Richie was expecting a Christmas present from his parents. Still, nothing was coming his way, and he becomes moody and would stay in one corner of the house by himself sulking. The parents had mentioned earlier that Richie was not getting any gifts for being naughty, especially in school. On Christmas eve, however, he wakes up to see a huge wrapped box in his room with his name on it, and he screamed with excitement.
There is a quick question from this story. “Was Richie joyful or happy when he discovered that his parents got a box of gifts for him contrary to the initial plan of denying him a present because of his naughty attitude?” One would expect a variety of answers because there is a long-standing argument on the difference between joy and happiness. Some people think that they mean the same thing while others disagree. Today is very strategic for us to weigh in on the distinction between the two concepts; much as joy is the theme of this 3rd Sunday of Advent.
The opening antiphon of the mass today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:4-5) says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. The Lord is near”. The Advent period is when we look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The period challenges us to undertake three primary activities, preparation, penance, and prayer, but this Sunday adds one more thing; rejoicing!
Back to the distinction between joy and happiness, why do we have to rejoice instead of being happy? At this point, there would be a need for us to define happiness and joy. Both come with excitement like in the case of Richie getting the Christmas gift, but they differ from their sources, intensity, and durability. Happiness comes from something that is outside of the individual; put in another way, the cause of one’s happiness is always external. Richie was excited when he saw his Christmas gift. Joy, on the other hand, is a facility that is within us; in other words, it is internal.
While happiness could be strong, joy is stronger and more intense. Happiness builds on circumstances, that means, it could change when the circumstances that brought it change. Joy, on the other hand, is a divine orchestration, therefore, it comes out of “God-stance,” not on any circumstance. St. Paul tells us that joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Furthermore, happiness is by coincidence of chance, but joy is by a convinced choice in God. At the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we hear that the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us also that the excitement in heaven is out joy, for instance, when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10).
Addressing the question of John
Why should we rejoice at the coming of the Lord? A quick answer to this question could be that it is the right thing to do. But one may still ask, “what makes it the right thing to do?” The Gospel Reading today shows John the Baptist struggling to have clarity about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ while in prison. He sent his disciples to ask our Lord Jesus Christ, “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Earlier, John was excitedly preaching about the coming of the kingdom of God, which the Messiah would inaugurate while administering the baptism of repentance on the people in the Jordan River. Last Sunday, we heard him declare to the people, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It is ok, to wonder what prompted John the Baptist to ask such a question that seems to contradict some of his earlier statements like when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). To understand the narrative, we need to consider John the Baptist not only as a preacher but also as someone going through a rough time in prison. Furthermore, we could understand him as a human being with expectations for liberation, especially with the Messiah already present in the community where he is serving a prison term.
While in prison, John the Baptist could have been expecting the Messiah to show up and get him out of the chains. Still, he did not see any sign, and that could have prompted him to send a delegation to ascertain if he is the Messiah. In order words, he could be saying, “if the Messiah is in our midst, why am I still in prison; he should at least start with me.”
John was only thinking like the men and women of his time. Though he had an idea about the coming of the Messiah, he didn’t have the information about how we would accomplish the work. One of the thieves at the site of the crucifixion said a similar thing, “if you are the Messiah save yourself and save us” (Luke 23:39).
Moving Forward: What do you see and hear?
We often find ourselves in the shoes of John the Baptist when we are not very sure that God is still God. Those times we switch from believing and doubting what God is saying to us. Some people even feel short-changed by God when they find themselves in the middle of tribulations and challenges.
Our Lord gave an insightful answer to the delegation from John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me”.
From the above answer, our Lord Jesus Christ tries to let John know the description of work as the Messiah, contrary to what he may be thinking. The concluding words seem to tell John not to take offense for our Lord’s inability to rescue him from prison.
Here also we understand why we should rejoice at the coming of the Lord. He is coming to fix our lives from all forms of spiritual deformities. We need to rejoice because the one who would pay our debts is close at hand.
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas is not the end but the inauguration of our salvation, and we have every reason to rejoice. So, on this day, may we rejoice and keep on rejoicing. May our joy never run out; the Book of Nehemiah (8:10b) tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Have a beautiful 3rd Sunday of Advent and a glorious week ahead.