Tuesday, December 16, 2014
3rd Week of Advent
In this third week of Advent the Church offers us Scripture texts which indicate the joy of anticipating the coming of Jesus. The penitential purple or violet color of vestments is changed to rose color.
Psalm 126, particularly, sets the tone for this week’s joy: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed...Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.” St. Paul exclaims: “Rejoice always...”
What does it mean to rejoice? This season of preparing for Christmas is a busy, often chaotic, time. Although we’re bombarded with carols of joy during this season, many people whom we know face staggering depths of depression.
The joy of which the Scriptures speak isn’t the same as pleasure, nor satiation, nor even the emotional heights which we call happiness. True joy is the steady assurance that our life’s inconsistencies and puzzles will eventually be resolved: an assurance that what has already happened and is about to happen will enable you and me to sort out life’s conditions. True joy doesn’t consist in possessing something, but rather is the delight we experience in being in harmony with God and of sharing God’s love with one another.
I think it can be safely said that our society today isn’t a joyful society. You can figure that out simply by observing people pushing and shoving each other in the shopping malls during this season. There are a lot of bored, distracted, exhausted people wandering around the stores and streets: certainly not a good advertisement for joy.
You and I, as a community of faith in a primarily joyless culture, are invited to participate in the almost scandalous, subversive activity of Advent joy. We’re called to do what the society around us is unable or unwilling to do. Genuine Christian joy undermines frantic activity. It shakes us free from a world that keeps us constantly fatigued and joyless. And the basis of our rejoicing is the conviction that something special has been and is being disclosed to us by God’s graciousness. The good news of God’s Word to us is that the Promised One has come and is coming again: coming to transform us and our world from the bottom up. “...He will do it,” says St. Paul!
Scripture speaks of this promised change in concrete terms, proclaiming that a “new heavens and a new earth” will be created; that rejoicing will prevail over sorrow and distress; that people’s need will be met; that things will endure; that people’s efforts will bear fruit, not frustration; that fear and violence will end, harmony and peace will prevail. Isaiah’s reading (61:1-4; 8-11) speaks of healing for those crushed or oppressed or despairing; of the canceling of debts; and of release for prisoners: of general amnesty for all. A total transformation is foretold, a newness because of which all will rejoice. Such change and transformation is the work of “the Spirit of the Lord” who initiates the process which leads to comfort, to restoration, to righteousness, to rejoicing. It’s the Spirit who brings newness to all those places where everything is hopeless.
St. Paul is clear in his direction to the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24): “Do not quench the Spirit.” Throughout the whole epistle the Holy Spirit is seen as the power which formed and continues to transform God’s people. The Spirit has made this church community exceptional and noteworthy, in the midst of a world which is dis-spirited. And so, Paul advises them and us not to resist or squelch the Spirit in our times of challenge and suffering. It’s this “Force”, this resilient free power of God, the Holy Spirit, who will work an utter newness in us and in the world so closed to God’s entrance. As in the Book of Genesis, the Spirit of the Lord blows upon chaos to make a new creation. This Holy Spirit now comes to blow upon our hearts and to usher in a new world, a new creation in us. During Advent you and I wait each day for this transforming Spirit whom our tired, bored, joyless, and closed hearts finally won’t be able to resist. The Holy Spirit works, here and now, in us, close and personal, through a real person: Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Lord who comes.
The question which we usually focus on in this Gospel is “Who are you?”, which the leaders of Jerusalem asked twice of John the Baptizer. They want to label John, to categorize him. If they name him, they can dismiss him. But John refuses to play their game. Deeply aware that “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease”, John reminds the leaders and us that we’re asking the entirely wrong question. The real question for them and for us is: “Who is Jesus?” Jesus is the One who has come and given everything he has for us, in love. He is the One who, by dying, sets loose the Spirit of God on us and on the world. He is the One who calls us, invites us, to show that same kind of giving love to one another. In the end, he is the one who will draw us all into the completeness of God’s being, which is love.
In these last two weeks of the season of Advent the Holy Spirit enables us to reframe and reform our hopes and expectations, even the questions which nag us. The Christ is the One among us whom we don’t yet know. He is the unseen, unknown Power which disturbs our sense of control and predictability. He, the Powerful One, is always beyond our comprehension. This One whom we do not know is already among us through His Spirit: meeting us, inviting us to be one with Him. He calls us, as he called John the Baptizer, to recognize Christ as the source of our true joy, to embrace him in one another through compassion, justice, love, and joy.