Sunday, December 17, 2017
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While still in a time of preparation during Advent, this third Sunday anticipates the coming feast. The readings every year (whether cycle A, B, or C of our 3 year Sunday cycle) always bear the theme of joy. Today it is heard in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and the second reading ("rejoice always!") as well as the responsorial verse today, Mary's Magnificat (not from the Old Testament book of Psalms as it almost always is). The Gospel about John the Baptist doesn't focus so strictly on it, and the stories we hear about him might not seem to outward appearances to be very joyful, but the person of John the Baptist could be considered a man of joy even before his birth.
Remember that when Mary visited Elizabeth (just before Mary's words of the Magnificat) the infant John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth's womb, which E. takes as a sign that the Lord is near - that Jesus has drawn close.
John is an example if the joy we are called to bear. It is a joy that all of us are capable of, because Joy, brothers and sisters, is the response to God's presence. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we receive when we notice something amazing.
Abp. Chaput speaks about Pope Francis' emphasis on joy in the Christian life:
Joy is the exhilaration we find in being overcome by great beauty, or in the discovery of some great truth or gift, and the passion that drives us to share this exhilaration with others, even if we suffer in the process. In effect, we don’t possess joy; joy possesses us. - Archbishop Charles Chaput - Strangers in a Strange Land (about Catholics is the USA, - we indeed are kind of strangers who don't fit into this strange land, this sort of "foreign country" that is not our true homeland of heaven). Indeed, we are called to be a little different.
John the Baptist was a great example of being "possessed" by the joy of knowing that the Lord is near to his life. All he did was very intentionally focused on that truth, and oriented toward it. He was born and raised at the same time as Christ, and probably saw Jesus every once in a while growing up, but eventually the joy of Jesus' kingdom being so close at hand led him to the desert, to live differently, and to call people to something greater: to get ready for God's reign in our midst.
And so we as Christians need to be like John the Baptist: 1. we don't conform to the culture. 2. we intrigue, draw, and lead people to an encounter with Christ.
Have you ever noticed how joy drives us to share what we have discovered with others? It's contagious: when we experience something amazingly beautiful, we wish to share it - whether food (you gotta try this), or a movie (you gotta watch this) or a book (you gotta read this) or a even a friend (you gotta meet this person). We don't want to keep it for ourselves, except maybe when we selfishly want to horde things that we
Our faith should be joyful. Evangelii Gaudium. Pope Francis makes it clear that joy is a sort of requirement for the Christian life, and a fruit of the relationship with God - knowing that He is near in our lives.
Maybe not in the flashy bubbly way we see in our world today. Joy doesn't have to be that, but rather it could be more a quiet, peaceful delight in life even in the midst of suffering.
Christmas joy, should build up others.
This brings us to next Sunday/Monday with Christmas Masses. Many guest will be here, many people on the fringes of the faith, whose connection with God and the Church is real, but has lots of room for growth. It is fragile. And we need to strengthen that, and support each other in living the Christian life.
So when our routine is thrown off because we are at a different Mass time and we find a packed parking lot and we see someone in what we think is our seat, let us remember that it's God's house, not ours, and the new faces you see around you need this Christmas Mass as much if not more that you and I. They need our witness that God wants them here and to draw closer to Him through the Church. May this Eucharist help us to be like John the Baptist and create a space in our culture for an encounter with Jesus, especially around Christmas.