The Third Sunday of Advent
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Is. 61: 1-2a, 10-11 1Thess. 5: 16-24 Jn. 1: 6-8, 19-28
Joy of life consists in having right approach towards oneself, others and the material world.
We all know that this Sunday is known as ‘Gaudate Sunday.’ The readings of today focus on the theme of joy. In the first reading, we read Isaiah proclaiming, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God.” In the second reading, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always.” St. Paul goes one step ahead and says that it is God’s will that we always rejoice. Being happy is in no way against the will of God.
In order to harvest this joy in our lives, there are a few requirements we need to focus on in our lives. Today’s readings point out three ways:
The first reading points out that when a person is anointed by the Spirit, he becomes a service-oriented person: bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners etc.. In other words, the experience of God leads a person towards the service of fellow human beings. It, in turn, gives fulfilment and meaning to one’s life. Serving others is like offering flowers to someone. In the process of offering flowers to others, we cannot avoid making our hands fragrant.
To Karl Menninger, a famous American psychiatrist who has written many books, including Man Against Himself, someone asked, “What should a man do if he heads to nervous break down?” Menninger answered, “He should find somebody and do service for him.” A selfish and self-centred person is necessarily a sick person and constantly marching towards depression and dejection. To avoid that, one has to be more and more altruistic and other-centred. The word ‘sin’ has got ‘i’ in its middle, while the world ‘son’ has got ‘o’ in its middle. It looks as if these two words have got a symbolic meaning for our lives. A person who keeps his/her own ego (‘i’) as the centre of his/her life, one cannot avoid living in sin. In stead, when one puts others (‘o’) as one’s centre of life, one reclaims one’s sonship with God, the Father.
In the second reading, St. Paul talks about the need for discernment in our lives. He writes, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” A life of constant discernment is a basic requirement to experience joy in a sustained way. This world is so attractive and alluring and it presents too many things before us as the source of our happiness. However not all of them can offer us a real happiness. It is not uncommon that many people, in the name of increasing their happiness, further entangle themselves in the rut of misery and wretchedness. It is all the more true in a time, in which the consumeristic culture is spreading its tentacles everywhere. So there is a greater need for discernment so that we differentiate between the false and true sources of happiness.
It is the Holy Spirit who is ready to help us in this regard. In this process of discernment, it is the Holy Spirit who can illumine our mind with proper knowledge and wisdom so that we are able to test everything and find out what is really good. That is why St. Paul instructs us, “Do not quench the Spirit.” He invites us to discern our lives and our search for happiness with the help of the Holy Spirit.
c). Self-knowledge and Self-acceptance:
Today’s psychology talks about the importance of self-knowledge and acceptance of one’s own self with one’s ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses for a matured and healthy life. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance always go together. Self-knowledge basically means that a person knows what one is and what one is not. St. Theresa of Avila said, “One day of humble self-knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.” Self-acceptance means that a person accepts oneself against the background of one’s self-knowledge.
The book of Genesis points out that human beings are the strange combinations of dust of the earth and the Spirit of the Lord (Gen. 2: 7). On the one hand, God created Adam out of dust and on the other hand, he infused His own Spirit into him. ‘Dust’ symbolizes the vulnerable and weak aspects of human beings, while the Spirit refers to the immortal, transcendental dimension of them. These two strange aspects have to be properly integrated for a healthy and matured life. On the one hand, we need to accept our vulnerable aspect. A person, who does not accept one’s vulnerable aspect, would create a lot of problem for oneself and for others. Here is where the need for self-acceptance comes in. Lack of self-acceptance will create a lot of guilt conscience. However, we have to take care that this self-acceptance does not turn to be self-approval. In self-acceptance, a person is aware of what one is, at the same time, one also knows that there is a need for him/her to grow. But in self-approval, a person unwittingly approves of whatever one does as right. So, while we, with a lot of humility, accept ourselves, we also need to put up a lot of hard work so that we with the help of the Spirit of the Lord, try to progressively transcend all limitations, imposed upon us by this ‘dust’ aspect of us.
St. John the Baptist is presented as an example par excellence for self-knowledge and self-acceptance. He was very clear of his role as the precursor of Jesus. He clearly said that he was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet to come. At the same time, he knew who he was. He saw himself as the fore-runner of Jesus.
Loving Father, we thank you for the gift of joy we experience occasionally in our lives. Help us to experience this you more profoundly and fully, Amen.