Monday, December 15, 2014

Rejoice, Even in the Midst of Sorrow

"Cheer up!"  There is probably no more annoying and trite advice that you can offer to someone who is suffering.  "It's not that bad.  People are worse off than you.  Get over it.  Cheer up!"  I'm not sure there is anyone who has ever suddenly become of "good cheer" because someone else has told him to "cheer up!"  Usually, when somebody is feeling down, the last thing that they want is for some clown to tell them, "Cheer up!"

As we draw nearer to Christmas, the sufferings and wounds of the world become more evident.  Many people find this time of year to be tinged with more than just a little sadness.  People recall loved ones who have died, relationships that have broken, innocence that has been lost, and loved ones who have lost their way.  At Christmas time, we cannot help but recall with sorrow that there are victims of war, children without food, warmth, and housing, unemployed and underemployed men and women struggling to survive, Christians being persecuted, and people struggling with disease, poverty, depression, and addiction.  We cannot help but recall that we are not as holy as we would like to be.

In the face of all of this, we hear St. Paul on the Third Sunday of Advent say, "Rejoice always!"  Is this St. Paul and the Church telling a suffering world, "Cheer up! Things ain't so bad?" In the face of evil, darkness, tragedy, sickness, sorrow, disease, poverty, war, sin, and suffering, how are we really expected to "rejoice always?" 

One beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it never "skips over" things.  The Gospel isn't about "cheering" people up.  It doesn't say, "Things aren't so bad."  The Gospel is real.  It is truthful.  It never tries to whitewash anything.  It doesn't live in a world of make believe.  Instead, the Gospel recognizes the pain and sorrow of a fallen world and says, "Rejoice Always."  The Church is not saying, "Cheer up because things aren't really bad."  The Church says, "Yes, things are sometimes bleak and dark, but there is a Savior who comes to make all things new."  Isaiah doesn't say, "All of you people who think that being poor is a burden should cheer up.  All of you captives: things could be worse.  All of you who dwell in darkness and gloom: look on the bright side."  Isaiah announces that one is coming to those who suffer.  And, the one who is coming will bring justice with him.

The Christian is able to rejoice always because the Christian lives in hope.  We are placing all of our bets on Christ.  We are placing all of our hope in him.  Every valley will be exalted and every mountain will be made low.  The Christian rejoices even in the midst of sufferings, sin, darkness, and evil because the One who loves us is drawing near to us.  We rejoice because we are not alone.  We rejoice because "one mightier than I is coming."  The One who is coming has the power to do what the world cannot do for itself and what I cannot do for myself.  We rejoice because we trust His promise.  

The more we live the Christian life, the more intensely do we feel the brokenness of the world.  And, almost paradoxically, the more the Christian encounters the brokenness of the world, the more he is able to rejoice.  Why?  Because the Christian is filled with hope.  The greater the darkness, the more the Christian places his hope in the light that is coming into the world.  

As we live these final days before Christmas, maybe you find yourself examining life and seeing that things are not perfect. Maybe you find yourself more aware than ever of the world's brokenness. You don't need to cheer up.  But, you do need to rejoice.  Rejoice because "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and to those who dwelled in a land of gloom, a light has shone."  We rejoice not because everything is right with the world.  We rejoice because a mighty savior is born unto us and he comes with vindication and will make all things new.

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