Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7
Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and we just lit the candle of joy. If you noticed, the color of the candle for today is pink, and not purple like the other three. The theme for today is “joy.”
Usually I bring a 6-page-long sermon on Sunday mornings, but today, I brought a 4-page-long sermon. May my short sermon give you JOY! What does that mean? Do my other sermons give you “pain?”
What a joy it was to have so many preschool children right here last Sunday. What a joy it was to see bright smiles on their faces while they were singing Christmas songs. Also, what a joy it was to see our children playing various roles in Christmas Pageant! And what a joy it is to listen to our Tone Chime Choir every Sunday. Thank you, children. Thank you, parents. Thank you, teachers. Thank you, Kimberly, Robyn and Laurie. Thank you everyone, for we are raising our children together in love and faith. Amen?
If we were still using Latin at Mass, the first word we would have heard in today’s liturgy would have been “Gaudete,” or “rejoice.” The word is sprinkled throughout today’s readings: in the first reading from Zephaniah, “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart;” in the second reading from Philippians, “Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
These readings have their basis in the Hebrew language, which has more words for joy and rejoicing than any other language. Do you know that…
1) Hebrew religious ritual proclaims God as the source of joy.
2) In contrast to the rituals of other faiths, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration.
3) The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his/her life.
4) As noted in our readings, pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object, like a circle: God gives joy to us and we return it back to God.
One thing many people have forgotten in their Christian pilgrimage is the duty to be joyful. Yes, it is a duty (to be joyful). Maybe one of the reasons that Jesus used a little child as the sole embodiment of the kingdom of God is the innate joyfulness of children. Watch children playing at the playground. They are always laughing and singing. I witness the innate joyfulness of children in our preschool every day. And, sometimes, I wonder… why we, adults, do not laugh and sing like children? Why?
My son, Jonathan likes all kinds of animals. By the way, he is coming home this Wednesday. I heard that there was a mass-killing threat on his campus last week. All activities including finals were cancelled on that day and, Thank God, nothing happened so far. This is supposed to be the most peaceful and joyful season. But, we still worried about these things. And this is exactly why we need wonderful joyous news of Christmas for all people.
Ok…, back to Jonathan. He liked animals ever since he was a baby. He wanted to be an animal doctor until he became a 3rd or 4th grader. Then, he wanted to be a chef. He liked watching chef Emeril on TV. His first channel choice was Animal Planet, and the second choice was the Food Network Channel. Of course, that’s not the case anymore. Nowadays, he loves to watch football and basket ball games. Anyway, when he was about one year old, we took him to the Bronx Zoo. As we rode on a moving train car, Jonathan saw many different animals. Each time he saw some animals, he turned to us with a big smile and tried to say something by making some kind of sound. I hate to say it, but he almost sounded like a baby gorilla. He couldn’t talk then, but whenever he liked something he communicated by pointing his finger, making a gesture, or making some kind of sound to express his joy, which, of course, made us very joyful, too.
For those of us who are adults, one of the things that make Christmas so joyful is seeing the wide-eyed expressions of wonder on little faces. One day, maybe about 10 years ago, both Jonathan and Elizabeth woke up much earlier than I. They shouted, “Daddy, wake up!” And then, they climbed on my bed and shouted again, jumping up and down…, “You have to look outside… It’s snowing… a lot.”
Later that morning, we built a fire in the fireplace, which made them even more excited. Jonathan said, “Hmm… THIS IS LIFE.” This is, I think, the expression that he learned from Sesame Street. He uses this expression when he is really happy. My point is this: Children know about joy and how to express it. Somehow, I think, we adults seem to lose that awe and wonder somewhere along the road to adulthood.
At this time of year, we need to let joy into our hearts. If your heart is aching this Advent season for any reason: concerns about your health or your loved one’s wellbeing, the loss of love in a marriage, the memory of someone you love who is now with God, concern about a teenage child, don’t let despair defeat you. If you have recently lost a loved one and that person could come back and stand before you right now, they wouldn’t tell you to continue to grieve for them. They would tell you: “I am at peace; you be at peace also. That is my wish for you.” If something stands in the way of joy, let it go. Let the joy enter in your heart, let that joy enter in your life.
One of the things that I have seen stand in the way of joy is people taking themselves or what they do too seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves, because others will be more than willing to do so for us. When I believe someone is being too serious, I often try to make a joke with them in the hope that laughter will bring them back to reality. We are eminently laughable at – I know that I am – and what we do is just a job or an appointed position, something that in the big picture is not worth getting upset about with another person and something which could be taken away in the twinkling of an eye.
Enjoy life, relish every moment, for we know not the day, nor the hour. Find some way this special season to defeat the blues. Do something positive, something heart-warming, something that will bring someone else joy. For joy has a way of returning back with more joy. I mean, Joy gives more joy to the person who gives it than the one who receives it. We ought to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
In 10 days, we celebrate the most important feast in the Church’s liturgical year along with Easter. It is a day of rejoicing and of “joy to the world.” Love came down at Christmas, as one seasonal song goes, and with it came joy, the ability for us to overcome sin and sadness, because our Lord loved us enough to become one like us. May joy be yours in this season of Advent. Amen.
Go in peace; love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
– and may God the Father bless you richly,
– may Christ the Son pour the riches of his grace upon you,
– and may the Holy Spirit, our comfort and our support, lead you in the
path of hope, and of peace, of joy and of love.
both now and forevermore. Amen