Rejoice? What Do You Mean?
The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” This is the theme expressed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” The word “rejoice” is composed of two words: “re” (again) and “joy”. So St. Paul repeated his exhortation: “I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Why is St. Paul so insistent in his exhortation to rejoice? We must remember that he wrote this Letter to the Philippians while he was in a dark Roman prison and without any certainty that he can still come out alive. Definitely, there was nothing to rejoice about in that situation. But joy is a virtue and a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not dependent on any external condition. Rather, it all depends on one’s intimate relationship with God. Rightly, then, that St. Paul said: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (4:4-5).
A person who knows the Lord is with him at all times, that the Lord is near, has reason to rejoice always, that is, to be filled with joy. And that spirit leads him to be more kind and understanding towards others.
There is the story about a man known as Joe the Farmer. Every day, on his way to the farm, he would make it a point to drop by the Church at exactly 8:00 in the morning. In less than a minute, he can be seen leaving the church. The priest noticed his daily routine, and asked him about it one day. Joe said, “Father, I just drop every day by to say hello to my friend. I look at him. He looks at me. Then I tell him, ‘Hi, Jess! This is your friend, Joe. Have a great day!’ Then I go.”
One day, Joe got sick, and was brought to the hospital. He had no family, and so no one visited him. But the nurses were surprised that Joe provided joy and laughter to his fellow patients. His humor and cheerful spirit were just contagious. He was asked by a nurse: “Joe, what is the secret of your happiness?” Joe replied, “Well, it is because of my visitor who comes every day.” “But,” the nurse asked in surprise, “you have no visitor. You have no family.” But Joe insisted, “Yes, I have a friend. He visits me every day, at 8:00 in the morning. He comes and looks at me, and says, ‘Hey, Joe. This is your friend, Jess. I just dropped by to say hello!’”
Joe had no family. He had no money. He had no health. But he was happy, because he had a friend, Jesus, who visits him every day. That was the secret of his happiness. And his happiness makes him more kind and loving towards others. This is exactly what St. Paul is talking about: “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Christmas is near. We see Christmas decorations all around. We hear Christmas songs and carols in the air. We go to Christmas gatherings and parties here and there. But are we really rejoicing? Are we filled with joy? On the contrary, we hear people complaining about the economic crisis. Many are jobless, homeless and still many others are sick. There is so much bad news every day on television. What is there to rejoice about? It is no wonder that this is the feeling and sentiment of many people because God is not around anymore in our Christmas celebration. The greeting “Merry Christmas” is replaced with “Happy Holidays!” The big Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is now called just The Tree. Jesus Christ is totally overshadowed by Santa Claus and his red-nosed reindeer. Many people don’t even bother to go to Mass on these days. So, when Christ is taken away from Christmas, when God is absent from our gatherings and celebrations, what is there left to rejoice about?
Rejoicing in the Lord is not just a matter of thanking and praising God. Rather, it means two things. First, it is an attitude of trust in the midst of life’s difficulties and troubles. Worries and anxieties have no part in the life of a Christian. Rather, St. Paul said: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (4:6). Secondly, rejoicing should manifest itself in acts of kindness. This is what St. Paul said: “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” St. John the Baptist, therefore, calls us to action. When asked by his listeners what they ought to do, John the Baptist mentioned examples of acts of kindness: giving clothes to those who have none, avoiding extortion and cheating and being of better service to others.
Christmas is always the busiest season of the year. While others are stressed and anxious about so many things, we are reminded to focus our attention on Jesus, the center of this joyous season, the cause of our rejoicing. There is no reason for worries and anxieties. Whatever problems and difficulties we may have, we take them all up to the Lord in prayer. Turn worries into prayers. “Then,” St. Paul said, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002