Ready to Rejoice?

“Go and tell John what you hear and see”

Thank you for joining as we continue in this time of expectation awaiting the Lord’s return.

Over the last two Sundays we considered the cognates of hope and peace. We learned that we are to live expectantly, as if the party is about to begin, like children on the night before Christmas.

We faithful have hope, confidence and surety in Christ Jesus Who delivers on all God’s promises. He gives us His grace, most especially here at Holy Mass, so we may live out His gospel way. 

Since we know what is to come, and are guaranteed delivery 100%, we are at peace regardless of what surrounds us. Jesus has baptized us in the Spirit, with a fire that burns away fear and anxiety, a fire that frees and releases us to everlasting peace.

Today we are called to rejoice; rejoice, the third Advent theme. We start in carefully distinguishing rejoicing and joy.

For us, joy is our state of existence, wherein we remain unaffected regardless of what is happening around us or even to us. We have joy because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the deliverer of all God’s promises. Joy is not happiness or celebration. Instead, joy is the starting point for a life in which we rejoice.

Rejoicing – that is the expression, the emoting and exuberance flowing from our life of hope, peace, and joy. We rejoice in exultation. We have the best news ever and are shouting, cheering, dancing around, putting our joy out there for all to see. Rejoicing! Our celebration in Jesus gathered as His body and family. Rejoice today!

It may seem odd that joy and rejoicing are expressed in today’s gospel from prison – and a lousy prison where John was held. Consider several things about the tediousness of his existence. He is under that same roof as Herod and Herodias carrying on their immoral relationship. Herod enjoyed questioning and listening to John – so likely had him dragged up day after day as a sort of interesting entertainment – without any effectual change in Herod. Then, well back to the pit he lived in as a prisoner for a year and a half.

We can surmise that among others, John spoke of Jesus, thus Herod after Jesus’ arrest: …for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. …he hoped to see Him perform a sign. Herod still unchanged and unprepared.

John’s heart burned to bring people to repentance. Here he is in seeming frustration, all the mendacity John faced, yet even in prison he looked to His joy, the expected One. He had joy in the promise. He then sent his disciples and got the facts: Jesus is the Messiah. With that news, even in prison, John rejoiced.

In Advent we are called back to a focus on our joy, to fix our hearts on Him and find in Him the exultant rejoicing. Celebrate with exultancy for our joy.

Spread the Word.

So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Good morning, Church! I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Low Sunday. 

Christ. is risen! Church declare: He is risen indeed!

We once again focus in this Easter season on our call to evangelize – to spread the Gospel message and to invite people to know, love, and serve the Lord.

This is a great time to do that – for we are filled with Easter joy, the excitement of the season, the promise of everlasting life made apparent in Jesus, who taking on our human form continuers in that form – yet glorified as we will be when we are resurrected.

But, you know, even the most ardent evangelist, those most deeply committed, and those most filled with Easter joy sometimes run across a problem.

The scene is set for us in the gospel we just heard. Jesus appears to the disciples. HE IS ALIVE – HE IS RIGHT HERE. Can you imagine the energy, the joy and wonder? The Gospel tells us that they rejoiced. In Greek the word is Echarēsan -they were delighted and filled with joy.

Can you imagine being that filled with that joy? This was a joy unlike any other for it filled them with immediate thanksgiving, gratefulness.

Those disciples were on top of the world, literally amid the Kingdom – and then Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. His power is now in them. They were supercharged.

Now it is time to spread the word – the Lord is risen; He is risen indeed! 

The first to receive that proclamation, to be evangelized, was one of their own – Thomas. 

Yep – their own brother would be the first to push back on their joy and to rail against their evangelism. “I will not believe.” he says.

Jesus answered the dilemma for the disciples and showed them the way forward as He does for us. He visits them again and says to Thomas – come and see. Know what it is to meet Me.

And… there is the answer when in our joy we meet that person who doubts, who says they’ll think about it, who says maybe next week or in a month or in a year. We must invite them over again to come and see, to meet the Lord. We need to spread the word of joy, the Echarēsan so that they can know what it is to meet Jesus by meeting His people. Just try it. Come and see. See so that: you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. 

Joy

Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

This Advent we focus on the promises of God. We have provided a handy follow along book of reflections and devotions covering thirty promises of God broken down under the categories of hope, peace, joy, and love. This week we reflect on God’s promise of joy.

Remember that promises from God are things we can absolutely count on. As such, we have absolute and perfect assurance that God’s promise of joy will be fulfilled.

