This morning I read this terrible news from Cebu in the Philippines about an armed robbery. Three pawnshop tellers were just starting their morning duty when two armed men arrived and began shooting the victims. One of the tellers was killed and the others were injured. The robbers then took off with 2.5 million pesos. I felt so sad, angry and emotional while reading the news. The victims were innocent people. Yet the robbers didn’t care. They didn’t care about the victims. They didn’t care about the families of the victims. All they care about was the money. They were blinded by the assumption that money is all that they need to be happy.
Friends, it is a sad fact, that not a few people think that money is all there is. Yes, with money, we can practically get the thing we wanted to acquire. But we also know, I hope, that money is not a guarantee that we would be happy at all times. With money, yes one can build a big house with everything in it…but there is a saying that goes: ‘The bigger the house, the bigger the padlock and the higher the fence.’ The more money one has, the more insecured one has become. Certainly money is not the only thing that makes us happy. In fact, it costs more than just having a lot of money to be happy. We can’t buy happiness with money. We can buy bed but not sleep, so the saying goes.
Today we celebrate the Gaudete Sunday, the rejoice and be glad Sunday. We rejoice and be happy not because of ‘something’, not because we have money, or we have everything we need but because of ‘someone’. We ought to rejoice because our God has spoken again after four hundred years of silent. Yes, it has been 400 long years since God has spoken to us through the prophets (Malachi). And now he speaks again to us more personally through John the Baptist…announcing to us that God would come to live not only among us but really one like us. And this calls for a happy celebration indeed.
So we all want to be happy. God wants us to be happy people. He wishes that we rejoice always. So what can we do then? As Christians, we ought to be happy people, because we have hope and reason to be, our real hope in Christ. A Jesuit priest, Fr John Powell, once said, ‘For God’s sake, if we claimed to have been saved, let’s look like saved.’
‘Be happy at all times’ says St Paul in our Second Reading today. But how can we be happy? ‘Pray constantly’, he adds, ‘and for all things give thanks to God.’
We might ask, how can prayer make us happy? It’s boring. Much more if I do it constantly. Friends, prayer is never boring if you take it personally. What do I mean by this? It is boring if we only think of prayer as reciting the ancient formula, doing it faithfully word for word, without helping us to grow in a more real, and intimate relationship with Jesus. Think of it this way: If you’ve got a date with someone you love, then while he was sitting there beside you, he took out his old love letter for you and just read it to you, will you be happy? Of course not. But if you got a more personal and more intimate conversation, the relationship grows and be nourished. I am NOT saying however that praying the rosary, or reciting a novena, or doing the way of the cross is bad or boring. They are all good prayers. They are all helpful for our spiritual life. What I am saying is that if the way we pray does not help us to grow in relationship with God, it’s worth looking at again.
St Paul would add: for all things, give thanks to God. Yes, as I’ve mentioned in my homily last week, if good things happen to us, we take the credit to ourselves. And if things turn bad, we blame others or God. This is not supposed to be. For all things, good or bad, thank God. It’s hard and challenging task because not a few people think that we can only say good things or words of praise to God. No, he also wants to hear the other side of us. He wants us to acknowledge our humanity, our sinfulness, in fact everything about us to be laid bare before him.
Our gospel today also tells us a way to be happy: i.e. to be ourselves, not to pretend to be someone else. John the Baptist knows who he is, and he lives it out. He does not pretend to be the Messiah because he knows he is not.
So as we continue our Eucharist today, in this third Sunday of Advent, let’s rejoice and be glad for the coming of Christ in our lives and let’s be true to ourselves so that we’ll gain the eternal happiness with God and with all the saints.