Saturday, December 15, 2012

Never stop rejoicing!

Gaudete Sunday C
16 December 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Call it what you will.  Gaudete Sunday.  Pink Sunday.  The Third Sunday of Advent.  Rejoice Sunday.  Whatever you call it, this Sunday is the Sunday we turn the corner in our Advent preparations.  We rejoice for one reason, and for one reason only - that the Lord is near!

Pope Benedict XVI in his new book commenting on the infancy narratives of Jesus says that joy is the distinctive mark of the new creation begun in Jesus.  The new creation's first word you might say is the word angel Gabriel said to Mary.  Hail, Mary!  Rejoice, Mary!  Be glad Mary!  The new creation's first word is rejoice, our word for the weekend. This Sunday is for us a particularly intense and precise meditation on why we are joyful, and why joy must be distinctive in Christians, if we are living our faith correctly.  Joy to the world.  The Lord has visited his people.  Rejoice! That is our Christmas anthem.

The joy of the new creation is the joy of knowing that Jesus is coming with his power to remake the world from the inside out.  The new creation is unlike the first, for the first creation begins in life but can end in death.  It begins in goodness but can be touched by evil.  It starts big but can end up really small.  The first creation remains overwhelmingly good, but as well know all to well, it is broken from the inside out.  The second creation is distinctively different, and the cause of much rejoicing.  It is a creation that begins in baptism, with a death to self, but ends in eternal life.  A creation that begins with the healing of sin and ends in everlasting goodness.  It is a creation that starts small but ends big.

The rejoicing that is proper to a Christian is that the Lord is near.  Jesus Christ has come.  He is coming.  He will come again.  His coming to be with us, the gift that He is to us, is the foundation of the reason why we continue with greater joy and fervor and generosity to visit each other, and to give to each other, in this holy season.  His coming is why we rejoice!

The truth of the new creation does not mean, as we know well, that external circumstances are about to get better.  They might, but they may not.  We all know that in many ways the new creation is still too small, is only beginning to take hold.  It does not mean that things are about to go my way.  Yet the new creation mysteriously can take hold even in times of great trial or distress.  Especially confusing and saddening and disheartening is the terrible tragedy that happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. Children usually are some of our best prophets for Christmas.  They know the time and hour of Christmas.  They are fraught with anticipation and joy for all the visiting and giving of the season.  Indeed, can we imagine Christmas without children?  Tragedies like the one in Connecticut rightfully make people wonder if God is really close, or whether evil has taken hold in a more powerful way.

We can feel confused, guilty and discouraged by evil.  It is not the way things are supposed to be.  So evil will never make any sense.  Yet I must insist that our joy remain undiminished.  For the Lord's coming means that we are visited even in our discouragement and sadness.  We are not alone.  God weeps too.  Yet woe to us if we fail to participate in the process of evil being definitely conquered, and we must not stop fighting.  As John the Baptist the great prophet reminds us, we prepare room for the Lord's coming, and the time and space of our lives become instruments of the new creation in the Holy Spirit, when we take evil seriously, and when we repent of our sins with a perfect hate and have a true passion for righteousness.

There is Christian joy in not giving into discouragement and complacency, no matter how many times we have to pick ourselves up, and hold each other tight, in our fight against evil.  The response to evil is not to despair and not to doubt, but to fight.  John the Baptist teaches us this, and reminds us that while indeed we are engaged in a great cosmic battle against evil, the battle lines are most distinctively drawn in each of our hearts.  The helplessness brought on by encounters with evil must be met with prayer, and at the very least, a stronger commitment to winning the battle against evil in my own heart and in the time and space of my own life.

We become real instruments of the new creation when after true repentance, we allow ourselves to be visited by the Lord, who comes with the Holy Spirit and fire to transform us into the saints we deeply long to be.  This alone, the Lord's coming, is the cause of our joy.  Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! The Lord is near!

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