“Abounding in Joy”
December 13, 2020
Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-62:4
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
The early church’s joy intrigued and puzzled the Roman government and made them suspicious. These Christians were poor slaves and were persecuted. They were without power or influence and yet they were joyful. In Hebrews10, it was mentioned that the Christians endured and accepted joyfully their persecution and the confiscation of their property by those in power. They rejoiced greatly and endured their afflictions. For the apostles, after being questioned by the Pharisees and the chief priests and before they were released, they were flogged, which was a cruel, painful and dehumanizing experience, but they rejoiced because they were worthy to suffer shame for Jesus Christ.
We can choose to cry over spilled milk. We can choose to magnify the injustice, our sufferings, and the wrong done to us. But St. Paul encourages us that instead of pursuing vengeance, why not rather be wrong? Why not dance upon injustice, as the song goes, and not be affected by it? We can choose to rejoice rather than point fingers, blame and want vengeance and realize that God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” I would like to think that this is two-pronged: I will repay the offender but also repay the victim. This is good news. God is the Owner of the earth and all that there is to it.
Rejoice in the Lord! Our joy is not dependent on circumstances, on situations, on external events or the ability to acquire things or possessions. It is not also dependent on personalities. These things fail. Like the flowers of the field, our works perish. Like grass, our works decay. The power and pomp of nations will pass like a dream away, but the Word of our God endures. We can build our hope on the temporary and the shakeable, but we can also build our hope on the solid Rock Himself.
Rejoice in the Lord! Do let the ‘joy suckers’ to get the joy out of you that God gave because God’s will is for His joy to be in us and so that our joy may be full. Magnify the Lord! St. Paul says, “I magnify my ministry.” Some people magnify the weaknesses in certain ministries or what they see as the wrong or the injustices. If we fish for these, we will find them because we are still in the wilderness. God is at work and He is making all things new, but He is not done yet. We can and we must choose to say, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” In the midst of the wilderness, we don’t complain, but rather be a voice of hope crying in the wilderness. Rejoice for our God is faithful, and He will bring His promise to pass.
Instead of magnifying the problems and the weaknesses, see the good news. This is what we proclaim to ourselves and to others who need hope. God can look at us and see our weaknesses; but He sees the good in us. In 2Corinthians, St. Paul says, “Therefore, now that Jesus is making things new and has started ushering us into the new creation and will bring it to fulfillment on His day, recognize no one anymore according to the flesh and to their weaknesses.” Instead, see Jesus in them and see them as a new creation so that we will not lose our joy.
St. Paul, from prison, wrote the letter to the Philippians. He mentioned fourteen times in the four short chapters about joy and rejoicing. In Philippians 4:4, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice.” Rejoice because the Lord is near. St. Paul was in prison when he wrote this with a prison cell that is not normally a five star accommodation – crude, dirty, damp with pests around. The people around St. Paul wondered what made him tick. What is it that he had? It was the joy of the Lord in him.
We are to resist this voice that tries to tell us when and how and why we should have joy. Our joy is anchored in the truth of Christ. He has given His life for us and He will fulfill His work in our lives. Our joy is the joy of the Lord. Like His peace, it is not what the world gives. It comes from God alone.
Hebrews12:2 says, “Looking only at Jesus, the [originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It was not joyful because He was tortured and it was painful, but despite all, He had joy. In the Last Supper shortly before His passion, in John 15, He was trying to share His joy with His disciples just a few hours before He was going to be tortured, shamed and look down upon. He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
If we have no joy, we should ask ourselves if we are Christians. Have we found God? Have we found the Lord? Being Christians, it means that we have embraced the Gospel, which is the good news of great joy! In Mark 12:37, the good news was preached to the common people and they heard Him gladly but the rich and the powerful did not necessarily receive the news the same way. The good news is: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up. The poor have the gospel preached to them and the valleys will be exalted, the hills brought low; the mighty will be put down, and the lowly will be exalted; the hungry will be filled, and the rich will be sent away empty-handed. There will be equality. The first will be last, and the last the first in the coming of the Lord.
Last Sunday, we talked about the hope that is unseen. We rejoice hope and abound in hope, not in despair or in the negative, while still not seeing that which we believe will come. Count all joy when we encounter various trials for this builds our faith. The wilderness (the injustices, the hardships, the challenges) is not something we go to but a place we go through. It is not our destination. It is temporary.
Jesus said in John16, “You will have grief now but your grief will be turned into joy; I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” This is why St. Paul says in 1Thessalonias 5:16, “Rejoice always!” Do not lose joy. We have the eschatological (how things will turn out) joy because we know that our story has a happy ending. Jesus will reign completely. This is why Isaiah says in Isaiah 61:10-11, “I will rejoice because as the earth brings forth sprouts and a garden the things sown in it, so the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
How do we know this will happen? Isaiah 55 says that as rain comes down and the snow from heaven, it returns not to God but first waters the earth and makes it bring for and bud so that it gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater so shall the Word of God be. It will not return to Him empty without accomplishing for which it was sent.
God’s ultimate Word, Jesus, was sent into the world not to judge or to condemn the world but to save it. God’s Word does not return to Him without accomplishing its mission and its purpose. All things will be made new and saved. The Psalm says that those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. God will restore us from captivity. He has done great things for us and He made us glad and makes us rejoice.
The name Yeshua means savior from sin. He was named Jesus because He will save His people from sin. Man’s sin caused the ground, the earth to be cursed. If man’s sin is taken away and forgiven, the effect of it in the world and in all of creation will also be reversed and everything will be restored. No matter how things are messed up, even right now, one day, it will be only righteousness that will dwell in God’s earth. God’s promise is that though our sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow.
It is not being in denial that we are still in the wilderness but what we do is to participate in God’s work of reversing them and restoring the good of His creation. We may see the suffering, the injustice and the dark around us and they may still be here but they are passing away, like a dream away. The Word of God will endure it and He’ll be with us through it all.
We sing, “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel." We are still in captivity, but we have a Savior and we have a hope. This is good news to us who are afflicted and who are broken-hearted and who are prisoners. Jubilee is coming; deliverance is coming.
St. Paul says this blessing in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul, and body be preserved (saved) complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To assure us, St. Paul says, “Faithful is He who calls you, He also will bring it to pass.”
Trust Him while we are still in the wilderness and be a voice of hope and with confident joy, cry out in the desert and be a word of hope to the nations. In this imperfect world where the Kingdom is, this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.