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The Joy of God

So, we are told to rejoice in the Lord this Sunday! I remember a song once called, “don’t worry, be happy.” I suppose it was good enough, but rejoicing is more than being happy. Joy is the fruit of our awareness of love, both of loving and of being loved. And the love in question for us is not just human love, wonderful though that may be. It is the love of God for us and, hopefully, our love for Him, which prompts our rejoicing. Hence, St. Paul says, rejoice in the Lord! Or, exult, as the first reading puts it today.

It’s actually still more beautiful because the love of God is not merely some divine affection: the love of God is the very person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God’s love personified.

Our reading from Isaiah today is that wonderful prophecy which Jesus takes up when he goes to his home synagogue of Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, because the Lord has anointed me.” Anointing at the time of Isaiah was a ritual act of pouring aromatic oil over the head or the whole body of someone who was being set apart to serve God, like Aaron the priest or David the king. It was the Messiah, though, the Christ, the Anointed One who would receive the true anointing, not of the body but of the spirit. The Holy Spirit himself was the aromatic oil poured into and saturating the soul of the Messiah, empowering him to fulfil the mission God gave him.

Isaiah tells us what the mission is. It’s one of true joy because it is the bringing of Good News to the poor, of binding up broken hearts, of giving sight to the blind, of freeing the captive, of announcing the Lord’s year of favour, a kind of amnesty or jubilee year. The Messiah, the Christ, brings all of this, in and through the Holy Spirit, the Personified Love of God, who is himself God.

If Jesus brought all this when he first came, then it’s right for us to rejoice as we prepare to remember that first coming. But the truth is that Jesus has not yet given all this to us to its fullest extent. That will only happen when he comes again in glory. Then that year of favour will last for ever. And so, we can and must rejoice at the thought of his return in glory. We remember he came and we remember he will come, so our joy in Him is redoubled.

We, too, have been given a share, a pledge, of the Spirit who is Love, especially in our baptism and confirmation. These sacraments we receive only once, which means that the Spirit has been with us since we received them and will stay with us as long as we want Him. In fact, his presence within us will increase the more we live by his inspirations, until eventually we are given his fullness in eternity.

Let’s look again at what those things are that the Messiah brings through his anointing with the Spirit. He brings Good News to the poor. How we are in need of Good News today! Don’t let the bad news dominate your heart. Register it, yes, but keep it in perspective. The Good News of Christ’s victory over sin and death gives a deeper joy than the bad news we hear can reach or destroy. Source that deeper joy in trust and hope, and the Spirit will reward you with the awareness of his love.

Christ binds up hearts that are broken. How many broken hearts are around! Covid has brought untold levels of loneliness and despair to many hearts, bringing such sorrow to families and communities. But before Covid appeared, and long after it goes, I suppose, there will be many broken hearts due to other evils of all kinds in the world. Christ invites us to open our hearts to him and to invite others whose hearts are broken to do the same. In our closeness and union with him, our hearts will be healed, and we will be close to, and in union with, one another.

He brings liberty to captives and freedom to the imprisoned. So many of us are captives within. We can be captive to some sinful habit, to prejudice, to fear and anxiety, to resentment, to an outlook which is partial and jaded. Jesus wants to unbind us and let us go free, to soar to the heights of his own mind, heart and sentiments, to experience the joy of God’s own freedom.

I invite you today to find, and therefore to seek, the reasons in your life that make you not just happy but joyful. Switch channels for a while from the bleak and sombre litany of covid news, Brexit news, and the assorted banalities that plague our news outlets. Seek your own Good News, make your own Good News, be your own Good News. List the gifts of grace and nature the Lord has given you. Consider the utter gratuitous love with which he created you and redeemed you. Imagine as best you can the glory that awaits you in his Kingdom, and rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!

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