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Joy, the meaning of life — Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

Matthew Neugebauer

Friday, December 9, 2022

Photo by Wout Vanacker on Unsplash

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God. He will come and save you."

Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What did you go out to see?"
You have come to the Third Sunday of Advent in search of joy. How do I know this? Because believe it or not, joy is essential to being human and to following Christ. Joy is the light that helps us see, the solid ground that helps us walk, the song of life itself that opens our ears to hear. So yes, you are seeking it, whether or not you know it.
That might sound preposterous, but only because we've often confused "joy" with "happiness" or "luck" or "good vibes," or whatever terms we used to describe good feelings or good things happening to us. Not that those things are inherently bad--it's just that they're in no way guaranteed or consistent enough to base the purpose of our lives on.
But joy? Joy is something else entirely. Joy isn't about the seemingly random events of our lives happening to line up so nicely. It's about God's gracious will, which "orders all things mightily." And often, that ordering requires some re-ordering, some re-creating, or at least the hope, the conviction, that God will one day restore all things to peace, harmony and unity.
For Christians, that hope, that conviction, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see and ears to hear that the Father has already accomplished this perfect restoration in his well-beloved Son. 
In the presence of Christ, "the one who is to come,...The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:3, 5)
Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit that draws us into this restoration, makes it real for us. Because that gift is God's own presence, God's companionship, God's solidarity with us. God comes to us as a helpless, sleeping infant in the arms of his Blessed Mother, and a helpless, sinless victim nailed to an imperial cross. He comes to us "born to die" like all of us, but a death that makes way for his Risen Life, which then comes to us through a rushing wind and tongues of fire.
Which means that hope is real, even in circumstances of brokenness, of loss, of deep sadness and suffering. And it is very real, it needs to be stressed, when those experiencing blindness, deafness and other disabilities are called by God to bring the full measure of their unique life circumstances to our common life as a Church.
Joy then, is our awareness of hope, of God's presence with us, and our sense of the conviction that God has and will renew all things. Which means that it is a mindset, a "psychological paradigm," and one that can have emotional content. If anything, it’s far closer to “homeostasis” or “healthy regulation” than “bliss” or “good vibes.”
But it's a mindset that God invites us into, leads us into, as we encounter him and love our neighbour as ourselves. It's nothing less than God's gift of purpose and meaning in our lives. It can get us up in the morning and get to work, for the welfare of our communities, for justice and well-being for all, and for the increase of faith, hope and love. It can sustain our relationships with friends, family, and newcomers, enabling us to both celebrate and grieve with others and open ourselves to their presence in our lives. Joy can feel good at times, but also guards us from despair, limits its claim on our imaginations, during our inevitable times of doubt and sadness. And it becomes our prayer, at the end of the day, that "In peace I will lie down and fall asleep, for you alone, Lord, make me secure." (Psalm 4:8, NAB) whatever our circumstances.
Because joy doesn’t depend on good things happening to us and not bad things. It depends on who God is, what God has done in his Anointed One, and what he promises to do at the End of Time.
Gaudete indeed.

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