Sunday, December 11, 2011
No one can rejoice without singing. You just don't do it. Songs encapsulate feelings that cannot be put into words. Songs bring to mind memories of life's special events. Songs act like earworms - the tune lingers in our mind as it replays itself over and over informing our unconscious and bringing greater meaning through a simple melody that captivates our attention. We remember songs and they are meant to be repeated again and again. My liturgy professor in theology studies told us to choose songs well because no one goes home humming the homily. Songs keeps our joyful souls light.
Rejoicing pervades the readings this week as the church is encouraging the faithful to persevere in their waiting and to mark that we are more than halfway through the Advent season. The pink robes and candles amidst the serious purple ones convey that something special in our celebration is about to quicken. In the Responsorial, Mary sings her song of praise to God for choosing her to be the Lord's mother. Isaiah rejoices in God for the steadfast protection God has given the people, Israel. He gushes that "the Spirit of the Lord is upon" him as the one anointed to bring news of healing, liberation, and a jubilee year of favor. This is the same reading Jesus uses at the beginning of his public ministry in Luke.
Paul insists upon our praying always and giving thanks in all situations because we can find God's will in all spheres of life. He recommends that we adopt an attitude of openness to all that is good by testing all things because good can be found in everything. Good is found in the secular culture surrounding us. He tells them to hold onto the life-giving, creative, fruit-producing deeds because God's will is operative in them. Paul says that the God of peace will sustain you and will help you accomplish it. And he prefaces it by saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: rejoice."
The Gospel informs us of the grand transition that is taking place. John the Baptist, the evangelizing prophet who many originally thought was stronger in power and words than Jesus, tells the priests and Levites that he is not the one who is to come. His negatives are firm and powerful: I am not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the great Prophet, nor the one you seek. His affirmative statement is gentle. I am a necessary precursor to the Messiah, a piece of the puzzle. He is the voice (not the word) of one crying in the desert. He is announcing that the Old Testament hopes are being fulfilled in the present time. The joy is in waiting for the unfolding of all the imagination-provoking events that God is choosing to live among us. If the priests have ears to hear, then their hearts can only be joyful because God is remaining true to his promises.
It is easy to pick on the religious leaders of the day, but we have to give the priests some leeway here. While their line of questioning is direct, they sincerely want to know the source of John's power. Their question, "Who are you?" is loaded. Rather than sounding accusatory, they want to know if they are to believe in God's unfolding power too.
They will later ask Jesus the same questions: "What is the source and power of your authority? You seem to have a special connection to God. Are you the one for whom all of Israel seeks?" In other words, they are saying, "As priests and Levites who are legitimately ordained to God and responsible for the welfare of the souls of our congregations, we want to know how we are to respond. We want to believe because all of this is incredible and we have been appointed by God. As upholders of the tradition, we want to know it we are included in God's plan?"
The priests come as we do - they want to know more about the fascinating person before them. They are curious about John and his urgent message. Every friendship begins with curiosity, intrigue, and fascination about the other person. They want to befriend this person named John because he is pointing them to a reality about God that they sincerely want to comprehend.
John's answer is enough to leave them with hope or fear. We have a choice about how to respond. We can resist the in-breaking plan of God and deal with the consequences of fear and loss, or we can stop and hope and wonder. Too much of our world is ruled by fear. Fear is not faith. We resist change and the unknown and we don't want our world to be radically changed because it is all we know. We are adverse to taking risks and we close ourselves off to life's possibilities and the wonder of newness. In this way, we act like the priests in the Gospels.
However, we can live in openness to new things that might shake our lives to the very depths, but they wake us up to the truth of ourselves. We may not know the road where things are going, but that is what makes it an exciting adventure. We instinctively say no to many invitations to events and friendships. We need to learn to say 'yes' more often and let the future unfold in unimagined ways. We also reserve the right to choose because we live in freedom. Saying 'yes' to unforeseen possibilities make our exploding hearts rejoice because we realize the goodwill and good fortune God holds out for us. Saying yes makes us inwardly free, so that in openness to God, we may find true freedom, true life, genuine and lasting joy.
John the Baptist's answer leaves many expecting the Messiah to present himself soon. He tips his hat to them and says the Messiah is already among them, but he doesn't tell them where to look. The answer is in the "how." How are we going to evaluate the good that is happening around us? We pay attention to the subtle differences in style and look only for that which is good. We have to learn to read the signs of the times and be open to the marvels that follows. It makes our souls sing we hope once again that God truly desires to be at work in our lives. We wait in hope that God does not forget our sorrows and struggles.
If we listen not only in the silence but in the stillness, we can hear the voice of the Savior saying: "I created and regenerated you. I set you free. I healed you. I redeemed you. I will give you life that is unending, eternal, and supernatural - and meaningful. I will show you what you most want - I will show you the face of God."
May you spend the rest of your Advent season allowing God to look upon you as you gaze upon God. Let God tell you, "I want you. I want to look at your beautiful face. I want to honor you and be amazed at who you have become. I just want to spend time with you, my beloved."
Then notice which song is in your ear this Advent. Sing it often and sing it to God - even if it is a commercialized Christmas song. Something fundamental is speaking to you. Tell God all about it. May your soul have room for hope and stillness. It will give your soul room to rejoice.