dabbling in Christianity seemingly having a better life, it can trigger bitter, angry, even hostile emotions. 4. We are created in the image and likeness of God. That means we are called to grow more and more in God’s image. Some have spent their whole life trying to re-make God in their image, rather than the opposite … and we wonder why the joy is missing! Each of these illustrates situations, and reasons perhaps, that may explain why others are miserable, unhappy Christians, but remember, it’s not about them … our spiritual life is our responsibility. And when each of us meets God face to face, God’s not gonna ask you about me, or your husband or your wife, or your kids, or your parents, or anyone else, no, God’s gonna ask you about you ... Did you rejoice always? Did you pray without ceasing? Did you give thanks in all circumstances? Did you discern the will of God for you in Christ Jesus? Or did you complain, discourage, intimidate, discourage, and become an all-around toxic person? Let’s take a little test, and allow this illustration to help us: Coal miners know that dangerous gases can gather silently and secretly in the tunnels. Carbon monoxide will asphyxiate them. Methane explodes. But in the early days of coal mining, they found an effective, low-tech solution: They brought canaries into the mines. A canary’s metabolism is very sensitive to air quality. As long as the bright yellow birds chirp and sing, miners know the air is safe. If gas levels rise, the canaries stop singing, wobble on their perch, and eventually fall to the floor of the cage. Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin and a sign that we are on the road to spiritual sickness and even spiritual death is that we lose our joy in Christ. When our heart stops singing, that is a warning to watch our spiritual life more closely. Are you in spiritual danger? This Third Sunday of Advent gives us a chance to take a look, a real, hard, honest look at ourselves. Have you lost or are you losing your joy? Joy is one of the vital gauges on the dashboard of the Christian life. When the needle dips — when we lose our joy — we should take note. To stay safe, we need to pay attention to our joy. And this applies to me and all priests too! We are not exempt from this sickness. Jesus’s Joy is in each one of us. Jesus himself connected our daily spiritual life with joy. The Gospels tell us that, If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love … These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10–11) And we are reminded not to confuse this unique joy with other upbeat feelings. Genuine Christian joy is not the power of positive thinking. Joy is not a bubbly, optimistic personality. Joy is not being happy because life is going my way. Joy is not walking through life with a naïve, glass-half-full attitude. Jesus says it is my joy . . . in you. And Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord. Joy is the emotion of salvation. It is the joy of seeing, knowing, loving, and trusting Jesus Christ. We cannot generate this true joy ourselves — it is the product of the Holy Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22). Joy is a glorious gladness and deep delight in the person of Jesus Christ.
And such joy cannot be extinguished by the circumstances of life. It is a God-given joy greater and stronger than any trouble that comes into my life. Coal miners know that if the canary is not singing, there is trouble on the way. So, rejoice in the Lord! If your heart is not singing, if your soul is not rejoicing in God, there still time to change … So, What are we waiting for? RSM