Brothers and sisters:On this, the Third Sunday of Advent, the apostle Paul issues us a challenge to be joyful and prayerful - in all circumstances. That, frankly, can be difficult as the holidays approach - especially for those who grieve.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes: 16-17)
Many of you know that two and a half years ago, I lost the most significant person in my life. I am, however, not the only one. Many people have experienced deep and painful loss and face the coming of Christmas with some degree of depression. A time of year that is traditionally focused on family, love, and being with people we care about, can only tap into memories and regrets about the person or persons who are no longer with us. For people of faith who grieve, this time of year can be particularly painful, because the relationship with God may be somewhat conflicted. In the larger context, I believe we live in a world where many people are not only unhappy, they have forgotten, or perhaps seldom, if ever, experienced true joy.
There is a real difference between happiness and joy. One is temporal and temporary, the other runs deeper. A person can, I have found, be unhappy about the circumstances of life, but still have an underlying sense of joy that stems from something deeper. For me, that is from knowing that even if I find it hard to trust God after my experience of great loss, I know instinctively that God has never truly abandoned me and is simply waiting for me to sort it all out.
For people of a secular bent who have little or no sense of the presence of God, superficial, temporary happiness based in possessions (which can be lost) and people (who may either fail us or die) may be all there is. Those who do not have an experience of the love of God, if they lose someone or something significant, have only themselves and their relationships with others to rely on. All of those things are fallible. As Teresa of Avila said: "God alone is enough."
The readings today call us to pray anyway - to pull ourselves out of ourselves and look ahead to the coming of one who is greater than we are and to have faith that in the end, everything will indeed be alright. Only that kind of faith can bring true joy. In the meantime, we are called to hope. Here are two songs, appropriate for this Sunday that for me express this perfectly: