We’ve come to know the drill because it’s repeated far too frequently. If you have a seriously ill family member or friend, you understand. If you’ve followed the journeys of those stricken with COVID-19, you understand. Flurries of tests, email and Facebook messages keep those involved informed. Extended family members and friends worry, cheer and pray fervently for the ones who fight to get well. These battles are too often uphill journeys which take their tolls on both body and spirit. Those on the periphery continue their day-to-day lives as they pray and offer encouragement. It’s difficult not to become impatient with God in situations like this.
This time, I’ve managed to set aside my anxiety and to engage our loving God in heartfelt conversation. After voicing the litany of reasons for which newly developed vaccines and healthcare must be delivered with Godspeed, I listen for direction. Afterward, I do my best to comply. This compliance involves the continuation of my prayer in full earnest, not only for those who are ill, but also for their families, friends and caregivers. My compliance also requires that, while I pray for physical improvements, I also pray for the spiritual wellbeing of all concerned. Those who are ill and their loved ones are suffering more than should be possible. Still, some of them find the strength to sense God’s embrace in all of this. “I am here,” God insists and they respond with eager hope.
Though they’re unsure of what tomorrow will bring, I continue to be amazed by the suffering. Though their circumstances are uncertain, they, their loved ones and their caretakers respond to every upturn with joy. How can I not follow the example of these brave souls? I can’t! So, like them, I acknowledge God’s presence in today’s uncertainty as I put the final touches on our Christmas decorations and prepare our Christmas cards. At first, it was difficult to extend glad tidings in the midst of this world’s worry. However, when I considered the determined attitudes of the sick, their caretakers and their families, I chided myself. “You know, if you really believe what you say you believe…” Then I added, “This is what our lives are about. We live, we love, we fall, we get up and we do it all again. Sometimes, these episodes end with lessons learned and new beginnings. Sometimes, they end with a trip to heaven. Every time, these stories unfold with God at our sides.
This weekend, a pink candle flickers among the purple candles in our parish Advent wreath. Whether we attend Mass in person or watch online, that pink wax pillar announces to us all that this is Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday. Though we’re in the midst of misery as we wait for better things, we’re called to rejoice. The suffering around us who so generously share their stories of triumph and loss inspire us all to wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity to find the joy around us today. The words of the suffering provide the backdrop for the blessings and losses which have brought joy into all of our lives in one way or another. Today’s scripture passages do the same…
In the first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11), Isaiah shares our good fortune with all who will listen. The prophet’s worry had also morphed into hope which eventually evolved into joy. Isaiah knew well that he and all of God’s people were molded by God’s hands and aligned with God’s heart. So it was that Isaiah proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me; God has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” Isaiah understood God’s intent and he preached tirelessly to help all of God’s people to realize the same. In his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), Paul put it quite simply: “Rejoice always!” Finally, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) tells us that John the Baptist repeated Isaiah’s message with unshakable conviction. John knew that what Isaiah foretold would come to fruition in Jesus. Like Isaiah and Paul, John did all he could to convince God’s people of the joy which would eventually overshadow their suffering.
This third week of Advent and the rest of our lives begin today with Joyful Sunday. While those who are ill, their caretakers and families continue their battles, the rest of us pray for them as we deal with our own troubles. Those suffering around us find strength in the hopeful joy within themselves and within their loved ones. On this Joyful Sunday, you and I are invited to do the same. God’s presence in all of our lives remains steadfast and strong. Perhaps the best we can do with what remains of Advent 2020 is to share these glad tidings with those we meet along our way. Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company.
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