Summary: Bring the Holy Family into the inn. Make your kindness known to everyone.
Third Sunday of Advent 2018
The first words of our worship today, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Holy Mass, are “Gaudete in Domino semper,” or “Rejoice in the Lord always.” These are the words of St. Paul in our Epistle reading today, and they stand out like a trumpet blast in the Introit and OT lesson. But what does it mean–this command, this exhortation from both lungs of the Holy Bible?
For there are many in our congregation who frankly don’t feel particularly joyful this Sunday. Some are unemployed and desperately need money, not just for Christmas, but for today’s dinner. Some are suffering even more profound loss. I recall the holiday season in 1981 very vividly because my father had died just before Thanksgiving, and he left a big hole in our family. Others have memories of Christmas past in which family breakup or even drug or alcohol-fueled argument and violence are the primary features. The admonition to “rejoice” sounds pretty hollow, even cynical to some.
The problem, of course, is that the secular world gives a different definition to “joy” than the Christian should. For someone to whom this world of time and space and things is the primary reality, the word “joy” means “en-joy.” It is the world’s way of saying, “take pleasure.” “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” I recall a movie character talking about “sucking the marrow out of life.” Sensory pleasure controls such a mentality, and it is a dangerous one.
The reason for this, of course, is that sensory pleasure is something that comes from outside us. My “feeling good” has a lot to do with whether or not I have money to afford such comforts–vacations, speedboats, food, drink and entertainment. It has a lot to do with whether I have strong health so that I can go out on an evening and indulge my desires and survive the night so I can wake up the next morning. “Feeling good” is a low level of joy, and if we indulge in the wrong sorts of “fun,” we could end up sick, or in jail, or even hospitalized or dead.
No, joy must be experienced on a higher level. So there are many who seek joy in the company and adulation of other people. We seek awards; we work to accomplish things that will get our names in front of the public. We hang bling on our walls and our bodies. We want to be well thought of by others. That’s a reason many people work hard at their jobs; that’s also a reason people associate themselves with worthy causes that do good for others. It explains much of the motivation behind politicians.
But if our joy is rooted in a need for others to develop a good opinion of us, then our joy is conditioned on external realities–how much we can accomplish, how much we can earn, how many people we control as a manager. And it can disappear in a heartbeat, in a poor election result, in a change of upper management, in a failure of a project.
No, the joy that Zephaniah and St. Paul encourage us to have is an internal joy. To understand how to attain that joy, we must turn to the Holy Gospel, to the words of St. John the Baptist. Holy joy comes from ignoring our own desires and glorification. Holy joy first comes from being content with a sufficiency of our possessions, our food, our shelter, our clothing. When we attain that happy state, we realize that anything above and beyond what we need for our families is really to be shared with the destitute.
Some folks have done the math that shows that even with the large population of the world, there is enough food for everyone. The problem is in distribution, in availability, in a dearth of sharing. Our earth has enough land mass to feed even a much larger population, as long as we are good stewards of our natural resources. My experience with Habitat for Humanity also tells me there is enough land to house everyone adequately. Note I say adequately, not in luxury. So why are so many homeless? We are not as a nation spending enough time and resources working to make housing for the poor more available.
So this Christmas, attain joy by realizing true joy is an internal reality, not something that comes from outside. Instead of lusting after more bling, more elegant clothes, more sumptuous meals and a more luxurious home, spend time and money helping others. Bring the Holy Family into the inn. Make your kindness known to everyone. Then you will have internally, in your mind and heart, that best of all Christmas gifts, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.