3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah is sounding like a football coach in the locker room at halftime during a tied game. “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” Well, we could all use the encouragement, right? As the world swirls the bowl – as it always does – those of us who follow Christ need the occasional pep-talk to keep us on our toes. Fidgeting with all the little things of getting along in the world takes a lot of time and energy. And our focus can become blurred. We need that random smack to snap us back to the Real and point us again in the right direction. Seasons of the year like Lent and Advent slow things down a bit and challenge us to pay attention to Who matters in the long run. Advent is particularly good at urging us to wait, to anticipate, to set aside the need for immediate results and savor our yet unfulfilled desire for the coming again of Christ. This Sunday of Advent is for rejoicing. For giving God thanks and praise. For allowing ourselves to be carried away with the joy of knowing that the Christ Child is coming and so is the Just Judge. To prepare today, we rejoice!
Experiencing any degree of joy these days is a chore, I know. I watch the evening news with the friars sometimes and wonder why any of us get out of bed in the morning. New viruses spreading. War in E. Europe. COVID riots in China. Coups in S. America. Record crime rates here at home. Inflation. Political corruption and fraud. Schism in the Church. Institutional decay across the board – banks, universities, schools, churches, media – all rotting. And all that was just last week! It seems as though we are arriving at a tipping point and it's all going to just to collapse. Where's the joy in that? How do we dare rejoice when the world is burning all around us? We should Do Something! We should. We should rejoice. Not that the world is burning, of course. We should rejoice b/c we are not of this world. This world is not our home, not our anchor. We are not defined by or limited to or in any way attachable to this passing world. All the horrible stuff happening now has happened before. And it will all happen again. And again. And again. Until the Lord returns. Will he find us exhausting ourselves trying to prevent the relentless cycles of human foolishness, or will he find us loving, forgiving, serving, and bearing witness to his mercy?
More importantly, will he find us rejoicing? Will he find us finding joy in the ruins? You see, joy is an effect of love. Love causes joy. Remember: we aren't talking about joy and love here the way the world does. For the world, joy and love are just sentiments, emotions. Sensations caused by brain chemicals. For us, joy and love are two additional names for one person, Christ Jesus. He is joy and love. And we too are joy and love when we live and breathe and have our being in him. This means that joy and love are not merely subjective feelings that we invoke at our convenience. Joy and love have objective content – a purpose, a substance; a knowable and unchangeable nature. That knowable and unchangeable nature imparts to us its purpose and goal. We do not simply love and then feel joy; we become love and joy, and we then say and do and think as love and joy commands. If, when he returns, Jesus finds you rejoicing, then he finds himself b/c you have become Christ. Will he find you rejoicing, or will he find you cramped and angry, twisted with anxiety and making your sick with worry over people and events you cannot control?
Love, forgive, serve, bear witness, and rejoice. Whatever viruses or wars or corrupt politicians or riots or schisms come: love, forgive, serve, bear witness, and rejoice. That's our To Do List until he comes again.