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Saying “no” leads us to rejoicing

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Advent Week III-B, Gaudete Sunday, 17 December 2023
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 ><}}}*> 1 Thessalonian 5:16-24 ><}}}*> John 1:6-8, 19-28
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2018.

Our church is bursting with pink shades this Third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete (Latin for rejoice) Sunday following calls from our antiphons and readings for us to rejoice in Jesus who had come more than 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

We also rejoice on this date, the 17th of December, as we shift our focus to enter Advent’s second phase when we remember and reflect the events surrounding Christ’s birth on that first Christmas. Today is also the second day of our Simbang Gabi and without sounding a Scrooge, I wish to propose in my reflection this Sunday for us to examine those moments in the scriptures and in our lives when saying “NO” leads us too into great rejoicing.

It is normal most of the time that rejoicing comes after every big “YES” in life like when a woman finally says “YES” to her suitor or when a boss says “YES” to promote an employee. The reason mankind rejoices at Christmas is because of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “YES” to be the Mother of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2019.

However, history and our own experiences have taught us also that the key to rejoicing is when we say “NO” or receive or do something in the negative like during the pandemic when we prayed for “negative results” whenever we would get COVID tests. A lot often in life, a negative can be positive like what we see in our gospel today:

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”

John 1:6-8, 19-20

See the progression of the negatives in the fourth gospel’s Prologue: after establishing “In the beginning was the Word” who is Jesus Christ the “life” and “light” in verses 1-5, John the Baptist is introduced with the immediate declaration “He was not the light, but came to testify to the light” in verses 6 and 8. In the following questioning by the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem, John twice told them “I am not the Christ… not Elijah”, insisting with a strong “No” if he were the Prophet in verses 21-22 before wrapping up the scene with a solemn statement that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” in verses 26-27.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2019.

What a lovely scene of negatives, of nots and nos!

Recall those moments in our past filled with painful rejections and humiliating failures that we now look back with rejoicing because of the valuable lessons we have learned and made us stronger today. We realize too that the past negative moments darkened by sin and evil were not totally bad at all as these have led us into the light of Jesus Christ that we now rejoice in being forgiven and loved. When we remember those trials and difficulties we have hurdled in life, we do not feel ashamed but actually feel so proud, being sources of rejoicing for all our victories and successes today.

As we have been saying, Jesus was born during the darkest night of the year, a big negative so we can see the great positive, Christ our Savior, our Light. He is the fulfillment of that great prophecy by Isaiah in the first reading which Jesus himself proclaimed at the start of his ministry in their synagogue in Nazareth on a sabbath.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.

Isaiah 61:1-2

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2019.

Luke tells us in his account how “the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently” at Jesus who then said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:20-21).

When there is fulfillment, rejoicing follows because that is when we say no to the many negatives holding and preventing us from welcoming Jesus in our lives.

When we feel poor and inadequate and try to find Christ beyond what we do not have, that is when we rejoice to find everything in him who fulfills, enriches and enables us in this life and beyond.

Rejoicing happens when we finally say no to our toxic relationships with people who break our hearts with their infidelities and say yes to Jesus who remain faithful and true to us in our family and old friends who truly loved us ever since.

True joy and rejoicing happen when we finally say no to unforgiveness of self and others, when we say no to the past sins and mistakes, baseless guilt-feelings that have held us captives for so long to find mercy and forgiveness in Jesus.

Every day is a part of the year of favor from the Lord, calling us to say no to hopelessness and despair, to say no to cynicism and indifference because Jesus always vindicates though slowly all our efforts and sacrifices, strivings and perseverance in being good and honest in a world that honors thieves and criminals.

Many times in life, rejoicing bursts when we say no to sin, when we say no to disrespect, when we say no to injustice and inequality. More rejoicings will surely come our way the moment we start saying no to violence and war, no to discrimination, no to deaths and violence, no to selfishness and vanities.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2019.

The list of the no’s we can say and affirm in Jesus Christ is endless for us to truly rejoice. But of all the great rejoicing in Christ that we need is to everyday have a firm and big NO to all our fears in loving.

One main reason our lives are miserable because we choose not to love for fears of being hurt, of losing, of separation, of death. St. Paul asks us in the second reading to rejoice always simply by choosing to love always too.

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, 21-22

Recall how the great apostle Paul described to us in 1 Corinthians 13 what is love and what is to love; what he told us today in his letter to the Thessalonians are basically the same: love, love, and love. And the first expression of love of God is praying. Just like in human love, we always talk with the one we love. If we truly love, then we must keep on praying which is beng one with God who is love.

To love is simply to be good, to avoid sin and evil. True rejoicing can happen only when we love, when we shun and say NO to sin which is a refusal to love.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2021, Basic Education Department chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City.

That is why throughout his ministry, Jesus chose to dine and be with sinners, never afraid of what others would say about him because he truly loved. His enemies could not rejoice for they chose to reject Christ’s calls for them to say no to judging others, say no to legalisms, say no to their self-righteousness and conceit. In their refusal to say no to their pride that have closed their minds and their hearts to God and others, they have chosen not to love and thereby failed to meet Jesus the Christ.

Until now, life continues to be miserable to many people because they could not accept Jesus Christ and his Cross, the very sign of his immense love for us. An essential part of the joy of this Christmas is the Cross of Good Friday looming behind that manger in Bethlehem. Before Christ, the cross used to be a big negative but with Jesus, it literally became a plus sign – a positive when he chose to suffer and die in order to rise again on Easter because he loves us so much. Like him, let us say no to sin and evil so we can rejoice in him and in love. Amen. Have a blessed final week towards Christmas Day! 

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