|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent - on the Epistle|
The Joy of the Lord
|Baruch 5:1-9||Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11||Luke 3:1-6|
Christmas is only three weeks away. Hospital workers report that hospital wards are practically empty at Christmas time. No one wants to spend Christmas in hospital. Much less in jail. Christmas is a time of joy and there is no fun in the hospital bed or the prison cell. Yet Paul’s most cheerful letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. Paul was in detention in Rome awaiting trial. Neither the uncomfortable conditions in the prison cell nor the uncertainty of the outcome of the trial was enough to rob Paul of his joyful and cheerful disposition. What was the secret of Paul’s unflagging optimism? No doubt it was his faith in Christ. This faith expressed itself in two important attitudes: an attitude of gratitude in regard to the past, and an attitude of confidence in regard to the future. This was the key to Paul’s cheerfulness even in the face of present predicament.
We often talk about the virtue of living in the present. But what do we mean by “the present?” Is it this year, this week, this day, or this minute? The fact of the matter is that the present is a fleeting split-second such that before we get to think of it or mention it, is already passed into the past. We cannot freeze the present in order to live in it because the present is always passing us by. Maybe it is better to think of the present as the meeting point between the past and the future. Then we shall begin to realize that the way to seize the moment and discover happiness in the present is to cultivate a positive attitude toward the past and toward the future.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul did not focus on the present chains of his imprisonment but on the happy memories of his relationship with the Philippians, and on the glorious future of the day of the Lord. This might explain why this letter is the most joyful of all his letters. The opening section of the letter, which we have in today’s second reading, illustrates this secret to Paul’s positive mindset.
Gratitude for the Past
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)
Even though Paul finds himself presently in very unenviable circumstances, yet he chooses to begin his letter on a note of gratitude for the past. The Philippians had contributed generously in his ministry of spreading the gospel. They were not just his spiritual children but his partners in ministry, and for this Paul thanks God and prays constantly with joy for them. An attitude of gratitude for the past puts a smile on our faces, no matter what we may be going through today.
Confidence in the Future
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Paul looks to the future with confidence. His confidence is anchored not in the faithfulness of the Philippians but in the faithfulness of God. God is faithful, and God who began a good work in the church of Philippi will bring it to a glorious completion. Many people think of the Last Day and the Last Judgment with fear and anxiety. Paul thinks of it with confident expectation as the Day when God will bring to completion the good work of faith that He is doing among us.
The present is nothing but the meeting point of the past and the future. If, like Paul, we cultivate the attitude of looking to the past with gratitude and to the future with confidence, then we shall know the joy of the Lord. This is the inner joy which made the early Christians sing even as they were being marched to death by their persecutors. One such example is Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who, as he was facing death in the year 248, wrote the following words to his friend Donatus:
It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not, These people, Donatus, are Christians and I am one of them."
The joy of the Lord was the strength of the martyrs. May the same joy of the Lord be our strength today as we face the challenges of witnessing to the goodness of the Lord even in our very bad world.
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