Dec 12, 2015

3rd Sunday of Advent - "What should I do?"

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

(Collect of Sunday)

Sunday readings to the picture on the right.

“Don’t worry, be happy!” was the name of a popular song and sung in a manner that was light and catchy.  With an upbeat rhythm and a joyful whistle the singer made the song lighthearted enough that just listening to it would raise your spirits. The singer’s name was Bobby McFerrin.

Part of the lyrics go like this: “Don’t worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble.  When you worry you make it double. . . the landlord said your rent is late. He may have to litigate – don’t worry, be happy. . . Ain’t got no cash. Ain’t got no style but don’t worry, be happy cause when you worry your face will frown and that will bring everybody down, so don’t worry be happy . . . listen to what I say, in your life expect some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.”

At this point you may hear that familiar song in your head or you might even be singing a bit from the lyrics above but the point the songwriter makes is a very important one in light of our present Advent journey with Christmas on the horizon.

By tradition, this third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete or “joy” Sunday.  And while the basic advice to not worry happens to be advice from Jesus himself as he promises that God will care for us who are more valuable in his eyes than the birds and flowers who he cares for, the spirit of this week ahead should be a joy rooted in faith.

Once again we hear the voice of the Baptist calling out to the people of his time.  In the same way his strong message resonates with us today. He offers some practical advice when questioned by his eclectic crowd and ends his message with a hope and promise – “Don’t worry, be happy” the Lord is near.

But in context his words are tough and a clear message of warning that position and privilege are not considered by God.  The Jews of ancient time believed that God would judge with a kind of double standard: one for the chosen people of God and another for the rest of humanity. So the world is separated into Jews and Gentiles. But, John warns that God measures our life and not our lineage.   

So he advises his crowd to conversion and a new direction: share with those in need, be honest and fair, consider the needs of others before your own, avoid selfishness and be generous, tell the truth.  In one sense the advice seems simple and fundamental to our everyday relationships.  But, how we prepare our lives for the Lord’s coming among us is to create an atmosphere of justice, mercy, respect, acceptance, equality, forgiveness, and honesty and those are the values Jesus will exhibit in the good news he brings – the message of God for our lives.  Such an atmosphere creates a joyful community. We are called to action, to a response and not just to hear what is said.

Yet, if this is joy rooted in faith, faith in Christ himself isn’t it more than a kind of “Pollyannaish” ideal? After all, life is not hearts and flowers and for some it is downright tough to be happy about what life has dealt me.  Maybe the words of the song above become more an annoyance than a medicine. 

Consider, however, St. Paul and the words he writes in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again rejoice! . . . by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

That may be something like the advice of our catchy song but consider that Paul wrote those words from prison, not in a recording studio or a comfortable home.  Alone in a jail cell, dark, damp, and isolated, with little knowledge of his future fate, he writes words of joy to the Christians of Phillipi and encourages them to not lose hope but “be happy” in the Lord.  How can Paul possibly say such things from such a place?  Because he knows that in spite of life’s troubles, God has not abandoned him. And the “happiness” he speaks of is not some passing frivolous emotion but a joy rooted in conviction. Paul was convinced that even in that prison cell, God was with him and his joy was rock solid.

The prophet Zephania says the same to a deeply discouraged people: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”

As we prepare in just two weeks to welcome the Savior among us, it would be a perfect time to get our house in order.  I don’t necessarily mean that in the literal sense, although many have been cleaning and decorating for the holidays.

Far more importantly, to get our spiritual house in order.  To put things right with God and seek in the Sacrament of Reconciliation healing and peace through his forgiveness and mercy.  Though John the Baptist may have preached a message of fire and warning, the bottom line is that he never intended that all would go away frightened and trembling. 

John’s message really is one of invitation.  We are invited to come, to a change of heart and mind, to clear away the obstacles of sin and selfishness and to welcome the Savior with gratitude and Joy.  God has come to visit and to stay with us. 

So, “Don’t worry, be happy!”