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Rejoicing amid disappointments

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Advent-A, Gaudete Sunday, 11 December 2022
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 ><}}}*> James 5:7-10 ><}}}*> Matthew 11:2-11

Photo by author, 2019.

Today our altar bursts in lovely shades of pink in celebration of the third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin gaudere that means “to rejoice”. We rejoice this third Sunday because the Lord’s Second Coming is getting nearer each day and so is our awaited celebration of Christmas with the start of Simabang Gabi.

There are still many reasons for us to rejoice but when we reflect deeper in life, our rejoicing in itself is a paradox.

Because rejoicing is more joyful when seen amid darkness and uncertainties, disappointments and failures.

Because joy is more than feeling happy but that certainty within us that no matter what happens in this life, even if things get worst, everything ends according to God’s plans.

Because God loves us so much!

That is why we rejoice this Sunday – and everyday in our lives – that no matter what happens to us, God is with us in Jesus Christ, loving us, saving us.

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Photo by author, 2021.

How fast things happen and change in life, especially when there is a sudden change or reversal, from good to bad, from top of the world to bottom into the unknown like John the Baptist.

Last week, John was on top of the world as people were coming to him for baptism, listening and believing his preaching; today, we heard him in prison!

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod when Christ was born, had him imprisoned after John told him that it was wrong for him to take as wife his brother Philip’s former wife, Herodias. Eventually, John was beheaded in prison upon Herod’s order after making a promise to grant whatever request the daughter of Herodias would ask him after entertaining guests in his birthday party; the daughter asked for John’s head on a platter and immediately, Herod dispatched his executioner.

Now at his lowest point in life awaiting certain death, John was “disappointed” with what he had been hearing about the works and preaching of Jesus Christ whom he had baptized at Jordan. Recall how John preached a message of “fire and brimstone” as he expected the Christ would bring punishment and destruction to those doing evil, warning them that the “ax lies at the root of the trees…ready to cut down those not bearing fruits” while his “winnowing fan in his hand is gathering his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:10, 12).

John was expecting the Christ would immediately make sweeping changes in the world, punishing the evil doers but what he heard and perhaps may have witnessed too was the gentleness of Jesus, always ready to forgive the sinful, heal the sick, and most of all, keeping company with the most sinful people of that time like the tax collectors and the prostitutes!

Many times in life we find ourselves very much in John’s situation – so disappointed with God because what happens in reality are exactly the opposite of what we expected based on what we are taught or what we have read in the Bible! That is why John sought clarification from Jesus himself. We too, when disappointments happen in life along with other pains and sufferings especially after trying our very best to serve God through others, must always have that disposition of humility to seek clarifications from God. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be open like John in welcoming the Lord in the way he wishes to reveal himself.

Photo by author, November 2022.

How ironic that John who stood preaching the coming of Christ Jesus, of demanding justice and kindness from the people was imprisoned, himself a victim of injustice! Sometimes in life, it is so easy to preach Jesus Christ and his values not until we find ourselves on the distaff side like getting sick or being unjustly accused of something we did not commit. Like John, when we become the very people suffering those things we preach, our expectations even of God may blind us and fail us to see Christ’s coming, becoming so difficult to see God’s mercy and healing acting in other people’s lives but not in our own lives like John who was imprisoned unjustly for telling the truth.

The Season of Advent, especially this third Sunday we call “Rejoice” or “Gaudete” Sunday invites us to examine our own expectations and knowledge of God that may sometimes blind us to his actions and presence in our world.

The key is to have that humility to just let God be God!

Let God do his work and just chill.

Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God always! It is from those surprises by God when joys burst in our lives even in the most difficult or simplest situations in life.

Photo by author, 2018.

One of my favorite subjects in photography are mosses – lumot – those green clumps or mats found thriving in damp, shady spots and locations. I am no green thumb but I love mosses and ferns because they are very refreshing to the eyes. They evoke hopes and surprises that despite the little sunlight and care they get, they live and thrive so well, teaching us a lot of valuable lessons about darkness and failures in life.

That is what Isaiah and St. James were reminding us in the first two readings, of the need for us to be patient like the farmers in awaiting the sprouting and blooming of crops and plants in the fields, of strengthening each other because the hard times are sure to end. Most of all, the Lord is faithful, always working silently when we are in the most dead situations in life, preparing great surprises for us.

Let us set aside our expectations, even our goals and agenda in life to let God do his work in us, to surprise us with his more wondrous plans because he knows what is best for us.

There are times in life when we are disappointed even frustrated at how things are not going according to our plans even if God had confirmed it in our prayers and in many instances in life – that feeling of suddenly being abandoned by God?

There are times we complain and feel undeserving of the many failures and pains that come our way because we have been so faithful to God, even prayerful that we cry to him, asking him like John for clarifications of whether he is with us or should we still wait more.

Most often in life, we get blinded even by our noble intentions and goodness, of our image and expectations of God that in the process, we are hurt, leaving us with scars and empty spaces within…

Be patient, my friend. Trust God.

The same empty spaces and holes in life would soon be filled with blessings so unimaginable because, remember, God is “greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn. 3:20). It is only when we are hurt and bruised and emptied, even dried and dead when life and joy burst forth because that is when God can freely work in us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Have a joyful week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, September 2019.
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