“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
On this third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete (i.e. Rejoice) Sunday, we shall reflect particularly on St. Paul’s words in our Second Reading today. No doubt, this third Sunday of Advent is called “Rejoice Sunday” because of St. Paul’s words in this passage of Scripture. Even though we do not sing the “Gloria” as the other Sundays of Advent, there is something different about this Sunday; the colour of the vestment recommended is not purple but rose.
Today, the Church tells us, “Be Happy and Rejoice.” As always, specific questions come to our minds when we hear the phrase: “Be Happy!” What does it even mean? Is it possible to be happy all the time? What is the magic formula to finding lasting happiness, irrespective of all that may happen today? We shall now consider how our readings at today’s mass respond to these questions.
1. Happiness is a Command
A careful reading of our second reading today would show that St. Paul does not simply wish we would find happiness. Instead, he urges us to rejoice not just once in a while but always. St. Paul is technically saying: “make yourself happy all the time.” As such, even if we face death because of our faith in God, we should still find a way to rejoice. Even if things do not go as we planned or desire, St. Paul says: “Rejoice Always.” Now, someone would ask me: “How?” This is it: happiness is not something that happens to us. It is something we choose to become.
God already created us happy. A child’s smile for no reason proves that humans are naturally glad creatures. If, at any point, you feel unhappy, it is because you have chosen to be sad. Unhappiness is never a result of our circumstances; instead, it is our reaction to them. Our Responsorial Psalm today is Mary’s reaction to knowing that God had chosen her to be His mother. She had a choice to be sad or worried about the responsibilities ahead, but she chose to sing: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God….”
In today’s first reading, we hear Isaiah speaking prophetically the very words that the life of Jesus would accomplish. Even though this prophecy had not yet been fulfilled, Isaiah found the courage to say: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God.” Dear friends, happiness is not a matter of chance; we deliberately decide it. Happy people are not necessarily those who have the best things in life but those who choose to rejoice in whatever they have.
2. Pray Constantly; Surrender Everything to God
Another secret of happiness is found in the very following phrase of St. Paul’s instruction: “Pray constantly.” Research has proven that those who pray more tend to live healthier lives and have fewer chances of suffering from high blood pressure and stress. Prayer is life; the less we pray, the less alive we become. Jesus Christ always prayed to teach us that our best life on earth can only be lived by constant recourse to prayer.
If you desire to be happy, then learn to spend more time in prayer and don’t pray like someone who has no faith – Jesus told us not to heap up too many phrases when we pray and not to pray like the hypocrites who loved to stand obsequiously in the market place. To pray is to transport oneself to heaven; it is talking to God and listening to Him, which requires faith. Without faith, it is impossible to pray. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6). When things happen that you don’t understand or accept, surrender everything to God. Drop your worries at His feet, trust He can handle it, and you will find peace even within the storm – like Jesus asleep in the boat (Cf. Mark 4:37-39).
3. Give Thanks in all Circumstances
Sometimes, we behave as if we know what is best for us. We assume we know better than God, who allows seemingly adverse circumstances to happen to us, instead of trusting that God knows exactly what He is doing. Until you realise that everything happens for a reason, you will find it hard to be grateful. Within every unhappy person is ingratitude. If you cannot be thankful, then you cannot be happy.
Too often, we focus on what we don’t have and fail to appreciate what we have. Indeed, we never know the value of what we have until we lose it. In reality, there are no unfortunate circumstances in life because life itself is a fortune, and within every moment is something to be grateful for. Sometimes, we discover our talents, and our best comes out during hard times. No matter what you are going through, follow St. Paul’s advice: “Give thanks in all circumstances…” Do not be selective in giving thanks, for you never can tell if what is causing you pain now is a blessing in disguise.
4. Do not Quench the Spirit; Abstain from Every Evil
If you buy a car and turn it into a swimming pool, would you enjoy the benefits that the manufacturer intended for it? No way! In the same way, there is no way we can enjoy life as God intends when we disobey His commandments. There is no way we can find true happiness and peace from sin. In the very first sin of humanity, the devil deceived man into thinking there was something to enjoy by disobeying God, but just as Adam and Eve regretted their action, we realise that there is nothing we gain from sin. St. Paul states clearly: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If you hate being unhappy, then learn to hate sin passionately. You cannot eat your cake and still have it.
5. Give God His Due: Avoid Pride
Our final lesson today comes from our Gospel passage. John the Baptist had become the most famous man in Israel. His ways were so different from the rest of the people. He baptised man and brought them out of the darkness of sinfulness to the light of Christ. John the Baptist seemed to be fulfilling the dreams of the people of Israel regarding the Messiah they eagerly awaited.
Having heard of his fame, the religious leaders of the day had to go and ask John the Baptist who he was. It was at this point that John the Baptist, a fearless preacher and proclaimer of the truth, showed the depths of his humility by announcing: “I am just a voice… but among you stands one… who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. Humble people are always happy; they are never let down or disappointed, but rather, God exults them.
Please read our responsorial psalm’s entire passage (Mary’s Thanksgiving Song). You will see how God works: “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden… He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree…” (Luke 1:51-52). After John the Baptist displayed such great humility, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus himself declared: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, fill me with joy. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (3rd Sunday of Advent. Bible Study: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8,19-28).
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu