Homily on Rejoice Always

Rejoice Always

Reflection on “Rejoice Always!!_God is with us, Emmanuel” based on the Gospel of John 1:6-8, 19-28 (3rd Sunday of Advent):

The 3rd Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice.” In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)… meaning – rejoicing at all times and in all circumstances…not only when things are going well with us.

But- How can one rejoice when one is sick, just lost a job or family member or just lost one’s house from the fire?

How could St. Paul say “Rejoice Always”? “Always?” Yes. You see – St. Paul is not naïve. He is not just a positive thinking guru. Paul offered this counsel even though he spent much of his life in prison, suffered from lingering physical ailments, and faced great dangers.

So – How could St. Paul live a life of peace and joy in the midst of life’s challenges? What was his secret? … being totally dependent on God… totally entrusting himself to the hands of God… trusting that God is in control…It is a matter of the will, a decision… a learned and practiced discipline.

Rejoicing always does not mean that you are on emotional high all the time… It does not mean always feeling like we’re going to a party…but it means there is peace that abides even through the worst of life because Christ is in our lives.

The coming of Jesus – the Incarnation of God – changed everything. Jesus’ victory over sin and death is so powerful – so complete – that NO negativity, no terrible life experience nor sickness, etc. can overcome what Jesus has accomplished through His dying and rising.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:38-39:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.…

Therefore, there is always ground for hope and there is always cause for joy; and on that basis; indeed we rejoice always.

Meaning – even if we’re down and depressed about something – which is a normal psychological reaction – we are still convinced that victory has been won and at that level of faith and awareness – we feel joy always – and have that sense of peace.

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “…For I have learned to be content with whatever I have… in any and all circumstances… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Admittedly – of course, all of these are much easier said than done.

It is hard for us to live a life of rejoicing always. Of course, on our own – we cannot follow this command to rejoice always – but the One who calls us to this life is faithful and He will do it in our lives… all things by the grace of God.

Our inner peace and joy must not be dependent upon others; must not be dependent on the circumstances of life. Our hope, peace and joy must be anchored on something more stable than the shifting sands of life’s fortunes; they must be anchored or grounded on God Himself.

St. Paul tells us what we must do at all times. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing (which does not mean on your knees always or in the church always but in constant awareness of the loving presence of God), give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

As Christians, we know that life on earth is not always rosy, but we believe that there is life after death and life after death is bliss – perfect happiness, perfect joy. Our hope is not in this life only. That is why we are able to rejoice in good times and in bad.

As humans we have a material and a spiritual life. Some of us pay all attention to the material, neglecting the spiritual dimension. You can see it in the way people prepare for Christmas. They take more care to decorate their homes more than they do to clean up their souls. People are more concerned with the gifts to give to family and friends than the gift of self we should make to God. Advent is a time to prepare not only materially but also spiritually for the coming of the Lord: his coming to us sacramentally at Christmas, his coming to us individually at the end of our lives, and his coming to us collectively at the end of time.

Now, suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us, just imagine what difference that would make?

Here is a story that illustrates the difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as a community.

A certain monastery was going through a crisis. Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were bitter in their relationship with one another.

The abbot consulted a holy man. The holy man told the abbot that he has a secret for him… that one of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this revelation the abbot goes back to his monastery, summons a community meeting and recounts what the holy man told him. The monks looked at each other in unbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and cannot fast.

The abbot reminded them that the Messiah has adopted some bad habits as a way of disguising his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who was the Christ among them.

From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the very Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and people began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction… and they are getting new candidates.

All these because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst.

My brothers and sisters in Christ – Look at the people next to you – what or who do you see? Look! Look at them in the eyes.

Would it not be awesome if we can all say: “I see Jesus, I see Jesus, I see Jesus…..” Tell the people next to you: “I see Jesus.” Now, you have to treat them and deal with them accordingly.

Just imagine what our community here will be like if each one of us has this kind of awareness …being truly aware that Christ is living in our midst and everyone has this kind of humble and respectful attitude towards one another. Christ ministering to Christ. That’s awesome!

And – what is also important is Not only seeing Jesus in others but also seeing Jesus in ourselves. By virtue of our baptism in Christ – we ourselves can say in the words from our first reading from Isaiah (Is 61:1-2a, 10-11) and we should claim this for ourselves:
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.”

We are all Temples of the Holy Spirit. We are the Body of Christ.
We are all called to be other Christs in the world.
Like Mary, we are all called to give birth to Christ in our lives.

God continues His saving work in the world through us.

As St. John wrote in his Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” Rejoice! Rejoice!… Emmanuel, meaning – God is with us.
Amen.

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