Advent 03, Year B

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The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (Is. 29:19)

Joy is what the liturgical texts for this Sunday are about. But the joy that these texts speak of is not at all what the world considers joy, for it is not the joy that the world associates with being rich, being filled, laughing or being well spoken of. Rather, it is the joy that is synonymous with the happiness or blessedness of the poor, of those who are hungry, of those who are weeping, of those who are hated, excluded, insulted and whose names are denounced as evil on account of the Son of Man (cf. Lk. 6:20-26 and Mt. 5:3-12). It is the joy to which tears, grief, pain, recognition of poverty, coupled with earnest and confident prayer, and conversion and forgiveness lead (Jn. 16:20-24; Lk. 15; Jas. 1:2).

Thus, Christian joy is the joy of the apostle Paul. Though a prisoner, he encourages others, in Phil. 4:4-5, which serves as the entrance antiphon for today’s Eucharistic celebration: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! … The Lord is near.” St. Paul convincingly makes the case that not only is Christian joy not incompatible with suffering; nay, it is incomprehensible without suffering and inseparable from it. As proven true by the Thessalonians, whom Paul, in the second reading, also encourages to rejoice always, affliction makes for the reception of the word and the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thes. 1:6).

So also, Christian joy—as the first reading teaches—is the rejoicing in the Lord of the one who is clothed with a robe of salvation and wrapped in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. The joy of his soul being in his God, the Lord’s anointed makes those to whom he has been sent rejoice in the Lord, too, as he announces glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, a year of favor from the Lord and a day of divine vindication.

Hence, Christian joy is the joy of Mary, the most blessed among women. As she affirms in her canticle (which we sing also to indicate our wholehearted acceptance in joy of the Evangelizer of the Poor and of his mission), her spirit rejoices in God her Savior, for he has looked upon her, his lowly servant, and done great things for her. She is fittingly called blessed by all generations because she embodies the fullness of grace that is reserved for the hungry and denied to the rich by the Almighty, on whose mercy and help can count all those who are in great awe and wonder of his greatness and consider themselves his servants.

Christian joy is, therefore, St. John the Baptist’s joy, a joy that that comes with humility and simplicity. John has no pretenses; he admits and does not deny that he is neither the Messiah nor Elijah nor the Prophet. Content and comfortable with being simply “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” he does not have to lie and be on the defensive even when he is belittled by those who put his role into question. He is delighted at his not being the light himself but only a witness to the light. John’s clear focus on Christ fills him with joy: he leaps in the womb at Jesus’ presence; he is overjoyed at hearing, as the best man, the bridegroom’s voice; he is completely happy at the necessity of Jesus increasing and of himself decreasing (Lk. 1:41, 44 and Jn. 3:29-30; cf. Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., Seasons in Spirituality: Reflections on Vincentian Spirituality in Today’s World [Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1998], pp. 48-49).

Thus, finally, Christian joy is the joy that has its fount and apex in the Church’s offering to the Father, in memory of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the life-giving bread and the saving cup (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11). In partaking of Jesus’ body and blood, we likewise share in the cheerfulness that characterizes his wholehearted and wholly free giving of himself that is pleasing to God (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7).

Breaking the bread from heaven—“ready to hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste” (Wis. 16:20)—and eating together with glad and sincere hearts, we praise God and enjoy the favor of all people, the Lord adding to our number all the while those he is saving (Act. 2:46-47). To the extent, then, that Jesus’ followers—even though threatened by or in the grip of anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sickness, sword or death (Jn. 16:22; cf. Rom. 8:35, 38)—exude Christian joy, they truly are, in the words of Father Maloney, “a striking sign to others that the kingdom of God is really at hand” (op. cit.).