As I began reflecting on this Sunday and its readings and gospel, the song: “I’ve got joy, joy, joy deep in my heart” kept ringing in my ears. Indeed, that is God’s desire for us, that we would have His joy deep within us.

I would be remis if I did not remind myself and all of us that God’s joy, here on earth, is not giddy happiness. It is not the worldly definition of happiness at all. Rather, it is a deep and profound contentment that all is well in my life. Happiness is an emotion while joy is both emotion and state of being.

Joy means I have an assurance, a promise from God that I can face whatever comes with a feeling of good pleasure, inner contentment, and satisfaction because I am in Jesus, because the Holy Spirit dwells with me and guides me through everything.

God is at work in our lives, and He has shown us a way through, especially through trials. If we have placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, there is no question as to our ultimate outcome. We can therefore be joyfully content no matter what.

John came as the Forerunner to preach a message of good news. The Savior, the Messiah, the One Who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire is coming, and we know He is returning. By John’s preaching people came to repentance, a change in their lives that gave them real joy. They were no longer burdened by wrongs they committed, and they were refreshed. They could approach life joyfully.

So too we. Our Advent guide points out, we have (1) Each Day as a Gift, (2) A God Who Gave His Life for Me, (3) Salvation, (4) A God Who Delights in Me, (5) An Approachable God Who Listens, (6) A Choice of Joy Amidst Trials, and (7) God’s Trustworthy Promise. We can live joyful lives in all these promises.

We are called to the knowledge that God is indeed with us. He is present in our everyday lives. He is accessible and open to us. In any circumstance or situation, we can accept comfort and peace, contentment – that is: joy from God.

Paul re-reminds us: The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all. Let us then go forth with joy, joy, joy, deep in our hearts. 

Be not afraid!

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”

So far in Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We have been focusing on the various Lenten disciplines, the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. These disciplines help us become more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

The subjects of fasting, sacrifice or giving, and study have been covered thus far. Next week we resume with the consideration of prayer and proclamation.

Our Holy Church pauses today to celebrate. We sense it because today we hear the Gloria and the Alleluia. Lenten purple is put away for this moment and is replaced by joyous white.

We celebrate because this Sunday, one-hundred and twenty-four years ago, a group of oppressed immigrants, people treated disrespectfully by oppressors in their home countries, right here in the United States, and even by their church, people thought little of by their neighbors, took the lessons learned from the Lenten disciplines they faithfully practiced and put them to action. 

This Sunday what they learned from fasting, sacrifice, study, prayer, and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, humanity’s Emancipator, bore fruit. They found themselves the branches of the true Vine – alive in Christ. They found themselves freed of the dead old branch pruned away because of its corruption, pruned away because it heeded deceitful spirits and followed men with seared consciences.

These heroic people stood on the side of Jesus and just as proclaimed in Wisdom, He, the Just One, confronted their oppressors with great confidence. Those oppressors stood there in awe and they still do today.

As with every true Christian. from the time of the Acts Church. those faith filled immigrant heroes stood up without fear. They heard Jesus say, Fear not little flock. They inherited and have passed on to us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

We have Christ Jesus. We are His branches. His Father strengthens us and fills us with His good grace. We can face any fear and no longer be debilitated by it. The tender love of God has freed us from terror, from being held down, and from slavery to the opinions of those who do not know the Lord. A disciplined life strengthens us for this. Faithful trust is the fruit of the reform necessary in our lives and the world. Today we celebrate those who trusted and say with them:  In You O Lord I place my trust. Boże, do Ciebie się uciekam!

Joy!

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.

In the first week of Advent, we focused on hope; our very own kingdom task of offering hope to those we encounter. In the second week of Advent we focused on peace, both personal peace and being peace to those we encounter.

In this third week of Advent we focus on joy and rejoicing. Rejoice, the Lord is near! In reflecting on joy and rejoicing we recognize that we are asked to be bringers of joy and rejoicing. St. Paul also instructs us – Do not quench the Spirit. 

Something that rang true for most of us last week was recalling the difference between someone who walks into a room and, well, removes all peace and the person who walks in and we say, ahhhh, I feel at ease now.

Now imagine another person walks in, on fire with the Spirit. They open our eyes to possibilities and fill us with a share of that same Spirit. We feel uplifted, energized, filled with joy, and are ready to go forward with rejoicing. On the other hand, imagine that other person walking in – the quencher, the negative person who sees no joy, who refuses to allow the inspiration of the Sprit in, and wants to ensure no one else does either.

