Some years ago, I received a subpoena from the Tulsa DA’s office. Needless to say that I was annoyed that I should stand before a jury and judge to testify about someone’s life. I fought the subpoena, and twice it was rescinded, or as they prefer to say in courts—”quashed.” These came after my lawyer engaged the state’s attorney before the judge and argued successfully why I shouldn’t testify. But the DA wasn’t done with me. When I received a third subpoena, I was furious and really wondered why the DA was “after me,” knowing fully well that they had enough evidence with which to convict the offender. Later, I learned through watching Court TV that they were looking for a super-duper character witness whom they believed would produce the deciding evidence that would tip the scales of justice the direction they wanted it to go. I learned that in many cases, a good character witness is invaluable. The DA got what he wanted.
Whether we like it or not, we are character witnesses for Christ in many ways. We carry His message to the world by the manner in which we live. Though many of us would prefer to keep our religious convictions “private,” more often than not, we show, even without knowing it, that these are not private things. This explains why we vote, dress and speak the way we do. And if you don’t know it, start making such considerations.
Today, traditionally, called “Gaudete” or Rejoice Sunday, we are reminded the extent to which joy is a fundamental aspect of the witness we bear to Christ. Many of us still apply our faith as something very serious that calls for somber attitudes and penitential discipline, as we urge during the Advent and Lenten seasons; and, in fact, it is. Yet, the rose vestments, the third Advent candle of today, and the words of all the readings strike a very important note about why we should rejoice. Joy is the Christian’s vocation. It is, according to the Baltimore Catechism, that for which we were created—to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to REJOICE with Him forever in heaven. So Isaiah says in the first reading: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in the Lord is the joy of my soul.” St. Paul urges us: “Rejoice always” and “Do not quench the Spirit.” Pope Francis gave the title Evangelium Gaudium, meaning, Joy of the Gospel to his first encyclical as pope, inviting all Christians to shed the weariness of the world and focus on the joy that lies ahead, the hope to which we are called.
It can be challenging to bring in the gospel perspective of joy in a world that is ridden with worries, anxieties, and fears. Each day brings another news of a terrorist attack, wild fires, storms, and natural disasters, not to talk about the hateful rhetoric being cooked and served in many of our colleges and by pressure groups of different shades. The media on their part do not fail to paint grim pictures of the collapse of our government. How often do you hear that if a particular legislation passes people will die? All are efforts to stifle the joy which we are invited to share in, especially this season, leading to the birth of the Savior, and the joyful expectation of His final coming.
John the Baptist balances the equation by voicing out the true reason why we miss out in the joy of the Lord. He’s a voice. What does the voice say? Reform your lives. Reform and reconciliation bring healing and open the ducts for the joy of the Lord to penetrate. There’s no better way for us to experience this reform than through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which I urge you to make an essential part of your Advent practice and Christmas preparation. The Christmas tree will not gleam, if your soul is, to use a term I leaned from baseball, Slugging it Out with hateful thoughts and feelings against a neighbor. The Christmas lights may glow, but an unrepentant heart won’t bask in the true joy that the true Light of the World, Jesus, brings. After the lights are brought down and returned to the attic from which they descended, the fake trees go back to their boxes, and the live ones go to the trash, the only thing that will remain is the joy you have in the Lord. Make room for the Lord today.
Fr. Jo Chukwudi Okonkwo