December 13, 2015

December 13, 2015


The word of the day is “rejoice.”  We hear, “Shout for joy!” “Sing joyfully!” “Be glad and exult!” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”  This Guadete Sunday is certainly about the joyful expectation that characterizes the Advent season.  Of course, in general this time of year people are excited and participating in all of our cultural practices and expressions of Christmastime.  And yet, there is much to be anxious about: from ongoing economic woes, wars and terrorism and hostilities; to facing the holidays after a loss, or even facing the holidays alone.  It is, indeed, not a real joyful time for everyone, and the call to rejoice might sound, for some, a little simplistic if not a little patronizing. 


But the call to rejoice remains.  And our readings don’t just tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why and how we should rejoice.  Though they were written long ago, we mustn’t think that our passages here (or any Scripture, for that matter) were written in some fanciful ideal time and place, worlds away from our own.  The time of the prophet Zephaniah was a time of change, upheaval, power shifts, war, religious degradation, and idolatry.  Sound familiar?  And the Christians in Philippi that St. Paul is writing to faced adversity both from external authorities and from internal divisions within their community. 


But despite the hardships in their own times and places, both Zephaniah and Paul urge their readers not to be fearful or anxious but to rejoice.  This is because even in the midst of tribulations, the presence of God is the source of true joy.  St. Paul says, “The Lord is near,” and Zephaniah says twice, “The Lord God is in your midst.”  This is why we should rejoice, especially at this time of year, not because of all the festivities, but because we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” 
In the midst of an anxious and uncertain world, God is with us. 
In the midst of personal losses and limitations, God is with us. 
In the midst of troubled relationships, God is with us. 
And, yes, in the midst of all of our blessings, God is with us. 


Our readings tell us why we should rejoice, and they all tell us how we should rejoice.  In other words, they answer the question we hear in the Gospel: “What should we do?”  “What should we do?”  This is the question that the crowd asked John the Baptist.  He instructs those in the crowd to share what they have with the disadvantaged.  To the hated tax collectors and soldiers, he says to do only what they are supposed to do, without cheating anyone or abusing their power.  What John told the people wasn’t anything extraordinary: be generous, be honest, be just, be fair.  And St. Paul, right after emphasizing to the Philippians the need to rejoice, follows this up by telling them, “Your kindness should be known to all.” 


And so we are to rejoice in the Lord by reaching out to others, allowing God to work through us (in the everyday circumstances in our lives) to make His presence known, helping to build a world of peace and restoration through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  And in order to be people of peace, we must be people of prayer – open to God’s word; thankful for God’s presence with us; asking for that presence to grow more and more within ourselves, within our families, and within our world.  Through service/charity and prayer, we can bring God to our anxious world and bring our anxious world to God. 


The source and the ending point in all of this is the Eucharist that we share – the Communion we receive, the Communion that we are and that we must desire to live out more fully.  This, truly, is rejoicing in the Lord.  We don’t have to have everything perfectly in place in order to do this.  God is in the midst of the whole mess, with the promise of renewal and salvation; and in this we can find our hope, our peace, and our joy.