Statue of the Smiling Virgin Mary, Cathedral of Santa Maria de Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain.
The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, reminds us to rejoice!
(The thoughts below are distilled from a 2003 homily by Bishop Robert Barron.)
I wonder how many of us associate God with joy? God, by his nature, is joy. The Father empties himself in love for the Son. The Son empties himself in love for the Father. The Holy Spirit is the empowering love shared by the Father and the Son.
How do we obtain real joy? It comes from the act of letting go of oneself. God created us, not because he needed us or needed created things, but out of the sheer intensity of his joy.
The 5th century Syrian philosopher, Pseudo-Dionysius said: “Goodness is diffusive of itself.” There is a natural inclination in all good things to spread their goodness to others. That is what God is like. Jesus makes this clear when he says, “I came that you might have life, and have it to the full.” He didn’t come primarily to give us the law, not primarily to judge us, but to give us joy. The minute you put anything other than joy at the centre of the Christian life, you have misconstrued it.
When we think of God primarily as judge, as someone who is brooding over us, it’s a sign that we’re caught in sin. When you run away from the Divine Love, you run to the far country of sin, that’s when God seems distant. It’s not that God has moved, but that you’ve moved. When God seems difficult and overbearing, that’s not because he is, but it’s because by closing yourself in, you have made yourself the enemy of God.
The moral life begins with joy. Law, virtue, obligation only exist to serve joy.
Christ’s purpose is to baptise us in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit means to let God live in you in such a way that you experience the very joy which is the inner life of God. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist says, “he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Fire is that passion, enthusiasm and sense of purpose, that the Holy Spirit gives you. Purposeful people are joyful. When the Holy Spirit is in you, you know what to do! You know where to go, your life is on fire! That’s what Jesus has come to do to you!
John also says, “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.” Uh-oh – this sounds like bad news. On the contrary, this is very good news! The winnowing fan is like a rake that tosses the wheat up into the air, so that the wind can blow the chaff away, allowing the good grain to fall to the ground. When Christ is in your life, when you have been baptised in the Holy Spirit, it means that Christ is now going to work in you, separating out all that is evil and dark and dysfunctional, from all that is in the Image of God. When you let Christ work in you, then your hatred and your violence and your selfishness and your self-absorption and your division – he will throw these up into the air so that they might be blown away! This is very good news. When Jesus lives in you, this is the process of transformation that happens, and it is conducive to joy!
Joy is something we can be commanded to experience: in the Second Reading, Paul says, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord.” or “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” It is an action. If you just sit around waiting for something to come and make you joyful, then you’re not going to be joyful. Paul continues: “Everyone should see how unselfish you are!” God is joy because God is a communion of love. Paul is commanding us to be like God in being unselfish. You are joyful in the measure that you forget about yourself and look to the other, in love. It’s not that complicated. Hard to do? Yes it is, for us sinners, but not that complicated to describe.
Let me give you a hint. When you find yourself depressed, listless, hopeless, desperate … perform a simple act of love. What’s love? It’s willing the good of the other – nothing grandiose, it doesn’t have to be. Just a simple act of caring for someone around you. And believe me, Christians are surrounded by people whom we can love. When you find yourself depressed, act, act, be selfless. And that’s where joy comes from. Paul goes on, “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer, and in petitions full of gratitude.” What did Jesus say? “Perfect love casts out all fear!” The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear. Where does anxiety come from? Anxiety comes from the conviction that we are in charge of our lives. I worry and fret because I’ve got to make things right. I’ve got to determine how things go. No, dismiss fear from your mind when you hand your life over to God, and you say, “Lord, you are the Lord of my life.” What does God want us to do? He wants us to ask him, “Lord guide me, Lord give me direction, Lord show me the path.” He wants us to turn our lives away from our own obsessions and anxieties and to turn to him. This is true of all the saints. At some stage they said, “My life is not about me. It’s about Him, and I’m going to let God run my life.” In that moment and in that measure we find joy!
Listen to Bishop Barron’s homily here.
Today’s Readings (Australia):
Word format: Year C 3rd Sunday of Advent 2015
Pdf format: Year C 3rd Sunday of Advent 2015