Only in God is true and lasting happiness and joy

Homily for the Third Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What will bring you joy and happiness? There are various types of joy and happiness; some are superficial and come and go but there is also deeper and lasting joy and happiness that abides and remains. The economic crisis of this time (2008), with all the pain it brings to some, reminds us where we are to find our joy, only in God. Advent reminds us that the joyful answer to our problems lies in God. True joy and happiness is to be found only in God. What a difference there is between “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” Anyone, even a pagan, can celebrate Happy Holidays, but how beautiful it is to have Christ at the center of a Merry Christmas. Christ is the one and only gift at the center of a Merry Christmas who is lacking from Happy Holidays. If we are not finding our joy and happiness in God we are under an illusion and sooner or later God will give us the painful grace of allowing that illusion to give way to reality. God is the answer. Only in God can we find true joy and happiness. Those who abandon God are on the road to sorrow and pain.

The readings today remind us that God is our joy. In the first reading we heard Isaiah reminding us that God is the source of our joy,

I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation,
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice…(Isa 61:10)

During this Advent time of looking to God as the answer to our deepest needs I especially like the line, “in my God is the joy of my soul.” We could use that line as an examination of conscience; is God the joy of our soul? Are we centered on God? Let us place God first because that is the only way to have joy.

Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise when she visited Elizabeth, which we sang as our Psalm today, also reminds us that God is our joy,

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him. (Luke 1:49-50)

Again during this Advent time of looking to God as the answer to our deepest needs I especially like the line, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Sinless Mary was saved from sin in advance from the first moment of her existence through her immaculate conception, a special grace which was the fruit of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection. All the rest of us are saved from the sin, after we fall into it, through Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection. What a joy for us to be saved by Jesus! But how unfortunate it is that we may live much of our day without realizing even how precious we are to God, that we are worth the price of Jesus’ precious blood and his life. We can indeed rejoice in God our Savior.

Our second reading, taken from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, urges us,

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

It is really our vocation to “rejoice always.” How can we rejoice always? When we put our trust and hope in God, then even in difficult times when there is a storm at the surface, we can “rejoice always” deep within.

In the Gospel John the Baptist was asked, “Who are you?” and he declared, “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20) and he went on to say,

I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:26-27)

In John the Baptist we see a model for our own spirituality, knowing our smallness and nothingness, that we are not worthy to untie even the sandal strap of the Lord. John pointed away from himself to Jesus. Humility, like that of John the Baptist in the Gospel today, brings happiness. Greed and pride bear much of the responsibility for the current economic problems (2008) but humility leads to God, the humility of John the Baptist pointing away from himself to Jesus.

These beautiful texts we heard proclaimed from the Word of God today remind us that true joy and happiness is to be found only in God. If we are not finding our joy and happiness in God we are under an illusion and sooner or later God will give us the painful grace of allowing that illusion to give way to reality. God is the answer. Only in God can we find true joy and happiness. Those who abandon God are on the road to sorrow and pain. Advent reminds us that the joyful answer to our problems lies in God. So when Jesus summarized the first three commandments as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength he was really giving us a prescription for deep and permanent joy and happiness. Any unhappiness we experience is really an experience of the lack of God. God is the fulfillment of our anxieties and worries, of our needs, of our greed. What a difference there is between “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” Anyone, even a pagan, can celebrate Happy Holidays, but how beautiful it is to have Christ at the center of a Merry Christmas. Christ is the one and only gift at the center of a Merry Christmas.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2008

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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