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Joy from the inside out

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"Bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives ... rejoice heartily in the Lord."


The crunch is upon us! Christmas is near, and there is too little time, too much to do and still more to come. We're supposed to shout, "Joy to the world!" but the actual feeling of joy might seem quite distant or exhausting, forced, like a photographer's insistence that we "smile" when we really don't feel like it.

The wonderful readings for this Third Sunday of Advent come to the rescue of our harried hearts. Each in its own way brings this blessed time into comforting focus, and, as a gift for today and tomorrow, provides effective ways that we can grasp and cultivate lasting joy, not from external sources, but from deep within, where Christ dwells and the Holy Spirit moves.

First, the reading from Isaiah (61:1-2, 10-11) helps us reorient ourselves from our daily, more mundane tasks to an inner purpose that leaps forth with gratitude and eagerness to serve.

Through our baptism, we, too, are called to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives," and, most especially, to "rejoice heartily in the Lord" for we are clothed "with a robe of salvation."

No matter where, no matter when, the more we reflect on how truly blessed we are, and how wonderful is the message that we carry, the more room we have inside for true joy.

The responsorial psalm from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-50, 53-54) is perfect for times when we are so tired from our daily duties, weighted even more by the activity of the holiday season.

Inviting Mary's beautiful prayer of praise and thanksgiving to flow into our hearts, we can be rejuvenated in grateful faith, reminded of how much the Lord loves us, blesses us and keeps us -- yes, even in our current frazzled state!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul's prayer and instruction give us a different set of eyeglasses with which to view our lives in the coming days. Instead of compartmentalizing Advent and Christmas into the crimped boxes on a calendar, we are invited to broaden our vision -- rejoicing "always," praying "without ceasing" and "in all circumstances," giving thanks.

This permission to put faith first and everywhere can assist in weeding out the things that sap our time and leave us feeling empty instead of filled. It also helps us better cultivate inner peace, building our joy on a thriving spirit within. And it gives us a potent action to take anytime we wait in seemingly endless lines or on hold!

The Gospel acclamation (Is 61:1) echoes the readings before it and leads us into a glorious Gospel -- John 1:6-8, 19-28 -- that invites us to reflect on our faith beginnings: our baptism.

Most of us probably do not remember being baptized. As squalling, wriggly babies, we were very simple-minded (adorable, yes, but, still simple-minded), caring most to eat, sleep, bawl and repeat. Even if a few of us were the paragon of cherubic virtue (a very few), the likelihood of being aware of what was happening as adults gently guided us through the first sacrament is, well, unlikely.

Yet, as clueless as we were as babes about the great mystery unfolding in our lives, that early initiation set us on a pivotal path of faith.

In subsequent years, we grew in grace and understanding, toddling, then treading along the Christian walk. Slipping and sliding sometimes, yes, in our humanity, but still moving and building grace within, even if at times we did not fully comprehend what was happening.

Ours has not been an unfamiliar road: Ancestors, saints, prophets, apostles and many others laid the pathway. Mary, the mother of Our Lord, gave herself, her "yes." Joseph, her husband, too. And Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, then walked through his remarkable life to death so that we might be saved.

Now, as with our first baby steps, we do not walk in isolation. Family, friends, church community and faithful around the world are in step all around us. The blessed Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- are never away, but with us in all and through all.

And we, no matter how beleaguered we might be because of the worldly cares we take on, have access always to the pure joy that comes from the sacrament of baptism and the continual flow of God's love, support and grace.

As we move through the next days, busy though they might be, remembering our baptism and all of the wonder that comes with it can bring our gratitude for all of God's gifts to light. We can share the good news like never before and let our joy shine brilliantly, brightly, from the inside, out!

Maureen Pratt is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.

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