Are You Missing Out? Week 3: Joy

(Homily for Third Sunday of Advent Year C)

Message: While we can only do small acts of justice, we can do a lot to open our hearts to joy.

I begin with a reminder: Our Advent homilies have this theme - Are you missing out? The first week we heard Jesus' warning: that by distraction and drowsiness we can miss the most important event, what really matter - the salvation Jesus brings us by his Passion. A word closely related to salvation is mercy. Last week we talked about not missing that great gift. And we saw that we cannot have his mercy apart from justice.

This week we focus on the fruit of mercy and justice, namely, joy. Mercy clearly brings joy, but what about justice? Many people have a hart time experiencing joy because life is unfair. I'll start with a humorous example. My older brother has a full head of wavy hair. I went bald when I was twenty! People assume he is younger than me. Even though he's in his seventies - and happily married - women flock to him. Life is unfair!

My example was humorous. Other injustices are no laughing matter. They can break your heart and even break your spirit - for example, when a deadly disease afflicts a young person. Who can have joy in the face of such tragedies? They strike one family and not another.

Nature - or God - seems unfair. Perhaps even worse than those natural injustices are the ones we inflict on each other. Last week I gave the examples of Auschwitz, domestic cruelty and abuse of authority by police or others in positions of power. Sometimes I can start brooding about unjust treatment - or unfair, hurtful words - and I how I want to set the record straight. Such futile brooding robs me of joy.

What is the answer? The Bible gives two steps. First, what St. Paul says: Don't pay back injury with injury, but remember what God says, "Justice is mine." (Rom 13:19) John the Baptist tells us today that God will sort things out. He describes the winnowing fan which separates wheat from chaff. The good he keeps, the worthless he burns. So, leave final justice in God's hand.

This does not mean we do nothing to combat injustice. On the contrary, our hope for final justice strengthens us to work for fairness. Remember the poor box in Jerusalem - it has the word "justice" written on it. In the Bible justice means to restore right relationships. Our Stewardship of Time, Talent and Treasure advances justice.

I mentioned last week that the word justice appears 157 times in the Bible. Joy is more frequent - 201 times. That does not include words related to joy such as "rejoice" (261 times). We can only do so much to bring justice into the world but we can do a lot to bring joy into our hearts. St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice!" Paul is not making a suggestion but a command: Rejoice! Rejoice always!

And the prophet Zephaniah says, "Sing joyfully, O Israel." Do you have a joyful song in in your heart. For me it is this: "My life goes on in endless song above earth's lamentations, I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation." One of my nieces sang it at a funeral and her voice stays with me. Sometimes when I am alone I will sing that verse to myself. It's one of our hymns I particularly love. I hope there is one or more for you, especially as we near Jesus' birth. Sing joyfully, O Israel!

So, yes, life is unfair. Painfully and incomprehensibly unfair. And we do live in a world of cruelty and injustice that only God can set right. While we can only do small acts of justice, we can do a lot to open our hearts to joy. Next week we will see the great model of joy. For today I urge you not to miss out. We may even take the refrain of our Psalm: "Cry out with joy and gladness for among you is the great and holy one of Israel." Amen.

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Spanish Version

Plan for this series:

November 29: Are You Missing Out? Week 1: Jesus Warning
December 6: Are You Missing Out? Week 2: Mercy with Justice
December 13: Are You Missing Out? Week 3: Joy
December 20: Are You Missing Out? Week 4:

From Archives (Homily for Third Sunday of Advent, Year C):

2012: What Should We Do?
2009: Joy as a Duty
2006: To Be a Happier Priest
2003: Profile in Courage
2000: A Priest's Examination of Conscience
1997: Rejoice Always!

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