As the faithful we must be careful to be promoters and bringers of joy, to recognize where the Spirit in moving amongst us, where God is among us. Where – Emmanuel – is acting to move us forward.

Indeed, we are bearers of a joyous message – Jesus has saved us and is available to each and every person. The Holy Spirit has infused us with life and His great gifts of praise, song, wisdom, and voices that along with John can proclaim, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”

What a wonderful message of joyous anticipation – the very heart of Advent, Jesus is near, He is ready to meet you as He has met me. Proclaim that the Spirit is in us and work to bear God’s joy by making the Lord’s way straight, by filling in where people are low and easing the jagged edges in the lives of those we know.

John was confronted by the joy removers, the naysayers, the quenchers. John bore a message of joy, the forgiveness of sin and the opportunity, soon upon the people around him, to meet the Savior, the Messiah Who now lives among us. John’s joy filled message in response to the Pharisees and Levites still rings true – in our age perhaps even more than in the Israel of John’s time – “there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” Wake up and recognize Him. Meet Him and be filled with joy.

To have the fulness of joy, to look forward, no matter what is going on about us, with joy, is to have Jesus alive in us, the Holy Spirit moving within us, and to share the message – Rejoice! 

For what
reason?

For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

In this week’s Gospel we hear Jesus putting it all out there, laying it on the line. He will not offer us a placid earth, but rather one that has a cost if we hold to His truth and way. For what reason would we accept this cost?

When Jesus preaches all the truth, we get afraid. We really do not want to admit that the hard stuff is necessary. We prefer the soft Jesus of Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. We like the Jesus of peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. He is certainly that, but that has a cost. The cost of access to Him is living faith. The fruit of faith is a new life cleansed of binds that restrict and limit us; that keep us away from real joy, even if that is others. The life of faith gives us new and perfect reason to face every challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division. Will we accept that cost?

Today we encounter the warrior Jesus. The “fire” He brings is the cleansing fire that washes us of constraints, the things that keep us back from living a life of complete faith. His fire refines us and makes us ready to witness. Paul tells us that Jesus gave His all for the sake of the joy that lay before Him. We have the promise of that joy, not something less. Is that joy sufficient reason to face challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division?

If we reason it out, the choices we have to make every day, spreading the gospel, issuing the invitation, stating the truth of the gospel, admitting that there are limits, boundaries, thoughts, words, actions, and philosophies not in accordance with God’s way is both a path to conflict and to joy. To say Jesus is the way, truth, and life will surely turn some off, yet brings us joy. 

Being all-in with Jesus, living His way, proclaiming his word – the right way – has the assurance of everlasting joy. It is the joy of heavenly peace, God’s assurance, life in the Body of Christ, and the joy of being coheirs to victory.

Jesus won His and our joy on the cross. For what reason would we do, speak, and act. For what reason must we endure, abide, and face all things? For genuine joy!

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Two weeks ago we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord, our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out. Last week we took that message a step further. When we are plugged in and prepared we are able to step out into the world announce the kingdom, calling sinners to a renewed and joyful life. Plugged in people have God’s true joy, a joy that doesn’t leave us.

The faithful, truly plugged in and ready for the Lord’s return, filled with joy, have a unique gift. It is the gift of hope bringing awareness.

Awareness is a unique gift. It is a gift that implies knowledge and insight giving us hope. Look at the awareness and hope evident in today’s readings and Gospel.

Zephaniah was a prophet living in very dark times. Most of his message was dark. People had closed their hearts and minds to an awareness of God. They unplugged, and lived in unjust and abusive times. They pursued what they thought would buy them happiness. Zephaniah spoke of devastation and death, Divine judgment on the “day of the Lord.” Yet, in his plugged-in-ness, Zephaniah stayed aware – This is not the real end. He acclaims with great hope: Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult, the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Similarly, St. Paul reminds us that our awareness leads to the same joy and that joy provides us with steadfast hope. He says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.

John went out with joy and hope. Because of that, he did amazing things. He provided sinners with a taste of that hope and joy, the removal of anxiety, freedom from desolation in promise of the Messiah Who was on the horizon.

The promise of Jesus is on the horizon. Set aside anxiety. See the peace and hope that is ours, not just on Sunday, or in Advent, or in the coming of Christmas, but everyday, every moment. Let us stay hopefully aware, on top of Jesus’ closeness. He is near!

Checked in and
joyful.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Last week, we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord. Our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out.

If indeed we plugged in and walked in the path of readiness, something wonderful happened. I know I felt it.

