It is my last day here today. The time has gone fast. I remember my first sermon two years ago. I was very nervous, my voice was shaky and my body was very trembling. After two years practise, my confidence has been raised and I can say I enjoy preaching. Thank you so much, brothers and sisters. Without your support, I could never have gone that far.
Today is the third Sunday of the Advent, that is called Gaudete Sunday in our Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition. That means Rejoice Sunday. Gaudete is a command. It means act, do something, rejoice. Our readings today display to us all sorts of hints as to what makes us joyful and How we find joy.
A few months ago, my spiritual director asked me if I spontaneously associate God with joy. I said well, not me. She said frankly that’s a real shame. When I prepared this Sunday preaching, I started to understand my spiritual director’s comment. God’s whole business is joy. God’s whole life is joy. God is a Trinity of persons. The father empties Himself in love with the Son. And the Son empties himself in love with the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love shared by the Father and the Son. God shows us a pattern of joy in this great act of letting go of oneself. God shows us how to be a community of joy. So, if God, in three persons, is a community of joy, then why did God need to create us? Because God creates out of the sheer intensity of His joy. It is God’s joy that bubbles over. A theologian in the early Church said when we are in good mood, we bubble over. In joy we want to express ourselves, we want to tell people about it. God is always in this bubbling joyful state of being. And all the creation, insects and plants, trees and animals, human beings, stars and moon, distance galaxies, the whole expanse of the universe, every bit of it, is a result of divine JOY.
God is joy and the world is outpouring of divine joy. You know Jesus could not be clearer. “I came that you might have life and have it to the full. I have come that you might experience my joy and experience it to the full”. Jesus spoke these great words at last supper. Jesus came not primarily to give us the law, not primarily to judge us, not primarily to do anything but to give us joy. That is what Christianity is about and when we forget that, we forget the essential element in Christianity. The minute we put anything other than joy at the centre of Christian life we mis`interpret.
Rejoice, Gaudete. God wants us to be happy. But if He wants us to be happy, then why He give us laws and obligations? Do these things have a place? Yes, indeed. They serve joy. They are for the purpose of joy. Gaudete Sunday. This is what it’s about.
So What can we find out from the readings? What hints do they give us about joy?
In our gospel, John the Baptist says, “I baptised you in water, but there is one to come, who is mightier than I, I am not fit to loose his sandal’s strap. He will baptise you in the Holy Spirit and fire”. That is our first hint. Christ’s purpose is to baptise us in the Holy Spirit. Christ come is to dip us into the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The love between the Father and the Son. That is to say the intense joy shared by the Father and the Son. And that’s what Jesus comes to do, to dip us into that Holy spirit. That is what baptism into the Holy Spirit means. Let God live in us in such a way, that we experience that very joy which is the inner life of God. John spoke of baptising in the Holy Spirit and also in FIRE. Fire, passion, enthusiasm, purpose. Joyful people are those who have purpose, Purposeful people are those who are joyful. Those two go together. When the Holy Spirit is in us, we know what to do. We know where to go. Our lives are on fire. That is what Jesus has come to do, not to judge us, not to impose a moral law on us. Jesus came to immerse us in the Holy Spirit.
What else can we find in the readings? John says Jesus’ winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. You might say this sounds pretty sad news. No, I see it differently. It is great news. Why? When Christ is in our lives, He will separate out all the evil, dark, and dysfunction in us. When we allow Christ to work in us, then our hatred, violence, selfishness, self-absorption, our division, all that, Christ will throw up into the air, so they can be burn up. Brothers and sisters, this is very good news, isn’t it? When Jesus lives in us, this is the transformation that happens, and it gives us JOY.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is where we get Gaudete Sunday from. Paul says Rejoice in the Lord always. Joy is something we can be commanded to experience. What do I mean? Well, it is like an action. If we just sit around waiting passively, for something to make us joyful. We are not going to be joyful. Joy is something we can be ordered to do. Listen to Paul’s next line: “everyone should see how unselfish you are”. Now, being unselfish and being joyful may not seem to go together to us. Let me give you an example. Since I got married two yeas ago, my lovely wife has never stopped telling me how self-centred I am. I am grateful she has no intention to report this to my Bishop. Paul is giving us a clue about joyfulness here. God is joy because God is community of unselfish love. These two things, self-less and joy go hand in hand.
Paul reminds us that We are joyful in the measure that we forget about ourselves and look to the other in love. It is not that complicated. Hard to do, Yes, it is, for we are sinners. But it is not that complicated to describe. Mother Teresa gave us a hint. She says When she finds herself depressed, or restless, she performs a simple act of love. What is love? It is willing the good of the other. It is simple. A simple act of caring for someone around us. We are surrounded by people who we can love, people who need us in some way. So again, when we find ourselves, depressed, hopeless, and desperate, act, act in a self-less way, then everyone sees how unselfish we are, and that’s where joy comes from. Brothers and sisters, There is no other way we can find joy.
Ok, Paul goes on in his letter. He says “dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer, and in petitions full of gratitude”. Jesus says Perfect love casts out all fear. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite love is fear. Where does anxiety come from? Anxiety comes from the delusion that we are in charge of our own lives — I have got to make things right, I have got to determine how things go. No, dismiss anxiety from our minds. When we hand our lives in love over to God, and we say, lord, you are the lord of our lives. Let us present our needs to God in every form of prayer, and in petitions full of gratitude. What does God want us to do? He wants us to ask him. Lord, guide me. Lord, give me direction. Lord, show me the path. God wants us to turn our lives away from our own obsessions and our own anxieties, and to turn to Him. All the Saints, at some stage said “my life is not about me, it is about God, and I am going to let God run my life”. When we reach that moment, we will find joy.
Let us pray: Heavenly father, what makes you happy? When we find your joy this makes you happy. And dear father, your joy is for us to share your life. So this third Advent Sunday, Gaudete, rejoice.