Isaiah 61, 1-2, 10-11 + Luke 1, 46-48, 49-50, 53-54 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24 + John 1, 6-8, 19-28
MS Eurodam in the Caribbean
Again the words of a Prophet stir our hearts and minds in Advent’s third week. It is almost as though today’s text is the prophet’s response to last week’s command from God who said: “Do something” or “Comfort my people”. Instead of saying, “Who me? Get someone else” or “I don’t have time”, the true prophetic person pauses and reflects remembering whose command it is and responds: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The comforting of last week is now described in detail, and with it comes the spirit of the message which must possess the heart of the messenger.
It has always struck me as strange and sad that so many look upon religion, and especially our own faith tradition as something guilt ridden, dark, and doom filled. I think this says more about the messenger than the message. This is never clearer to me than when I speak with parents about the possibility of a religious vocation for their children. I can’t count the times when I have been stunned to hear them respond seriously that they want their children to be happy implying that I am not. I have always taken that response as a reason to check my attitude and behavior. Perhaps somehow I have failed to convey and bear witness to the full and joyful life to which I have been called. It is not a burden to be celibate. It is not unpleasant to proclaim God’s forgiveness to the repentant. It is privilege and joy to sit with the dying as visible evidence of God’s presence, and it is humbling and wonderful to share the greatest moments of joy or of sadness with God’s people. These are the very ingredients of happiness.
We are not prophets of doom and destruction, punishment and death. Our faith and practice of it is no burden. It is a privilege. It is not a serious obligation nor a complicated set of rules. It is an invitation to Joy that comes from hope fulfilled living in the promise that a God of mercy loves us even when we are not loving ourselves.
Recently I was in Lourdes which is, to me, one of the most holy and joyful places on earth. People come there from all over the world sick and frail, troubled and depressed, lost and confused. Yet, in the midst of that, there is always joy. There are smiles and happiness, confidence and faith. These are a people who have the spirit of the Lord upon them. I walked in the procession one night alongside a young couple pushing a complicated wheelchair that held their child. My candle was blown out by the wind. The child who could barely speak from some unnamed malady shouted up at me and held out the light of his candle for me with smile bright enough to illuminate the heavens. I’m walking on two feet after seven decades of life, and this child who has never taken a step gives me a light and smile.
My friends, we have glad tidings, and we are the tidings. We have good news, and we are the news. If the God of our faith is not the God of joy this prophet speaks of something has gone wrong. We either have some idol like power for a god or we have no faith. In the midst of this season, at the darkest time of the year when nights are longer than days, we are all there is to brighten the night and bring on the day. The anointing of our Baptism and Confirmation is enough. If you are here and hear this Word of God, you are the ones “clothed with the robe of salvation” as the prophetic word said today.
Our witness to the joy that real faith sustains is more than just seasonal. It is more than a verse on a card or a wish in greeting. It is way of life that will bring liberty to captives, heal the broken hearted, and freedom to those held bound by ignorance, doubt, guilt, or even the injustice of poverty imposed upon them. Catholicism as we see it now in our Pope Frances is again about joy, smiles, laughter, patience, tolerance, wisdom and peace. This is who we are and what we are, and this world longs for the hope that joy can provide.