Reflection for Sunday, December 16, 2018 (3rd Sunday of Advent) by Mark McCormick

 

Today we light the pink candle on our wreath- the candle that symbolizes joy on our journey through Advent. The theme of joy is certainly woven through the readings today-  the psalmist proclaims that we should cry out with joy- “for among us is the great and holy one of Israel.” Paul likewise exhorts his followers to joy- “for the Lord really is near!”

If we listen closely though, we might hear a jarring note in all the readings-joy is not something that these people already possessed- it was rather something the prophets encouraged them towards- “people, you really should be joyful- even though right here and right now you feel anything but… .” John the Baptist, himself speaks to a demoralized crowd, weighed down by the occupation of Roman rule. Zephaniah speaks of the need to move his people out of  discouragement, and  Paul speaks of our need to stop feeling so anxious. It all makes me think, there are echoes in this for us today!

I sometimes wonder if other people are like me -in the way I spend so many of my days- worrying about how things will go, what might happen, who might be in danger, if today is the day when the other shoe will drop…   As with my ancient ancestors, joy is in short supply, even though I am thankful for the many blessings in my life, even though I know that Christmas is coming .

And then something happens, well, actually, it happened-  the shoe really did drop, the bottom really did fall out, one of the worst of my daily fears did come true- and all of my carefully-crafted illusion of control and security vanished- in what seemed like a second or two. I won’t occupy you with my tale of desolation, I know that you will have yours too, or that you may have shared a harsh and dreadful journey in the company of someone that you love very dearly. Heartbreaking, almost literally.

And this, as you may know, and as I have come to know, this is that desolate, lonely  space and time- that unhappy place, where joy can enter in. Joy came as I was strengthened by the community of everyday saints who surrounded me-friends, professionals, co-workers, neighbours and parishioners- each in their unique way, according to their own call, propelling me forward. I realized how helpless I was, how dependent was I on the care and compassion of others to see me through.  This new-found humility allowed me  to find joy in the feeling of gratitude.  As wrenching as the worst times can be, the consolation of others is received as a pure gift.

More profoundly still, we find joy in the silent hand of God who, according to John the Baptist, leads us through this baptism of fire with the Holy Spirit. We know it is not through our efforts that we slowly emerge  on the other side- the grace of God has carried us. The knowledge that God truly resides deep in our soul- always has and always will – is a source of immense consolation. In this we experience what Paul expresses so beautifully -the  peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Did you know that Paul wrote these words from a prison  cell?  Like Paul, may we come to know that this peace and this joy is forever ours to keep, despite what misfortune or unhappiness may come our way…

If brokenness is an invitation to joy, healing is a journey away from self and towards others. The psalmist speaks of our new-found strength and confidence, our courage residing in the Lord. How does God want us to use these qualities? The gospel acclamation says it all- The spirit of the Lord is upon us, we have been anointed to bring good news to the poor.  How will this happen?  The crowds surrounding John the Baptist wondered this too. What should we do?”,  they asked him?  (Do you recall John Rietschlin asking this same question of us last week as he concluded his reflection? “What will you do? “) John the Baptist responds today: We use what we have, he says, and we respond according to our call. To the rich people, John tells them to share their cloaks and their food. To the tax collectors, John encourages them to honour their profession by doing that which is right. To soldiers, John asks them to serve nobly and honestly. To the crowd and to us John says begin from where you are, begin from who you are. John himself had a sure sense both of who he was ( a messenger) and who he was not-(the messiah). He lived according to his talents and in fulfillment of his call. And so does John encourages us. Be who you are in the service of others, in the cause of justice.

Zephaniah says that God literally sings and dances because he loves each one of us so much. Baptized in water, baptized in the fires of life, we discover God’s joy and passion for us. May we make God’s joy and passion uniquely ours- in the service of others, and in the cause of justice.

And if we slip into old patterns of worry and despair, the pink candle of Advent remind us that our burdens can be lightened by others, and they can be transformed through God’s grace. For a new mission will soon arise for us-  in the outstretched arms of a new- born child.