Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Have you ever felt joy in your life? Before giving an affirmative answer, we need to understand what joy is and how it differs from happiness. You may have seen an inflated decorative balloon used to celebrate a birthday, wedding, graduation, or any other event. Such balloons look beautiful and attempt to float up the sky when unrestrained. However, if you see those balloons after three days, they look deflated and weak; that is what happiness looks like over time.
Happiness is a good feeling that emanates from an experience or encounter. For instance, the intense feeling one gets after passing a tough examination. That means if the person didn’t pass the test, that feeling wouldn’t be there. In short, happiness depends on external happenings or circumstances.
On the other hand, joy is an intense inner disposition of the soul based on the settled awareness of God’s presence and what He can do even in troubling moments. Joy is more consistent as it does not result from external events and circumstances. Happiness is temporary as it ends when the external cause depreciates or disappears, but joy endures no matter the circumstances.
Joy Beyond Troubles
The Third Sunday of Advent is the Laetare (rejoice) Sunday. It is so-called because of the repeated clause of joy and the invitation to rejoice. In the opening antiphon, St. Paul challenged the Philippians (4:4) to rejoice always; in other words, in all circumstances.
The Frist Reading from the prophecy of Isaiah (35:1-6a, 10) was an oracle of consolation to the people. The passage tells those sorrowful to rejoice and be strong because of God’s oncoming liberation. Notice that divine liberation was yet to come, but the people were challenged to rejoice.
The Second Reading (James 5:7-10) comes with the message of patience as the people await the coming of the Lord. One truth we must reckon with is that it is impossible to survive life without patience. Patience enables us to wait on the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7).
In life, we often have more reasons to be impatient than patient. But the truth is that no matter how we stretch our impatience, it will never improve the situation. James was telling the people who seemed too anxious about the coming of the Lord to be patient after the manner of the farmer who waits for the early and later rains before the harvest.
John the Baptist could have fallen into the human defect of impatience from the narrative we read in the Gospel today (Matt. 11:2-11). In the narrative, John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
The question shows that he was troubled, and his patience was running out; what else would make the great prophet who announced the messiah’s coming turn around to ask a question that shows some elements of doubt and despair?
We could all fit into the same structure as John the Baptist when we go through similar harrowing experiences when life tries to force us into moral, spiritual, and even bodily imprisonment. We often ask identical questions to God: “God, are you still there?”
Overcoming the Joy Killers
Sin: In the Gospel of Luke (15:7), Jesus tells us there is so much joy in heaven when a sinner repents. The implication of this statement is that sin is a joy killer. The consciousness of sin burdens the soul and displaces joy. Sin may give you momentary happiness but never joy.
Anxiety: It will be extremely difficult for the fearful to be joyful. Fear kills joy because it magnifies the troubles and minimizes the presence and power of God in our lives. When the angel Gabriel was bringing the message of the birth of Jesus (the joy to the world), the angel repeatedly said to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherd: “do not be afraid!”
Anger: Anger is an emotion that could become very overwhelming in our lives to the extent of opening other evil doors. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:26-27) tells us not to allow anger to lead us to sin so as not to give the devil an opportunity.
Joy is never a guest to the angry person because both cannot co-exist. We can dissociate from spates of anger by letting go of our unproductive past. It will be difficult to be joyful if you are resentful.
Pride: The prideful can never be joyful because pride is a joy killer. The foreground of pride is selfishness, another discordant note in the symphony of joy because real joy is selfless and expressive (Jesus, Others, and You =JOY). The Book of Proverbs (16:5) tells us that God hates the proud; they will not go unpunished.
Moving Forward: Rejoice
We are about two weeks away from receiving the Lord at Christmas and standing on the platform of the Third Sunday of Advent; we receive the light of joy.
Joy will be the reward for our patience in waiting for the Lord! We must be patient with ourselves and one another, as St. James advised in the Second Reading. Again, we must be patient with God because He cares about us and sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), even when life does not seem to make sense.
To Rejoice is not the same thing as jumping up and shouting. Our rejoicing should be an intentional disposition of our souls, conscious of God’s presence. We cannot rejoice when we are living in sin. We must eschew anxiety, anger, and pride as we prepare for the Lord’s coming.
Again, I say rejoice!