It was a long week for me. I left on Tuesday morning for San Diego. Everyone encouraged me, Oh, you’ll have fun, its sunny and warm. Well after about six hours of traveling, I arrived to a setting sun. Not as warm as I expected, but I packed wisely, just in case. Two days of rain and flooding later, it got sunny and warm, just as I entered the airport for the trip home on Friday.

I knew I’d be home late – actually early Saturday morning. I’d be exhausted. As you might imagine, traveling is no joy in this day and age. My trip had its share of what normally would be annoyances. There were a few additional things that go thrown on my plate mid-week as well. But something was different. Expecting Jesus really changed my days and turned annoyances into moments of prayer. Jesus turned times of dread into opportunities. I am so thankful.

Dreading being alone, eating alone, away from friends and family – a brother priest happened to be in the same city at the same time. Neither of us had to be alone. The person snoring on the plane, directly across the aisle from me, for three hours? I had the chance to pray for that person, for healing and better health. There were other moments like that too.

Like the Israelites returning to the Promised Land, we who are checked in and preparing are able to hold our heads high, to march forward with joy knowing the Lord has us in the palm of His hand; is protecting and guiding us.

Like John the Baptist, we are taking charge and doing God’s work with joy. In many ways we announce the kingdom, call sinners to a renewed and joyful life, and heal hurt. Even when the work is hard, and we are down to our last few locusts for dinner, the light of true joy doesn’t leave us.

Taking up the
yoke.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

These scriptures for Ordinary Time speak to where we are and urge us to deeper spiritual formation, authentic responses to God’s call in the midst of our challenges, and to a renewed commitment to evangelism.

Today we hear Jesus invite us to come to Him and find rest. He asks us to take up His yoke for it is easy and light.

As a young person, this verse confused me a little. Why would one come for rest only to take up a yoke? It seemed ironic at best to lay down one’s burdens just to take up another. What could this mean?

Jesus’ invitation is indeed for those who labor and are burdened down. The Greek words in original scripture speak of labor and burden as grinding toil and desperate burden. Desperate burden is that kind of weight that creates on-going weariness. It is seemingly inescapable.

As we reflect back on the lives of people at the time Jesus walked the earth we might imagine some of the burdens they carried. They had to turn over nearly everything they had to corrupt tax collectors. They had to scrape for a bit of oil and wheat to make some bread, maybe a bit of weak wine on a special occasion? On top of that there were the requirements of the old Law. Sacrifices had to be made for sin. Rules had to be obeyed diligently, often for no better reason then they were made requirements by religious leaders who enriched themselves.

Jesus invites these weary people to come to Him – He would give them true rest. The Greek word for “rest” used here suggests renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t promise that burdens will go away. It does not promise that people who receive this renewal and refreshment will never be weary again. Rather, their lives will be changed to such an extent that toil and burdens will pale in comparison to the glory they will receive.

Jesus’ invites the desperately weary to take up a new yoke – new life that brings joy – not weariness. As understood in Jewish culture, this yoke was beautiful submission and obedience to God. Jesus’ invitation was to know joy and freedom by following His path.

We too were once called to come to Jesus, to take up His yoke – to become His disciples. Perhaps some are called out of their burdens today. Inescapable weariness didn’t disappear in the year 100, 1,000, 1980, or 2016. What has changed is that we have the opportunity to say yes to a light and beautiful burden that destroys grinding toil and desperation. Take up His yoke, throw down burden, find joy.

Still on the on-time newsletter streak. How many months is it?

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Summer is about preparation. Going on a picnic? Having a barbecue? Friends coming over to sit on the deck or hit the pool? Heading off to the beach or on vacation? Going on a summer walk?
We gather food, charcoal (if you are old school like me), sunblock, bug spray, our more colorful clothes (I’m getting my Hawaiian shirts ready). Summer joy is about two things – preparation for joy and getting to that place where we can be joyful. This summer let us reflect on our spiritual preparedness and to focus on what that preparedness will bring for us – true and eternal joy. This summer, as we gather food, let us reflect on the food of everlasting life – in Word and Communion. As we put on sunblock, let us block the evils that challenge our faith. As we spray away the bugs, let us push away the things that sting our soul. And, prepare that colorful garment for the joys of the kingdom.

Also in our newsletter, prayers for Orlando, a huge thanks to the Matsiko Orphan Choir, a Year of Reverence update, a happy summer to our youth – we are off to Kurs and Convo, our parish and community picnic on the church grounds on Sunday, August 21st, and special thanks to all those who pitched in at PolishFest. So much more too…

You may view and download a copy of our July 2016 Newsletter right here.