The Experience of God

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

A non-believer once asked a Christian, “You said you are a
Christian. Then where the devil is your joy?” In a more recent
time the question was asked again in a magazine article. “Why We
Feel So Bad When We Have It so Good.” Or, as one Jesuit author puts
it, “Why is the Good News, no longer good and no longer news?”
Today’s liturgy confronts the problem head on. The opening prayer
hits the point: “Lord God, may we your people, who look forward to
the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation.” There are
three powerful words in this opening prayer: Salvation? Joy?
For joyful reading this Advent, sacrifice today’s best sellers,
instead, read the four Gospels at leisure. Find out where the
Gospels locate joy, where God’s inspired Word tells us to look for
joy. Make this a personal Christmas shopping, a gift to ourselves.
First, in the Gospels, joy is linked with life, especially new
life. An angel promises joy in the birth of John the Baptist. When
John is born, Elizabeth’s neighbors rejoice with her. With child in
her womb, Mary rejoices in God her Savior. The birth of Jesus
is “good news of great joy.”(Luke 2:10) A mother no longer
remembers her anguish “for joy that a child is born into the
world.”(John 16:21-22) The Father of the Prodigal Son calls for
rejoicing because “this my son was dead and is alive again.” (Luke
15: 24) LIFE!
Second, in the Gospels, joy is linked with discovery. There is the
man who “hears [God’s] word and immediately received it with
joy;”(Matt. 13:20) the man who finds a treasure and with joy sells
all to buy it; the shepherd who rejoices when he finds a straying
sheep. There is joy of the woman discovering the lost coin, the joy
of the 72 disciples discovering that demons are subject to them, the
joy of Jesus, because the childlike have discovered their God.
There is the father of the prodigal summoning his elder son to
joy “Because your brother was lost and has been found.”(Luke 15:31)
Third, in the Gospels, joy is linked with suffering. The disciples
are to rejoice when slandered and persecuted. When hated and
outlawed for Jesus’ sake, they are to “leap with joy.” And when
Jesus’ disciples are told to take up their cross everyday, surely
they are to do so with joy in their hearts. SUFFERING.
Fourth, in the Gospels, joy is linked most especially with Jesus,
the fullness of joy. John the Baptist’s joy is “complete” because,
as the bridegroom’s “best man,” he prepares Israel for Jesus. Only
if the disciples abide in Jesus’ love, and if they ask it in Jesus’
name will their joy be complete. When we see Jesus again, it will
bring a joy no man will take from them. In Jesus’ risen presence
the disciples are so joyful they can hardly believe what they see ?
This brings us back to the opening prayer: “May we your people, who
look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of
salvation.” ? the joy of salvation.
Salvation is what we have just uncovered in the Gospels: Salvation
is Jesus ?joy ?discovery ?life ?suffering.
Salvation is Jesus. Salvation is God’s only Son becoming one of
us. It is a stable in a little town of Bethlehem, a baby lying
helpless in a manger, sucking at a mother’s breast. It is the boy
Jesus learning from Joseph how to make a plow, learning from Mary
how to love God. It is the Jesus the man – hungry, weary, lonely.
It is God’s Son sold for thirty pieces of silver, crowned with
thorns, whipped like a dog and nailed to a cross. Salvation is
simply, as St. Paul’s exclaimed, “He loved me and gave himself ? for
you and for me.”
Salvation is discovery. Salvation is finding Christ at work, as St.
Ignatius said, like a laborer, in every creature he has fashioned,
working in the billions of stars to which Christ brings to
existence; in the many varieties of plants which he gives life; in
the animals to which he gives senses; in that mind of ours to which
he gives intelligence; in that heart of ours into which he infuses
love. Salvation is Christ, not on a majestic throne in heaven, but
everywhere, in every nook and corner of his universe, alive not only
yesterday but each moment of each creature’s existence. The world
is charged with the presence and grandeur of Christ, with the labor
of Christ ? FOR YOU AND ME.
Salvation is life. Salvation is three divine Persons alive, active
and energizing us. It is new life, a new creation, through
repentance and reform, God murmuring to us, “I forgive you; go in
peace.” Salvation is life within our family what the early
Christians called “a little Church,” with Christ the unseen guest.
It is the life within this community, loving one another loving less
fortunate sisters and brothers as Jesus loves us.
And yes, salvation is a cross. It is many a cross, erected over
history, over you and me. For salvation is following the footsteps
of Christ, wherever he may lead. It is a journey to Jerusalem, and
the road is rough, rocky with pain, twisting and turning where we
never expected. Yet even here, and especially here, we touch
salvation; for it is in dying that the Christian rises to new Christ-
life, dying to sin, dying to self, dying the countless deaths that
dot a human life, all the loves and pains we offer to God as years
move on.
Very simply, salvation is now and every moment we live. But our
opening prayer is not satisfactory enough to explain that salvation
is a joyful reality. We need to experience that joy. What Advent
asks of us is that we experience the story of salvation.
The famous philosopher, Jacques Maritain insisted that the high
point of knowledge is not brilliant idea; it is an experience: I
feel God. This is what God’s grace wants to do for each and all of
us. Today, let us pray for an Advent grace beyond compare ? perhaps
address our prayer to her, who first held this infant in her arms.