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Monday, December 17, 2018

Advent 3 - Gaudete Sunday -

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Today is known as Gaudete Sunday, meaning to rejoice, as we hear stressed in the second reading.  But we aren't talking about some counterfeit joy.  We want real joy, and real joy, brothers and sisters, is not a surface-level joy.  Real joy goes all the way down to the depths of our heart and the depths of our problems, and heals and transforms them. Nor is this a compartmentalized joy, experienced in only some aspects of our being and not others.  Real joy is something that seeps into every single part of our lives.

For real joy must be founded on truth, and in true conversion.

John the Baptist, we are told, preached "Good news" (the Gospel) to the crowds who ran out to the area of the Jordan to hear his message.  All the people who went out to see John went on a sort of retreat.  It would have taken a day or more to journey to the Jordan river from Jerusalem, 21 miles.  If you were father west than Jerusalem, even longer.  Imagine the planning, preparations, and hard work it would require to go out there.  Sometimes we think it hard to make room in our lives for retreats and for prayer, but in this case, these crowds had a much harder time to get to John the Baptist's river retreat.  And for all that hard work, what did they get to hear?  It is good for us to imagine what the crowds would have thought about John's message.  I think we will see that they experience real joy at his message, but at the same time, there is some great news and some scary news.  First, John says that the Messiah is coming after him: great news! Finally, after all these centuries, the Lord is sending the promised Christ (Messiah) who will deliver Israel, and right here our own time, or perhaps our children's time.  But then John says some more mysterious and unsettling things: the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit (good) and with fire (what? I much rather prefer water!) and he has a winnowing fan, and the chaff is going to be sent to the unquenchable fire.   Just a quick side-note: at harvest, the wheat was crushed on the threshing floor, then tossed into the air so the grains would drop and the chaff would be fanned away to be cast aside.

The reality is, brothers and sisters, this is intimidating for John's audience.  Ultimately, he is saying that crunch time (pun intended) is coming and we want to be wheat and not chaff.  The Good News he preaches, just like that of Zephaniah, is harsh: we need to get our act together.  And this is why the questions posed to John the Baptist make sense: people want to know what they need to do to be gathered into the barn and escape the unquenchable fire.  I would recommend reading the lessons John gives once again in full.  They may speak something to your own heart and life.  But ultimately, God is trying to tell all of us how to prepare for Jesus' coming, not next week, not when we die, but now, and we all need to hear that message.  So we ought to ask him in prayer: "God, what do I need to change now, today?  Who do I need to treat better?  What habits needs to change?"

If we do so, we will begin to experience true joy.  Let's not be afraid of John's call to conversion, which is really the call of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Why not change for the better?  Why not try following God more perfectly and turning away from any sins we have?  I once heard it said that the definition of "insanity" is dong the same thing over and over again and expecting to get a different result.  If toying around with surface-level joy and compartmentalized joy never leaves us satisfied, why not try the hard work and change required for real joy?  We have just over a week before Christmas.  Give God some space in your life and see what He can do.

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