“Teacher, what should we do?”
It is that time of the year when we are easily focused on receiving and giving gifts from others that we easily fall for the oldest lie in the books: The more we get, the more joy that we will have in life. Knowingly or unknowingly, we believe and live by this lie, constantly searching for more, and convincing ourselves that we must have better, more beautiful, more efficient, and more up-to-date things. We lose all our inner peace and joy because the more we get, the more we want. We say to ourselves, “One more thing… one more pleasure…one more relationship,” but we never really pause and ask ourselves, “How much is truly enough?”
The words of St. Paul in the season of Advent serves to bring us back to our senses about the true source of joy. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He is exhorting his brethren to find their joy in the Lord always even as he himself is suffering in his prison cell. The prison chains cannot quench his inner joy in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. He reminds them and us that our joy cannot be found in acquiring and enjoying more and more things in this life but in the Lord Jesus.
But what does he mean by “rejoice in the Lord always?” We rejoice in the first place because “the Lord is near.” Our reconciliation with God is the very first step to enter into this joy. Secondly, we have this joy when our lives show that we have been reconciled with God, “Your kindness should be known to all.” Our path to deep abiding joy is reconciliation with God received and reconciliation with God evident in constant action.
St. John the Baptist is asked by those who had received his baptism, “Teacher, what should we do?” They are not satisfied with being only reconciled with God but they are moved from within to ask how they are to show that they have been reconciled with God. St. John proceeds to teach them to show their reconciliation with God by concrete actions and not by accumulating and enjoying the things of this world, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none…Stop collecting more than what is prescribed…Do not practice extortion but be satisfied with your wages.”
St. John at this point is very famous and successful as he gathers a large crowd to himself. The people even mistake him for the messiah! He does not seek for joy by becoming more famous or successful but he points to Jesus Christ as the one who “baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit reconciles us with God, cleanses us of our sins and makes us God’s own children; the Spirit’s fire of divine love serves to move us to show this reconciliation with God by constant action that seeks only the greater glory of God and the good of souls. We thus can rejoice in the Lord always because we have the joy of the Spirit of Jesus in us.
For a moment this Christmas season, let us look closely at any Nativity set or picture with the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph in the manger. Look closely at the baby Jesus. I have never seen a figure of the infant Jesus laying down on his back with His arms crossed or on his sides. No, the baby Jesus is always portrayed with arms wide open and lifted up to us with a smile on His face, beckoning us to come to Him and to be completely reconciled with Him. These arms remained wide open to us throughout His earthly life. They remained painfully open to us as He endured those excruciating dying pains on the cross. His arms still remain open silently to us today in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we are truly reconciled with Him no matter our past sins or failings. The constant message of His open arms to us are summed up in His words, “No one who comes to me will I ever reject.”(Jn 6:37) This is the reality behind the true Christmas joy – we can and should be reconciled with God today and receive the grace to show it by our actions.
Once we are reconciled with Christ, we know that we can depend on His love for us in all our needs. We begin to be set free from the desire to accumulate and possess the things of this world for ourselves. We begin to place all our hope in Jesus and we are no longer slaves of that desire for one more thing, one more pleasure, one more success, one more fame, etc. The Spirit that reconciles us with God also moves us out of ourselves in loving service of God and neighbors.
But receiving this reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ is not enough. We must be willing to ask Him also, “Teacher, what must I do?” We ask Him, “How can I show by my actions that I have truly been reconciled with you?” Maybe He will move us to forgive someone who has hurt us this Christmas, or pray more, or be more patient, or serve others, or trust Him more in some circumstances of our lives, etc. We will enter into His own joy the moment that we choose to respond to His invitation.
Let us turn to our Mother Mary. Praying the Rosary with devotion this Advent allows Mary to teach us how to live as people reconciled with God. She who sang in her Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” will lovingly and patiently teach and help us to seek for joy in the Lord always and not in endlessly pursuing created things or pleasures. She who said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” will readily teach us how to respond in action to the movement of divine grace in our hearts at each moment no matter what it will cost us. She who said to the servants at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you,” will surely help us to live under the Lordship of Christ and not as hopeless slaves of creatures.
Jesus Christ comes with the Holy Spirit and with fire in today’s Eucharist to deepen our reconciliation with Him and to give us what we need to live reconciled with Him. Let us receive this reconciliation often. Let us not forget to ask Him honestly, “Teacher, what must I do?” He will surely answer us and enlighten us on how we are to live as His children reconciled to Him by His precious blood. With the help of Mary, the Cause of our joy, we can accept and respond to His invitation so that His peace and joy remains in our hearts always.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!