In Advent, we rejoice in knowing that the Lord is to come. We anticipate the gift of Christmas, the gift of a Savior, and the gift of Jesus who also models for us what it is to live a good human life. All the readings for today emphasize joy. Joy, however, is not something that we create for ourselves directly. I cannot simply wake up in the morning and decide, “Let me feel joy right now!” Joy is a gift, often a result of God’s grace. But we can do much to PREPARE for the joy that God gives us, and the readings today are full of good advice on how to prepare for joy.
In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the joy of God’s bringing justice and healing to Israel and to all the nations. The prophet focuses on the joy he feels in being the Lord’s anointed one, but the emphasis is less on his own status than on those whom he knows will experience goodness as a result: the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives. This passage in Isaiah is the same one that Jesus reads aloud in the Gospel according to Luke, and it sums up well Luke’s understanding of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Jesus came to set captives free, and to bring freedom also to those captivated by sin. Jesus came to feed bread to those who were poor, and to welcome to the table so that all of God’s children can eat side by side as brothers and sisters. Jesus came to heal the broken hearted, so that they could be reconciled and rejoice in the goodness of God’s gifts for all.
The author of Luke was also the author of Acts, and in Acts, it is not only Jesus but also we who are called to live out this mission. We are the recipients of freedom, healing, and having our human poverty met with kindness. We are also potentially its givers and in giving we find joy in the relationships we develop with those whom we meet on the way. So Isaiah’s advice–and Jesus’s advice is–be a healing presence in the world, feed the hungry, minister to those in need, help free people up wherever you can, and there will be a lot of joy for you along the way.
The second reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians gives even more practical advice to the Christian community: Pray without ceasing. Be grateful, no matter what else is happening. Don’t ever shut down what might be coming from the Holy Spirit. Test whatever you think might be from God, inspired by the spirit or prophetic, and hold fast to only whatever is good in it; throw away the rest. Refrain from evil acts yourself, whatever others are doing. And trust in the coming of the Lord. Trust that God acts, too, and you are not alone in how you act.
John the Baptist exhibited such trust in the coming of the Lord, and he prepared the way so that others could come to know Jesus. John had humility, not thinking of himself as God, not thinking of himself as a savior when he was not, but instead paving the way for God to act. When Jesus himself appeared, he was also humble, from his willingness to be baptized by John, to his emptying of himself in service, regarding others with respect for their freedom, and his total emptying and surrender on the cross.
Together from these readings, we might put together a bit of a list of bullet points on how to prepare for joy:
- Remember, as John did, it’s not all about you. It’s about God.
- We do have a part to play, and some good parts to play are to feed the hungry, heal the brokenhearted , and free people who are unfree.
- Be grateful in good times and in bad times.
- Pray wherever you are.
- Hang onto what you encounter that is good, and let the rest go.
- Don’t give in to acting badly when others do.
- Trust in God to act in love. Get ready for Love itself, because God is Love and Love is on its way.