Today is “Rejoice in the Lord” Sunday, “Gaudate in Latin. For the pessimists among us and those who are tired of lockdowns and masks, there is very little to be happy about.
The original use of this phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a welcome relief from the rigors of fasting as a sign of repentance during Advent in preparation to celebrate a Christmas Feast day.
Remember, 1500 years ago, there was no sufficient food for everyone in Europe and in Rome. Fasting made it more bleak. Anyone would have welcomed the end of Advent.
Today, we are preparing for Christmas and the end of 2020 in some vague hope that 2021 will be different and better, but there is no guarantee of that!
I am not a pessimist at all. I am positive. How can you be as well? Putting the drama queen in each one of us aside, many people have adjusted to a new normal and still have it pretty good. For those who are, be thankful and joyful. Start looking around and be aware and alert how you, as an individual or a family, can be of some real help to those around you who need the real help.
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Today, we read the opening words of the Gospel according to John, the fourth and last gospel. Very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, written toward the end of the first century, its purpose is not to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry as a collection of stories and teachings. Rather, its purpose recognizes that Jesus and his message has left Palestine and Judea and a Jewish culture and has moved out and into a Roman and Greek world. The author’s purpose is to explore the cosmic meaning of who Jesus was and what God did for us by his presence in our world.
So, this 4th gospel writer does not repeat the Christmas stories that LUke and Matthew shared. He is looking at the Cosmos, the universes, the why or point of everything, the divine purposes which overwhelm us and which are normally too big for our minds to grasp. We can understand meat and potatoes, we can understand work and making money. We can sort of make family life work, but big cosmic ideas and the meaning of mystery are not our “cup of tea.”
John appreciates the bursting, loving energy who is God, wanting to burst through every particle of matter to reveal that He has become a person: “In the beginning was the word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1) That is how a philosopher at the end of the first century would reflect about Jesus and would have put it to educated people of his day.
In simple terms, it means that all is filled with life and love. All that is human, all that is living. And God, imagine this, showed up one day in a baby Jesus, in a carpenter Jesus, in a resurrected Jesus, in a cosmic Jesus whose presence fills “all in all,” as St. Paul would later describe it.
So let me place for your consideration something else– the word: “Witness” and the word “Testimony…”
Jesus comes to be a witness, someone who could personally share with us about God his Father.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that the other John, who was called “The Baptizer” came on the scene for the same reason, “to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”
So instead of griping, perhaps we could begin to testify to why Jesus came. John the Baptizer testified clearly and humbly that he was not the anointed Christ. We could well do the same. There were lots of people in Jesus’ day who thought John the Baptizer was the Christ. Nope, he says, and we are not either.
So, when was the last time that you sat down and talked about who Jesus is and what Jesus is for? As parents to children, even adult children? Grandparents to grandchildren? When was the last time any family talked about the real purpose of Christmas? That is what John the Gospel writer was doing when he wrote his gospel. And is what John the Baptizer came to do also.
The Prophet Isaiah describes a poet who experiences the presence of God’s anointing spirit where God becomes the joy of his soul. Early followers of Jesus found this poem and applied it to Jesus.
And St. Paul exhorted his dear followers of Jesus in Thessalonians: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Don’t let the light of Jesus in you be blown out … in any of you, St. Paul addresses all of us, “Preserve our spirit, soul and body.”
“Rejoice in the Lord” is what we are to remember. We can race through this holiday season without a word or thought or awareness about Jesus. Unfortunately, it is just a holiday for mahy. Not for John the Gospel writer, not for John the Baptizer. What about for you?
Have that conversation that you may not have had recently, and then maybe you will have something to rejoice about!
Christmas and New Year’s is not about partying; it is about capturing the purpose of life, what is important and what is not, about loving generously and doing lots of good. The Christ ideal is the anchor of life. The God who came to be with us is our anchor. Maybe the pandemic is a grace and God speaking to us once again to find a new and better way to live.
“To rejoice in the Lord” means that I’ve finally got it, I understand: that our God who has created us has never left us. So wake up, be alert, and say “Hello” to the one who continues to help us to live, to breathe, and to do what we often take for granted.