As we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord, the issues that surround us this Advent season are many. Once again, the pandemic is disrupting our lives and our celebrations. Inflation is sapping our financial resources. Climate change is in the news. We look around in vain to find peace – in our world, on our street, in our schools, even in our very homes.
And yet here we are at the third Sunday of Advent, and the theme of the day is joy, our anticipation of the joy of Christmas. In the first reading, we are told two times not to “fear”. God will be with us, he will be in our midst, and we should not let anything discourage us. The final words of the reading are joyous and anticipatory: The savior who is to come “will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” This is what we look forward to, then, our renewal in the love of God with the birth of his son, our savior. God is singing joyfully because of us. He is pleased to send his Son, he is pleased at our redemption.
Our second reading again stresses joy: “Rejoice! I shall say it again, rejoice!” St. Paul tells us not to fear, not to have anxiety because “The Lord is near!” And this Lord will bring a peace, God’s peace, which surpasses anything that we have ever known.
With the Gospel today, three times the question is asked: What are we to do? How many times have we been asking ourselves: What am I going to do? Christmas is two weeks away and I’m not ready for it – maybe my gifts haven’t been purchased or wrapped, my cards still haven’t been sent. What am I to do? Maybe I haven’t had the time to meditate on the advent themes to prepare myself for Christ’s coming. What am I to do? Maybe I don’t have time for my family because I am working so much. What am I to do?
The Apostle Paul, who was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians we heard from today, tells us to “have no anxiety at all”. Perhaps, like St. Paul, you or someone you love may be in prison, either a physical prison or the prison of living in debt, or of addiction. Maybe people around you or you yourself are suffering – from sickness, violence, the effects of abortion, or depression. What am I to do?
This is the same question that people were asking John the Baptist 2000 years ago. This is the human condition and that hasn’t changed.
And the divine answer hasn’t changed either. It is as true today as it was when St. Paul wrote 20 centuries ago. We are told, no, commanded: – Sing joyfully! Rejoice always! How can St. Paul, how can the Holy Spirit who wrote the scriptures and knows every detail of your life command you to be joyful, especially when you face difficult situations and suffering in your life?
The kind of joy that Saint Paul experienced comes from the profound realization that the Lord is near, is with you, beside you always, every moment of every day with his love and his gift of peace. The kind of profound joy that fills our souls with peace does not derive from the satisfaction of our physical, psychological, or material needs, so it is not diminished in difficult times. It’s a joy that comes from our friendship with the Lord Jesus. Then when troubles beset us, we are not disturbed within. When we face adversity, we still rejoice.
The Son of God who came to earth to save us is the source of our joy. In just two weeks, we will be singing: “Joy to the world. The Lord is come.” It is His coming that gives joy to the soul. On the first Christmas, the angels announced to the shepherds glad tidings of great joy: a Savior has been born, Christ the Lord. That is the cause of our joy. We can rejoice not only because he came into the world as our Savior, but also because he is with us every moment of every day.
Even in a world in which we live with evil and suffering, injustice and death, realities that seem to contradict the Good News of Christmas, we live in hope because of the birth of our Savior, because he has come to redeem the world. It is that knowledge that fills us with joy.
In these last two weeks of Advent, as we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord, enter more deeply into the true spirit of this holy season and be joyful at God’s presence. Go to confession if you have not been in a while. Stop in our Adoration Chapel to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Attend a weekday Mass in these last days before Christmas. Pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Meditate on the daily Scripture readings. Buy a gift for someone who is poor or make a donation to a favorite charity. Your kindness should be known to all. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, of prayer, and a fruit of God’s forgiveness of our sins.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”. The Lord is near. God is not some unknown being remote from us. He is Emmanuel, God with us, so close that he became an infant and was born in a manger. Jesus comes to renew us in the love of God and to offer everyone the joy and peace that alone fills the yearning of the human soul.