Today the Scriptures declare the call to be a joyful people. The prophet Zephaniah declares, "Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem. Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart."
At the heart of the Christian life is joy. Joy despite everything else. Joy despite our trials and suffering. Joy despite our setbacks and difficulties. Joy that begins with this life and carries on into eternity.
St. Paul says it simply and clearly, "Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5.16). So why do we Christians often forget our call to be a joyful people? Why do we find it difficult to rejoice always? It is because our vision becomes blurred in the fog of modern culture.
It is easy to forget who we are when confronted with the avalanche of confusion we call modern living.
We are children of God, the children of the king of the universe. Our destiny is not limited to the setbacks we experience here on earth. Our destiny is to be filled with joy, filled with the life-giving presence of God forever and ever.
Imagine if all the oceans of the world were suddenly empty. They were just massive holes in the ground, devoid of water.
How long would it take to refill all the oceans with a single drop of water released only once a year? This is, of course, a mind-boggling proposition.
In the same way, the concept of eternal life is beyond the human capacity to grasp it. We cannot contain eternity in time.
'Look the young woman is with child and shall bear a son.'
God is too big to be put into a box. His love is bigger than our words can ever say. His mercy is beyond our capability to fully understand it.
Emmanuel is with us. Our finite minds cannot fully grasp this except by faith.
God has come into the world of men and shown us light in the darkness. Jesus will not leave us or forsake us if we trust in him. He is the source of eternal life and limitless love. This is true whether we fully grasp it or not.
We must hold onto this anchor in the storm of modern culture.
Jesus is the source of our joy.
Listen to Elizabeth's words to Mary in this week's Gospel: "For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy." Jesus caused John the Baptist to leap for joy in his mother's womb.
That is what this season is all about. We should all leap for joy at the coming of Jesus in our lives. Emmanuel is our joy.
My daughter Jenny just convinced me to buy a big, beautiful manger scene for our home. When she first mentioned it, I balked at the idea, thinking our little, tattered manger scene was good enough.
When she asked me a second time, she leaped for joy when I suddenly blurted out a big "yes." My answer surprised me as much as it did her. Something within me wanted to say "yes" and see my daughter filled with joy.
Something deep in the heart of God wants to see all his children leap for joy during this holy season. Do we not sense this in our inmost being? Beyond all our earthly cares the joy of God is calling to you and me.
Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Even if our entire world looks at times like a stable, God is with us. God is with us in poverty, abundance, joy and pain. So let our hearts leap for joy. Now and forever.
God teach us to be a joyful people. Help us to recognize Emmanuel. Jesus be with us now in all the trials and blessings of life. May we all bring joy to the world this holy season.