Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2011 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins
The Spirit of Joy
Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."
This third Sunday of Advent invites us to rejoice. We rejoice because Christ is near. Very soon we will follow the Holy Family as they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And before you know it, today's joy will erupt into a heavenly crescendo of tidings of great joy and an invocation of peace to all of good will.
Joy is listed as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit by St. Paul. (Galations 5:22) Mary's joy is revealed in her spontaneous praise for the gift she carries within her womb: "For he who is mighty has done great things for me." It is this holy gift in the Virgin's womb which inspires in each of us this morning the Spirit's joy. Even the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped in her when the voice of Mary's greeting was heard.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose is poetic and romantic; however, the Magnificat is about a divine romance and joy. Christian joy is not fickle or even dictated by one's circumstances or emotions. The joy of the Lord comes to us from the heart of the Holy Trinity carrying with it the indescribable mystery from which it comes. This is why John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb. It is the reason we 'lift up our hearts' in worship this morning. The mystery of our faith helps us to look Godward. Our journey through Advent brings us to contemplate the Word made flesh and the Word descending from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel when time shall be no more. This joy is ours to lift us up to where we belong - seated together with Christ in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:6)
Yet some will become Scrooge like and say with exasperation, "Bah! Humbug! Cynicism suggests that all of this joy about Jesus is misplaced. That Jesus is a fraud. That Mary and Joseph are impostors. That all of this 'peace on earth' and 'tidings of great joy' is gibberish and nonsense. Scrooge needed the visits of the three spirits of Christmas - Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come to overcome his cynical view of the great day called Christmas. We need an infusion of the Holy Spirit to inspire in us a spirit of praise and joy for Christ - to help us to keep Christ in Christmas and help us to honor the Christ of Christmas and keep him first all the year!
We need the same Spirit that hovered over Mary and incarnated Jesus in her womb - the Savior of the world. This same Spirit hovered over the great abyss of earth and mediated the gracious creation we today call home. It is this Spirit we need to awaken in us the unfathomable riches of our inheritance. Mary proclaimed that he who is mighty had done great things for her and God wants to do great things for you and me as Pope Benedict stated recently.
So today we don't embrace the scowl of the naysayers. We won't quench the Spirt nor despise the anointed preaching of God's word to us today at Mass. We will not forsake coming together as the people of God. Nor will we neglect to prepare our hearts to receive him who loves us. In everything and at every opportunity we will give thanks and rejoice always and never give up praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
Paul and Silas are examples of this tenacity of faith and spirit of joy. They were imprisoned for delivering a slave girl of a spirit of divination in the name of Jesus. Her owners, now deprived of a source for their income brought charges against these godly men. What were these trumped up charges? Paul and Silas were arrested for advocating 'customs not lawful for Romans to accept or practice.' Does anyone else see political correctness in this? (Acts 16:16-21) Taken into custody, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and incarcerated with their feet placed in stocks.
At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns while the other prisoners listened. And suddenly there was a great earthquake that shook the doors of the prison open and every prisoner's feet were set free from their stocks. That's the fruit of joy - the reality of the divine romance - a love and grace poured out in the darkest hours of their ordeal. Peter wrote about this kind of sustaining joy. Writing to early followers of Christ he said, "Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." (1 Peter 1:8)
In today's Gospel John the Baptist explains that there is 'one among you whom you do not recognize.' It is this Jesus we seek to reveal in our lives and in our conduct and in the words we speak. The joy of the Lord enables us to be the very face of Jesus in a time that does not always recognize him.
Today we come to renew our deep and divine romance with Jesus our Lord. And like John the Baptist who said, "I am not worthy to untie his sandal straps," we will say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." And Jesus will say, "Enter into the joy of your Master. All things are ready. Come and dine." Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com