Monday, December 7, 2009

Rejoice: God Is In Our Midst

Third Sunday of Advent of Year C
(Luke 3:10-18)
December 13, 2009

The rejoicing of Europeans on the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of Berlin wall last November 9, 2009, which signified the unification of Germany and the end of the cold war, brings me back to a local celebration on commemoration of the return of Gen Douglas MacArthur. During Leyte Landings Golden Anniversary, thousands came to celebrate the event with much joy. Not a few of them wanted to reminisce the experience when even just the news that Gen. MacArthur would certainly return was enough to lift up their spirit. For the prospect of his coming brought to mind the gaining of freedom from Japanese atrocities, and the restoration of the American rule in what was formerly known as the Philippine islands. It was thought that his return would put an end to destruction and be the beginning of a new era of progress and development for the Filipino people. Indeed, when Gen MacArthur did return, people were literally dancing on the street, joyful at the thought that liberation was at hand!

Today has been traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, because the readings tell us to rejoice. Thus the second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice”(Phil 4:4). We are told to rejoice because, more than what Gen MacArthur did to the Filipinos, not only is the Lord with us, renewing his love for us, but also he will reveal himself as our Savior, forgiving us our iniquities, freeing us from dangers and misfortunes (Zeph 3:15-18), liberating us from all forms of evil.. As we await the coming of the Lord this Christmas, we ought therefore to rejoice. Our religion may stress the value of suffering, pain, and patience, but it is a religion of joy. For in the final result, God would put an end to our experience of misery, suffering and evil, when Jesus returns in glory. What we should feel is best captured by the Psalmist:: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord who comes, who comes to govern the earth, to govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness” (Ps 96:11-13). That, in fact, is what Advent is all about: rejoicing in the coming of the Lord (Phil 4:5b)

This is the good news. The Messiah is coming to vindicate his people. Of course, in the Gospel, John the Baptist describes his coming in terms of judgment: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:15-17). As we prepare for the second coming of Jesus, we do not interpret this in terms of the purifying and refining action of God, as John the Baptist probably did, but in terms of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ, who will perfectly share with us his very life in the final age. We will be brought into communion with the Father and the Son, and share the joys of the blessed.

But even as we hope for its fulfillment, joy is already in us. And our joy is first of all internal. It is the joy in the knowledge that God forgives us despite our sinfulness; that God loves us and has deigned to dwell with us. Once we experience this, nothing will ever separate us from God: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future thing, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ” (Rom 8:38-39). When we know that God is with us, we will be a happy people, no matter what the circumstances are: whether we get a good sleep, food, friendship, or whether we experience failure, are laid off from job. We can also thank with Job (Job 1:21), recognizing that everything comes from God (1 Tim 6:7).

But our joy does not simply come from the certainty of our hope. Rather, the joy itself is already an experience of what God will do once and for all when Jesus comes. To have this anticipated joy, we have to attune ourselves to him. We allow God to come to our midst, to our hearts, knowing from experience that a life that has no place for God is a miserable one. Just as one who has suffered under the Japanese during the Second World War understands the rejoicing at the news of Gen MacArthur’s return, so one who experienced and recognized his sinfulness and the evil he has done to human relationship will rejoice at the coming of the Lord to him.

Of course, joy comes to us in various qualities. When one, for example, gate-crushes to an alumni homecoming celebration, he could be happy with wine and dance, but he does not experience the joy of those who have been classmates, who know the history of the class and the reason for their celebration. Similarly, if we wish to experience joy, we must be aware of our own spiritual journey, our ups and downs, and the history of our own life. Knowing our own history and therefore identity, we can easily respond to what the joy of Christ’s coming demands. If we realize this, we will feel, even without being told, the need to prepare ourselves for his coming to our midst, doing something about our own conduct, as John the Baptist demanded reform in his hearers’ social conduct (Luke 3:10-14). Only in this way can we really enjoy the coming of the Lord in our midst.

The Eucharist is an anticipation of God’s coming. There Jesus is present, forming us into one body in which brotherhood, knowledge and love are to reign (cf Eph 4:12). Hence, partaking of it is likewise a source of joy.

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