Zep 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
Dear friends! Today is known as Gaudete Sunday. That means “Be Joyful”. The liturgy continues to communicate that theme of joy with rose colored vestments and readings telling us to rejoice.
On this day it is nice have a little humor, right? The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray: “Take only ONE. God is watching.” Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”
Laughter is good for every one of us. But it fades away. But there is something that lasts and sustains us all the more: joy. Joy goes deeper than being funny.
It’s hard for us to be happy and joyful today as the whole nation is in deep shock and sorrowful because of the Elementary School Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed when the shooter opened fire Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We are all deeply saddened and we remain speechless as the news continues to unfold. I request you to say a special prayer today for all the victims of this violence. May the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God rest in peace!
We heard the prophet in today’s first reading telling God’s people, during an especially difficult time in their history, to “sing for joy”. They should sing for joy not because things were wonderful, but because God was in their midst. We sing for joy today because God is with the people of Newtown in Connecticut. God is in their midst of suffering and pain. And we heard Paul, in prison, tell the Philippians to rejoice always. The scriptures give different ideas about joy than our culture does. Our society seems to tell us joy stems from what we have. The scriptures tell us our joy comes from what we have (for the Lord is in your midst as Zephaniah tells us) but it also comes from what we will have some future time, something we can trust in because God is faithful to his promises.
Let me name some of the things that keep us from having joy: * Feeling sorry for oneself. * Constantly putting other people down to make ourselves look smatter or better. * Putting ourselves down all the time. * Holding on to anger and resentment. It only eats us up inside and does not produce joy. We have to forgive. * Thinking that having more things is going to make us happy. It satisfies us only momentarily. * And then there’s fear and worry. Paul says have no anxiety at all. That might sound impossible but there are so many things that cause us anxiety, which we can do nothing about and we have to leave in God’s hands.
If self-pity, guilt, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, fear, and worry work against our having joy, then what will lead to joy? We must decide to be joyful. Paul tells the Philippians “rejoice’ as if it is something for them to choose to do rather than it being something that just happens to them.
The people in today’s gospel ask the Baptist, “what should we do?” John gave them a few specific ideas. He challenged people to look into their hearts and to acknowledge their sinfulness. He did more. He challenged them to look into their hearts and to do something about what they saw. He challenged them to turn away from their sins and to turn back to God.
According to John, happiness comes from doing our duties faithfully, doing good to others and sharing our blessings with others. John’s call to repentance is a call to joy and restoration. Repentance means a change in the purpose and direction of our lives. John tells the people to act with justice, charity and honesty, letting their lives reflect their transformation. For us, that transformation occurs when Christ enters our lives, and it is to be reflected in our living in the ways John suggested.
Gratitude is the best way to unlock the way to joy. St. Paul said; “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” A heart that is ungrateful is not happy. In the midst of great pain and suffering we might wonder where is God? God gives us an answer; “I am with you and in you”. He is Emmanuel – God with us!