In the second reading, Paul tells the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” but Paul’s command might seem hollow given the world we live in today. Ideologies color any hope we have that human beings can live in harmony. And, the normal stress and strain of the holiday season lessen our capacity for joy. Serious illness among family and friends dampens any joy we might have had. So, how can we embrace Paul’s counsel to rejoice always?
Paul does not tell us to merely rejoice, but to rejoice in the Lord. Even though he does not propose a detailed map for rejoicing in the Lord, he does list some characteristics. He starts his list of attributes by indicating that everyone should know our kindness. He continues by pointing out that we should have no anxiety, but, in everything, we should make our requests known to God. Finally, we should realize that the peace of God surpasses all understanding,
In the Gospel, John the Baptist also speaks of attitudes that encourage us to rejoice in the Lord. True rejoicing in the Lord means caring for our neighbor, not out of mere obligation, but from genuine concern for the well-being of another. The one who has too much clothing should share with those who have too little. The one who has abundant food should feed the hungry. The one who possesses wealth or power will not use these attributes for extortion, in false accusation or greed. As John exhorts a transformation of life, he does so by preaching the good news of word and action.
Finally, Zephaniah reminds us of what God already has done for his people and will continue to do for them. The Lord removes judgment from his people. Zephaniah says, “Fear not O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” The prophet encourages the people to look for the one who is to come, the one who will make all things new.
During these preparation days the church eagerly awaits the one who will show us genuine life rooted in God. The Spirit makes Advent a season of great expectation. The one who is to come will baptize us with the Spirit. Jesus’ own preaching and example show us that our lives have the capacity for joy-filled life in God. Like most other capacities, the capacity for joy expands as we exercise it. When we think only of our own desires we miss out on so much of the meaning of human life and Christian living. Our capacity forjoy diminishes; we live our lives in egoism, anxiety, greed and lying. One significant invitation of this season is to live a truly human life just as Jesus Christ lives a truly human life.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.