by Fr. Tommy Lane
There is an idea prevalent now that religion hinders one’s freedom, that religion cramps one’s lifestyle, that it is an oppressive force. Some people are ashamed to talk about religion to each other or their friends. Some believe their reputation would suffer a big blow if it were known that they had strong faith so they hide it. Some people say they would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
In fact, far from hindering us or cramping us in any way, living with a strong faith in God brings us the true happiness we cannot find elsewhere. Therefore Paul wrote in the second reading, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” or as another translation has it, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.” (Phil 4:4) Notice where he says we will find our happiness, “in the Lord.” We will find our happiness by living the Christian life.
The joy and happiness in the Lord that we celebrate today is symbolized by lighting a rose candle on the Advent wreath today instead of a purple one and also symbolized by wearing rose vestments today instead of purple ones. I would like to recall a number of times when we see Jesus being happy and joyful. Did Jesus feel cramped and hindered? Not according to what we read in the Gospels. In John 15:11 we read Jesus saying, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” Jesus was joyful and wanted his disciples to share his joy, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” Jesus attended many dinners: the one given him by Matthew/Levi after he called him (Matt 9:9-10; see Mark 2:13-15; Luke 5:27-29); at Zacchaeus’ house (implied in Luke 19:7); and Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1); and there was dinner at Lazarus’ house (John 12:2). At Cana (John 2) Jesus changed between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine so that the wedding guests could continue to enjoy themselves, and it was wine of the best vintage. That was a lot of wine, but we must remember that at that time the wedding celebration lasted a week which explains why so much wine was needed.
The first step to become happy in the Lord is to give up sin so that we can live a life of grace with the Lord. In the Gospel today (Luke 3:10-18) three times people asked John the Baptist, “what should we do?” Each time he told them to give up something or not to be greedy. Our journey of conversion is a journey from wanting and being greedy and possessive to becoming unselfish. That was the journey John the Baptist asked his hearers to make and the journey we are challenged to make this Advent so that we will have true joy and happiness to celebrate at Christmas rather than just Santa Claus coming to town.
When we turn our backs on sin and follow the Lord it does not mean that we will never again have trouble. Of course we will. We will have troubles and problems as long as we live but we will have an inner peace in the Lord and find our happiness in the Lord. I find the following two examples of being happy in the Lord in spite of severe difficulties very challenging and I doubt that I could be equally happy in such difficult situations but they are examples to us of being happy in the Lord.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was in one of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and volunteered for the death chamber in the place of one of his fellow prisoners. The jailers reported that whereas the death chambers were usually places of despair and cursing, in this case the condemned men were singing hymns.
Archbishop Romero was asked by a newspaper reporter if he was aware that people wanted to kill him and he replied, “You can tell them they are wasting their time. They can kill a bishop but they cannot kill the people of God, the Church. If I am killed I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”
I am sure you will agree that they are very challenging examples of being happy in the Lord. They remind us, as Paul reminds us today, that God wants us to be happy.
The Lord wills us to be happy. Since the day we were baptized we are sons and daughters of God. We could say that the words of our first reading (Zeph 3:14-18) were fulfilled in the lives of each of us the day we were baptized,
“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear...
He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.
Can you imagine God rejoicing over you the day you were baptized, renewing you by his love? As we heard in the Gospel John the Baptist told his listeners that he baptized with water but Jesus was coming after him and he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). When you were baptized you were touched by God. God put his seal on your when you were baptized. Why be unhappy? God wants you to be happy?
There is an idea prevalent now that religion hinders one’s freedom, that religion cramps our lifestyle, that it is oppressive force. But properly understood, our faith in God is a liberating force, liberating us from unhappiness and helping us to find our joy in the Lord. We remember again the words of Paul, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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