The Joy Filled Christian – A Sermon on Survival in the Face of Tribulation

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice!” The Church has us  visualize this by the rose colored candle in the Advent wreath and the rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday appears at the midpoint of the Advent season, and we pause to rejoice and reflect on the marvelous work of God and His plan of salvation for us.

Our readings show us Isaiah speaking of the splendid work of God – – St. Paul telling us to “give thanks and rejoice always,” not just in good times, but in all circumstances, and our Gospel describes St. John the Baptist testifying that the Light of the World would soon begin His ministry.

But today’s reading from St. Paul may have given you pause and trouble: you may say:  “You mean I’m to rejoice even if I have just lost my job, even if corporate and governmental corruption has destroyed my retirement income, even if I am mourning a deceased loved one, even if my husband, wife, or child is sick, or has abandoned me, or wants nothing to do with me?

Remarkably, St. Paul’s message is “Yes, give thanks, and rejoice!” 

Although, let’s be careful, he is not saying for us to put on blinders and act like Pollyanna. St. Paul knew what trouble was. He had plenty of trials to deal with, his letters to the various churches of Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are filled with numerous personal problems and tribulations.

Yet, through all of that, he kept his vision focused firmly on Jesus. It was that mental memory of who Jesus was, what He preached, how He suffered and died; and the truth that was well known to St. Paul and many others that Jesus the Word of God and the Light of the World had resurrected from the dead and had appeared to him, face to face, mind to mind, to express His love for those Paul was persecuting, and to ask him to stop, and to follow Him as Lord.

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled St. Paul to deal with his problems.  

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled him to maintain joy in the knowledge that his eternal salvation was certain through faith in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul’s focus was on his eternal salvation through Jesus – not on the trials of this world.

But how does St. Paul keep his focus?

You see, Paul links the ability to possess sincere joy with praying; because joy is a gift from God. It comes to us through His grace – it is a specific fruit of the Holy Spirit.

So, joy enters our world when we humble ourselves to receive God’s grace and see the real meaning of our life as a child of God – when we look at our own fragility and brokenness – and realize that we are not able to survive without the help of God.

Joy will come into our life when we realize that survival depends on our developing a prayer filled and Sacramental relationship with Christ – which leads to our being sanctified by His grace. This relationship can only occur when we seriously view our prayer life – and Christ’s Sacraments – through the eyes of a trusting and knowledgeable child – rather than that of a worldly wise adult.

We must be humble enough to start with daily traditional prayer; however, there will come a moment in which these prayers move us into a dialogue, a conversation with our Lord, and this is the heart of prayer.  Saints Paul, John the Baptist, and Isaiah all spent time in deep conversation with God. It is through their prayer life that the gift of God’s joy was able to fill their hearts.

So on this Gaudete Sunday we remember that we are called to rejoice through prayer in the truth that, regardless of how dismal our personal circumstances, Jesus our Savior loves us – and will never abandon us.

Let us remember that our lives should be a testimony, not to sorrow, guilt, or fear, but to the mature trust and joy that delights in the knowledge that – by virtue of the saving power of Jesus Christ and His Sacramental grace – we are redeemed children of God, who with His grace and strength, can endure any tribulation.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The above is a sermon Deacon Paul O. Iacono gave at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on the weekend of December 10/11, 2011 Scriptural references referred to in this, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, were from Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11; 1st Thessalonians. 5: 16-24;  John. 1: 6 -8, 19-28.

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