Christian Joy amidst the Pains and Challenges of life

Reflection for the 3rd Sunday Advent, Year C. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London   


Two friends Bob and Roger run a meat shop. They use to manipulate the scale as they weigh meat for customers thus making customers pay for more weight than they get of meat. And they made good profit. One day, a preacher came to town and Bob gave his life to Christ. He tried to persuade Roger to accept Christ too but Roger retorted: “Listen, Bob, if I become born again too, who is going to weigh the meat?” Roger understands that accepting Christ means a radical change of attitude not necessarily change of profession.

This is exactly the message of John the Baptist to the groups who were moved by his preaching and approached him in this Sunday’s Gospel. A recent poll revealed that there is no significant difference in the moral behaviour of those who go to church and those who don’t.

A couple of Sundays ago, I noted how trading is temporarily suspended in many Nigerian markets as people cluster to pray the angelus only for them to return to their shops to continue with … business as usual.

John tells the tax collectors to keep their jobs but be just in what they collected. Tax collection at the time was contracted to individuals who pay a set sum to the government and keep whatever remains. Such a system led to a good deal of extortion. The temptation of those who hold things on trust is to pocket some for self.

John tells soldiers to keep their jobs too but avoid the common sins of their profession like intimidation, false arrest and false testimony for profit. They should be content with their wages.Yet, we are all similarly tempted to abuse power. It is the uncommon person who does not take advantage of others. Our competitive society drives us into behaving as if winning or coming tops is the highest ideal we should strive for. None is ever contented with what they have.

In general, John asked all to “share” whether it be food, clothing or any necessity of life. We are all tempted to keep for ourselves even what is surplus to our needs, perhaps to save for the rainy day. We are naturally inclined to behave like the squirrel, squirreling away our nuts for winter “just in case”. Of course, the squirrel more often than not forgets where the cache of nuts is stored and frequently starves to death nonetheless. We stuff our attics, cellars and garages with all kinds of stuff and forget they are there. Yet, when the ultimate rainy day comes, standing before God, we are judged, not on how much we kept for ourselves but on how much we gave away.

Today’s Gospel calls us to repentance which entails a change in behaviour not just regret for the past. Imagine you are in a car with a friend and you are pointing out the way. You tell him to turn right at the next junction but he mistakenly turns left. When he realises his mistake, he says “I’m sorry, I went the wrong way.” If that is all he does, then, it is not enough. His saying sorry neither gets you any closer to your destination nor stops you from getting further away. To get to your destination, he needs to stop the car, turn around and go back on the right path that you had pointed out. That is repentance; making a U-turn. Beyond repenting for specific sins, we need to repent of the underlying attitude that causes all of them; we need to renounce self-centeredness.

This Third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Gaudete Sunday”. (Gaudete means Rejoice in Latin). The call to rejoice begins right from the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass and is continued by the Prophet Zephaniah in the First Reading. It is echoed at the Responsorial Psalm and is repeated in the Second Reading where Paul, writing to the Philippians exhorts them: “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness…” We are to rejoice at this moment especially in anticipation of the day of our salvation which Christmas signifies – i.e. the birth of Our Saviour.  Yet, a Christian, the follower of Christ, should naturally be a happy person because Christ’s vision of life liberates.

Sadly, many who are Christians feel no difference in their lives as they are burdened in the same way as the unbeliever. No saint is a sad or depressed saint. Of course they go through trials like every normal human being but they see the wider picture; they realize that God works through every experience and that we grow through them. Christian joy withstands pain. As Jesus says, it is something that no one can take away from us because we have all we need to be happy.

One simple reason why many today are Christians without feeling the joy of being Christians or the effect of God in their lives is because they are not repented even though they are Christian. You can’t be doing the same thing all the time and expect a different result. Anybody who hopes to feel the hand of God in their lives must sincerely repent – turn their back on all that is ungodly. This season provides us the opportunity for true repentance so as to feel God fully in our lives. Nothing could feel better.

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