Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:1-11
The Season of Advent is perhaps the most confusing but the most inspiring of the church seasons. In it, we anticipate both the coming of Christ as a child at the first Christmas, and the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world as we know it. It is a season in which the readings focus on the paradox between the sometimes-harsh reality of our lives and the hopeful prophecy that everything will be better because the Kingdom of God is near. Out of the four Advent Sundays, the most difficult to preach about -at least for me- is this, the Sunday of Joy because of the -harsh reality of our lives.
How can we speak about Joy when some of our families are going through grief? How can we celebrate Joy when the world is in such turmoil? And the answer to those questions is, we do it because the Joy we proclaim is not the result of our condition, but it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from God to the “feeble hands” and to the “knees that give way.” This Joy is a blessing from God to those with “fearful hearts.” It’s a joy that comes from the assurance that God can and will transform our reality.
Joy as well as Hope, Peace, and Love is not something that we can create; and it is not the result of our temporary reality; rather, it comes from a source outside of us. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And what is the Joy of the Lord? According to Nehemiah, this Joy is the result of God seeing His children trusting Him, following His will, and waiting in His promises regardless of their condition.
Now, when can I see Joy in today’s gospel? Imagine John the Baptist; he is in prison; Herod is about to kill him, and undoubtedly John is aware of this, and even in these circumstances, John is worried about his ministry. John is uncertain about what is going to happen with the Kingdom of God that he announced; John does not know if his message is completed or not. John seems uncertain about if Jesus is or not the Messiah he has proclaimed, and while in prison, he sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another.”? Can you imagine for a minute how John felt when he heard the answer; when his disciples reported to him what Jesus said.
Imagine how John felt when he heard that all he had waited for since he was a child was happening at that time. God was showing His power through Jesus; God was working through his cousin, the child of Joseph and Mary. All that Isaiah prophesied became a reality; the Spirit of the Lord is over Jesus of Nazareth, and the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. What a Joy, John most had felt. The Joy he felt was not just a simple feeling, rather; it was something overwhelming. Something more significant that his prison and his chains. His Joy was the kind of Joy that happens when we witness something great; when we witness God at work, in our family, in our church, in our community, in the world.
While in prison, John received a good report, and he rejoiced with the Good News of Jesus’ work. The same should be true for us; when we see the works of God being done in us, around us, and through us, we must also feel Joy. Remember, there is a day coming, and we are called to be prepared for; that day, Christ-followers will enjoy eternal Joy. Joy, which we have received a taste of, here and now when we receive the gift of seeing God at work, when we do the work of God and thereby make it possible for others to have the Joy of seeing him.
On this Third Sunday of Advent, when we celebrate Joy, I want to bring to our minds the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-5, “Rejoice in the Lord always… the Lord is at hand”. Also, Zephaniah 3:17-18 “The Lord… will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love… as on a day of festival”. The Joy that we are invited to feel, the Joy that God’s presence brings to the hearts of His people, is not reserved for us alone: it is a prophetic proclamation for all humanity and especially for the poorest of the poor, in this case, those poor in Joy- those going through circumstances where it’s not an easy task to have Joy.
Now that we celebrate the Sunday of Joy, let us think of our young men and women and all our brothers and sisters who, in several regions of the world are experiencing the drama of war; what Joy can they live? How will their Christmas be like? Let us think of all the sick and lonely people who, in addition to being tried in their body, are also alone and with sadness in their souls because they often feel abandoned. How can we share Joy with them without disrespecting their suffering?
Let us also think of those who, especially the young, have lost their sense of true Joy and seek it in vain where it is impossible to find it: in the exasperated race to self-affirmation and success, in false amusements, in consumerism, in drunkenness, in the artificial paradise of drugs and in every form of alienation.
This third Sunday of Advent, we all have received the invitation to rejoice within these tragic realities, and the questions are: How can we make a difference in our world? How can we share God’s joy with others?
Let’s remember that we feel Joy; we experience Joy when we are on the path shown to us by Jesus, the Christ. God’s Joy is real whenever we see God at work. When we see him healing the sick and curing the lame; giving sight to the blind and proclaiming good news to those who are poor, but most of all let’s remember that Joy arises when we do the work of God and understand that God can continue his work through us no matter the circumstances around us; Let’s rejoice together knowing that God has chosen us as instruments of his Joy, as channels to bring his Joy to others; let’s rejoice in the Lord and in everything He has done in us.