Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yes, we can still rejoice.

We started our observance of a blessed Advent with a theme that is sometimes referred to by others as “fearful expectations”. Those of you who were at church on the First Sunday of Advent heard from the appointed Readings some graphic descriptions of what that End of Time might look like.

Consequently, our initial mood for the season was penitential, more so because we had the opportunity to see where we “stand” when that day of reckoning shall have taken place. With so much brokenness surfacing in our faith journeys and a deep longing for their restoration, our inclination towards a penitential stance seems very apropos.

To make further emphasis on this said stance, the former color of purple helped us acquire such penitential character but because it appeared so similar to Lenten observance, there was a shift to the color blue and has now become the new color reserved for Advent.

Thus, in the past two Sundays and along with the theme of Christ’s Second Coming, our liturgical color was the Advent blue, but today, that has been replaced with yet another color, the color rose, or at least a semblance of it.

This Third Sunday of Advent is popularly referred to as Rose Sunday and I had all the intention to use the Rose-colored chasuble but when I tried it on, I said: “I really could settle for yet another color!” So here at Ascension Church, what you’d see may not be rose-colored vestments and furnishings but they, I think, come close enough. The intention is to help us shift the mood to JOY. Besides, the lovely pink roses by the altar and the rose-colored Candle of Joy appear as inducements for the expected shift in emphasis that is referred to by others as “joyful expectation”.

As you see, Advent begins with the emphasis on the eschatological character of Christ’s Second Coming, then shifts to Christ’s First Coming with the character named John the Baptist and then makes further shift to the Nativity Story with added emphasis on the shift from a penitential mood to a joyous one. So on this Rose Sunday, we’re given some kind of a break and an opportunity to use this time to think of something we should be joyful for.

And that brings us to that juncture of finding out whether we can realistically engage ourselves in a joyful or joyous mindset and state of being. Could we do that or not?

The Advent Candles of Hope, Peace and Joy might help us a bit in finding some answers to the question of whether or not we can be joyful. Anyone who had gone through some brokenness in their lives; anyone whose life had been “shattered” or their world turned upside down could understand what it means to “hope” and search for “peace” in finding their resolve. But to be joyful? Could we really get to that “rosy feeling” suggested to us today? Perhaps a few but I’m pretty sure not all of us.

The truth is that some of us still carry on our back virtual blocks of brick resulting from any of those long list of heart-breaking life circumstances. For some, it could be the unforeseen termination of employment. For others, it could have resulted from the persistence of dysfunctions in their family; or from a relentless assault of chronic illness, or death of a loved one, or any of those rough edges that have become almost like part of their daily routine.

Hence, to those who might be in this scheme of things, today might not be too appealing to be considered as the “Sunday of Joy”. And that makes sense, although, such invitation to “rejoice”, as Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians would put it, is what we, Christians, are urged do today, in the face of life’s not-so-rosy reality.

So, I’d like us to try to focus on that word “joy” and let us give ourselves that opportunity to feel what God has to say to us, especially as we are drawing near the celebration of our Lord’s nativity.

Let us try to revisit the story behind what Psalmist in the appointed Psalm for today, Psalm 126, has to say. Psalm 126 alludes to the relationship between God and the people of Israel as the latter faced a desperate situation. Their nation entered one of their saddest times in their history. They were conquered by the great Babylonian Army and sent to exile. It was an experience that Israel would never forget!

There are recent events around the globe that might resemble this predicament, some of which I made reference to it last Sunday when I wrote about contemporary renditions of “wilderness” or “Midvar”.

Hence, compared to the hardships, dangers and losses faced by a nation such as Israel, our own daily aggravations in life actually look relatively lighter. The roads before us might be “rough and rugged” but nothing compared to what Israel had endured! They thought Yahweh had totally forsaken them; they thought they had been punished and abandoned by God. But Yahweh did not. Psalm 126 is about God reminding them He has not forsaken them; that in fact, He remembered them.

The opening verses of Psalm 126 say: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy”. (Psalm 126:1-2)

Israel thought that the reversal of their lot was too good to be true; that it can’t be real; that it was like a dream. But it was not. Their exile was over! They were able to return to their own homeland and rebuild their future.

My good friends in Christ, God remembers us, as well. As we think of the Candle of Joy, we come to a realization that although we have our own “captivity” to endure and those virtual blocks of brick to carry, the good news is that God remembers us; all of us; restoring the “fortunes” we thought have eluded us for good.

Amidst the difficulties and hardships you may go through – in the midst of your loss, your dysfunction, your illness, your frailty – in the midst of all these, God remembers you. To paraphrase what St. Paul tells us in our Epistle for today, that should be more than enough reason for us to “rejoice -always, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances”. In other words, we could still “rejoice” while the lights in our faith journey may flicker on and off; that we need not think of them as reflection of God’s seeming absence.

No. God remembers us and He has indeed remembered His Creation. In the fullness of time, He sent His only begotten Son to be with His people, that through him we all may be one with the Father.

As we then move much closer to the celebration of that moment when “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” may our preparation include a time for rejoicing, knowing that God never fails us; that He remembers us and that in the end, our “fortunes” – His bountiful love and goodness, will soon be restored.

Yes, we can still “rejoice.

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