Looking forward in hope to the true font of our joy

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 11

Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11; (Psalm) Luke 1:46-48,49-50,53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

Perhaps at no other time during the year are we so seduced into the culture surrounding us. The materialism of the season can take over our lives. There is an ancient story that demonstrates the situation.

It is a story about a holy woman who was in a town square, sitting with a bowl. She put in dirt and then added water and stirred. Periodically she put her hand in and took out a gold nugget. After a while, she was accosted by a merchant who wanted to buy her “magic” bowl. She assured him there was no magic and gave it to him. Daily he stirred dirt and water but found only mud. One day he discovered her walking through the square. “There is a trick that you withheld,” he challenged. “No trick,” she
responded. “You only get the gold when you renounce all greed.”

We are constantly searching for what will make us happy, whether it is the best gift, fastest technology or the next relationship. Life often hands us the opposite. We cannot side-step pain, disappointment, sadness. Do we frantically keep digging for the gold in the pot, believing all the time that it is in the pot rather within us that happiness resides?

The Scriptures today are a profound example of a different approach to life.

The author of Isaiah, speaking after the Israelites have been in exile living under the oppression of a foreign government, describes true happiness or joy: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul, for God has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” From that assurance of the Lord’s presence in his life, he was compelled to “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

And St. Paul, who himself experienced trial and hardship and knows of the difficulties of the people of Thessalonica, to whom he writes, says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.”

So from where does this joy come? The Gospel gives us an example in the person of John the Baptist. John is an enigmatic character. He lives on the fringes of society, eating honey and wild locusts. He doesn’t much fit into the cultural norm. He does, however, have quite a following. People seem to flock to him to repent of their sins and be baptized.

There is one thing quite outstanding about John. In this passage he makes it clear that there is someone else who is greater than he. John is simply preparing the way for this person.

John’s vision is focused on the promised One. He calls people to let go of their past and look forward in hope to the coming of Jesus who brings the fullness of life. He, himself, seems to have found the source of joy, not in a magic stone, but in the knowledge that his selfless pointing to another truly brings life. It is not about John or his followers, but about the One who is the font of joy and happiness.


SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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