3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Zeph 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

Today is known as ‘Gaudete Sunday’. The word ‘gaudete’ means rejoice. Today is otherwise known as the ‘Rose Sunday’. The basis for the rose and for rejoicing is that the Lord is near. We are invited to live a life of joy and hope.

We shall reflect on two themes: happiness or joy and humble service. On the theme of joy or happiness, we find our bearing from the 1st and second reading of this mass.  The chief character of our first reading is  Zephaniah. This prophet, writing in the 7th century before Christ bid his people to rejoice because God is near to them. He likened the love that God has for his people to the love a man has for his wife.  The theme of joy is equally emphasized in our second reading. Here, St. Paul was thinking about the second coming of Christ which he thought was near at hand. There was no need to worry, he said. He invites us to rejoice, to be happy, to cheer up.

All of us want to be happy, but the question arises; What is the secret of lasting happiness?  I have a short story to demonstrate that the search for happiness will take the length and breath of our lives and that we need to keep clear focus in our search without loosing the fun of living. The story goes thus: A  man sent his son to a Sage to learn the secret of happiness. When he arrived at the beautiful castle where this Sage lived, the boy firmly made his request to the wise man. However, instead of answering his question directly or explaining the secrets to him, the wise man handed the boy a spoon filled with oil, saying, ‘take a look around the castle and as you go around, carry this spoon of oil with you, without allowing it to spill. The boy walked about slowly for a while and had all the gaze and attention fixed on the spoon so as not to allow the oil to spill. After a long while, he came back with a look of stress and disappointment on his face. He told the sage that he couldn’t carry the oil and at the same time look around the house. The wise man asked him to go back again and look around and to observe the marvels of God’s work around the castle. This time around, the boy moved around freely, not bothering about the oil that much. He looked at the lovely furniture and the beautiful garden with all gorgeous adornment by nature. When he got back to the wise man, he saw that all the oil in the spoon were all gone. There was no trace of oil left on the spoon. The wise man told him that the secret of happiness lies in the ability to see all the beauty and marvels in the world without forgetting or losing the drop of oil in the spoon.

Examining this story critically, one observes that from the point of view of this wise man, the secret of happiness consists in being faithful to one’s commitments and responsibilities while at the same time enjoying life and being fully alive. When we are fully alive, when we are happy, when we are in our elements, we are aflame with God.  It is easy to be happy when we are doing what we want, but to find happiness in what we have to do, and not what we want to do, requires a special blessing from God, I think.  Happiness is not a shallow self satisfaction. There can hardly be true happiness when what we do are different from what we believe. There can be no happiness without love. Sadness comes when we say no to love. John the Baptist, the hero of our Gospel text today, demonstrates clearly how one can be happy and at the same time firmly committed to a good cause. Actually, his joy came from his faith and work. John was happy and demonstrated true humility and contentment.

We are advised today not to equate pleasure with joy. Pleasure is of the body while joy is of the spirit. One can get tired of pleasure but one cannot get tired of joy. In the end, only God can fulfil our dreams and happiness is the best sign of his presence. The presence of the Lord is the cause of our joy. Nehemiah the prophet said “the joy of the Lord is our strength” [Neh 10:12]. St. Paul says to us: ‘I want you to be happy. Why? Because the Lord is very near’.  The joy that comes from a sense of God and his love for us is smells like the rose and stands beautiful like the Lily of the valley. It bears a sweet smelling fragrance, the fragrance that draws people to God and to us and to a life of meaning.

One second theme comes from the Gospel text. In this pericope, John the Baptist comes across as a practical man.  Christianity is a practical and social religion.  Another short story demonstrates the sort of humble service that John rendered an which we are invited to give each day. This story goes thus: Some time ago, there lived an extraordinary lamp lighter whose name was Mr. Tim. He was utterly reliable and as punctual as clock. He was blind. Each evening, at the onset of darkness, the lamps unfailingly came on. How he judged the time, nobody knew because he had no wrist watch. People often watched from the front of their windows as he went down the street lighting lamps and leaving trails of lights in his wake and everywhere.  What made Mr. Tim’s work extraordinary, after all there are many people who loved their work and did it faithfully? Tim was so special because he was blind. He was so faithful in bring the light to every other person except himself. He never saw light because he couldn’t. Suddenly, electricity came to his country village, and that meant that his job was finished. He felt so bored staying in the house doing nothing . People who used to adore him for his generosity now forgot all about him. After all they now had electricity which came automatically on and does not go off. He spent his days and night alone in his basement flat. This story demonstrates the life and mission of John the Baptist. John worked diligently to bring the light and introduce him to his people. For a while, he dominated the scene and enjoyed great popularity. He was always conscious of the fact that a greater light was coming and did all he could to prepare the way for that light. When the light eventually came in the person of Jesus, he gave way to him. He disappeared. In his own words, he said “He must increase while I must decrease”. No person comes to prominence all on his/her own. There will always be somebody who is in the background facilitating and whose task it is to lead, guide, direct and encourage. In other words, who prepares the way for him/her. When the person has come to fame, the facilitator drops out of sight and frequently is forgotten.  To make way or even to make room for another person require a great deal of humility and generosity of spirit. It calls for a kind of dying to self. Some people spoil things by holding on too long to power and authority.

Good parents live true humble service in the upbringing of their children and in the care of their families.  Parents spend a great deal of their years in preparing the way for their children. When the children are grown, they gradually give way for them to shine and blossom. All of us are tempted to hug unto limelight for far too long. We sometimes, inadvertently perhaps, dominate others and relegate them to the shadows. We must shine to the best of our ability while at the same time not blocking others from shining. We should be sensitive and humble enough to know when to give way for others. Only one who lives a life of joy can do that. Only one who does not take life too seriously can do that. We are not to run the race of life too seriously and miss the track. Let us live joyfully, one day at a time so we can live all the day of our lives.  

 - By Fr. Innocent Abonyi, MSP

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