Third Sunday of Advent B
I think I’ve got a story this Sunday—a true story—that ought to get you smiling even more widely than seeing your clergy up here dressed in rose-colored vestments from head to toe…
Do any of you text? I’m one of the last 15 people on the planet who doesn’t own a cell phone so I don’t text myself, but I’m surrounded by people who do. Texting has almost become its own language—so much so that some educators worry about our children learning good grammar or even good manners. For example, BRB means, “be right back,” and G2G means, “got to go.” You get the idea.
Well I heard the story awhile back of a dad who was having trouble communicating with his teenaged son. The two men would pass each other in the house, and dad would ask, “How was school?” He was lucky if he even got a grunt in reply. His son was always head down, texting on his phone.
Eventually dad thought, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em.” He started texting with his teenager…and he actually got a response. He’d have preferred that they actually talk to one another, but you’ve got to start somewhere. They began to text about all kinds of things. They began to text all the time. Occasionally they’d be sitting right next to each other watching the same hockey game on TV, texting back and forth but not saying a word.
Now, dad had to learn the texting lingo. Some of it his son taught him, but a lot of it he picked up on his own. His favorite to text was LOL. He never asked his son what it meant—from context, he just figured it out. The way his son used it at the end of so many messages, dad was absolutely certain LOL meant, “lots of love.” What a beautiful expression!
After getting the hang of this texting thing, dad began to send text messages to all kinds of people—family, friends, coworkers. And he sent LOL to everybody he knew. He found out that his sister was getting a divorce: “Sorry to hear the news, but I’m behind you 100%—LOL!” His own father was seriously ill in the hospital: “Get well soon pop—LOL!” This sort of thing went on for six months.
Finally, he was in the airport waiting for a plane and missing his family (his job often took him out of town). Dad texted his son, “I hope you understand how much I hate being away from you, but I have to do to it earn enough money so we can live the way we want to live—LOL, your dad.”
Which is when he got the response, “DAD WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU THINK LOL MEANS?”
“Lots of love.”
“No it doesn’t Dad.”
“Yes it does.”
“NO IT DOESN’T IT MEANS LAUGHING OUT LOUD!”
And right away dad knew that he had to go back and apologize for 6 full months of LOLs…
Our second reading this Sunday comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. That’s a pretty significant part of the New Testament, since it’s actually the oldest Christians writing we have—from about the year 50 or so, which is only about 15 years after the life of Jesus. Folks like St. Paul likely wrote things before this, but it’s the oldest text to survive. Which means we really ought to pay attention to what it has to say.
And what does St. Paul tell us this Sunday?
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances, give thanks.This message comes from very near the letter’s end and, although brief, packs a real punch. You’ll notice that Paul does not say, “Cheer up a bit—things aren’t that bad. Maybe you could pray just a little more. And don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ every once in a while.” Instead it’s, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.”
Even for St. Paul—who can be pretty intense—this is rather over the top. But why be so extreme? Because for Paul, the coming of Jesus changed absolutely everything. Jesus has turned the whole world upside down for those who believe in him. The usual ways of thinking and acting just don’t do it anymore. This perspective usually escapes us Christians today, but for St. Paul it was the heart of reality. Jesus had come, and nothing could ever be the same again.
And so he tells us to rejoice always.
But don’t you sometimes feel down? Get really bummed? Or just want to cry? Going around rejoicing all the time would seem phony—or even insane.
“I just wrecked my car.”
“You should rejoice!”
“I lost my job.”
That clearly can’t be what St. Paul is getting at—or he begins to sound like a dad who texts LOL at all the wrong times. He isn’t saying that Christians should always be giddy or giggling—always laughing out loud. But they should be convinced that, by his resurrection, Jesus has won the most decisive victory. None of life’s highs and lows—not sickness, not sin, not even death—nothing this world can throw at us can undo this victory. All these things have been defeated! Even when we’re down and out, we can trust in Christ’s ultimate triumph and that’s cause for true joy. Does that make life one big party? No. But it does give us a peace, it does give us a hope, that nothing whatsoever can shake.
So rejoice always. And pray without ceasing.
Even monks and nuns—who are “professional pray-ers”—can’t pray 24/7. They still have to eat and sleep and do their chores. It’s not rational for Paul to expect us to spend all day and all night on our knees in prayer! So what’s he saying?
Again—St. Paul believes that Jesus changed everything. When the Son of God became man, he made it possible for all men and women to live in close union with his Father. Jesus has given us mere mortals access to the same intimate relationship he has enjoyed with God from all eternity. Think about what an amazing privilege that is! But this constant communion with the Father which marks the lives of Christians—and which is as essential to us as breathing—is, like breathing, something of which we’re often not conscious at all.
We know that prayer isn’t about simply rattling off a bunch of sacred words. Prayer at its essence is about deep communion. Prayer is about working on and deepening our relationship with God. And prayer is becoming conscious of what’s actually there all the time. Shouldn’t we want to remain continually aware of how close God has brought us to himself?
So pray without ceasing. And in all circumstances, give thanks.
What sort of things did you thank God for on Thanksgiving? Family. Friends. The food on the table. Your home. Our country and its freedoms. All the good things you enjoy, right? Being grateful makes sense when things are going well. But are you thankful for your setbacks? Your failures? Your losses? Are we really supposed to be grateful when everything seems to be going wrong?
Remember, St. Paul wants us to realize that Jesus has changed everything. When he became man, the Son of God immersed himself completely in the human experience—the good and the bad—becoming like us in all things but sin. And by uniting himself with us so completely, he has transformed everything we can experience. Those things that appeared to be our downfall become openings for grace. The worse things we endure, our most terrible moments, become means for our redemption. Just look at the Cross! Humanity’s lowest point—God is dead and we killed him!—becomes the very source of our salvation. I suspect that I’m not the only one who’s gotten through some hardship, some heartache, some suffering, and only later—maybe much later—has looked back and realized just how much grace God gave me, just how much good God has mysterious worked through that very painful experience. We Christians should be able to see through the surface of things—even though the tough stuff—to what’s really going on.
And so, in all circumstances, give thanks.
The message of this Gaudete Sunday is one of rejoicing—not necessarily the joy of laughing out loud, but the joy that comes with knowing we are loved a whole lot: loved by our heavenly Father so much that he sent his Only Begotten Son in our human flesh to live a fully human life, to die on the Cross for our sins, and to rise from the grave that we might share in his victory forever.
So during these final days of Advent, and all the days of your life:
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances, give thanks.