How in the world can we be expected to “rejoice” today, as the third candle on the Advent Wreath, the rose one, tells us to do? Joy can be an elusive emotion when we are surrounded by bad news…when perpetrators of crimes are younger than seems possible to believe when the technology that was created to make life easier and safer is turned against us when it is difficult if not impossible to have a civil conversation with those with whom we might disagree, whether it be about the state of the country or that of the church. “Rejoice!” we are told…bah, humbug!
But, consider this: Isaiah was speaking to people whose lives were also difficult, and he says to those who are frightened, “Be strong, fear not…here is your God who comes to save you…those whom the Lord has ransomed will be crowned with everlasting joy.” Hmm…there’s that word again…joy. St. James tells us that our hearts must be firm, we must be patient because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Well, that’s true…Christmas is coming, and the goose may be getting fat, but still…joy?
The Gospel is where the rubber meets the road. John, in jail, reaches out to Jesus through his disciples asking if he is the one to come. The response is to look at the evidence; the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dead are raised. Okay,…good news, but that was then…what about now? The clue can be found in the last line… among all people born to that time, none have been greater than John the Baptist, “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John recognizes that Jesus is doing something new, something that will echo through creation and history, something that ushers in a new moment, and a joyful one.
In Jesus, Christians see the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, who saw a land abloom and joyful singing. Indeed, through the Incarnation, God makes humanity God’s own co-conspirators, by showing us how to live with suffering and evil, by assuring us of how close God is to us always, and by remaining with us as a reminder that it is we who are the farmers who plant the seeds; we are the builders who lay the stones; we are the architects who draw the plans, and in our best moments, we bring good news to the poor, we heal the blind, we who have been ransomed return to Zion singing.
If we have been commissioned to help build the Kingdom of God, if by our living and our dying we are bringing that kingdom more fully into reality, then despite the troubles around us, how can we help but be filled with joy?
Dr. Eleanor Sauers is the Parish Life Coordinator of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield.