During the 1980s, a saying swooped into American culture that has been attributed to Malcolm Forbes; namely, that “The one who dies with the most toys—wins!”
At face value, it implies that the most important thing in life is to collect playthings and have fun while we can enjoy it. But sadly, it seems to go a step further by portraying our lives as a contest, where we “win” not by being fulfilled while we’re alive, but by being the one who dies with the most toys. Yes, we win posthumously!
Imagine at our funeral being able to hear the priest or deacon praying-and-saying over our mortal remains and before our family and friends: “He/she died with the most toys. He/she wins!” If I were the deceased and could speak, I know I’d be saying—-“Did I, did I?”
Regarding joy, one online dictionary provides two definitions: (1) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; and (2) as a source or cause of delight.
Regarding the first definition, that joy comes through our possessions, the Wisdom books of the Holy Bible have much to say.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes (2:4-10), what we possess is enumerated: “I built myself houses…I amassed for myself silver and gold…I accumulated much more than all others before me…” And then, in the Book of Wisdom (2:5), the sacred author sticks a fork into it all and slaps water upon our faces: “For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow; and our dying cannot be deferred. Because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.”
So, if we can’t take our possessions with us and they do not have the capacity to bring us joy, then what does?
If we focus upon the second definition, we find the answer. Here, we are not focused on possessions, but rather upon the source of our delight, the source of that which brings us joy!
The great 20th-century Catholic author, GK Chesterton, once said that “Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
On this Third Sunday of Advent, the secret is revealed: Joy is relationship—with the Lord!
Our Psalm (Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54) captures this relationship to a tee. For immediately following Mary’s dialogue with her cousin, Elizabeth, comes forth her Canticle: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:16-24), echoes the same: “Rejoice always! May the God of peace make you perfectly holy…”
For Mary, the Feast of her Immaculate Conception reminds us that she was preserved from original sin before her birth and, as we have been informed in Luke’s Gospel (1:26-38), was full of grace. For Paul (Acts 9), it was a different story. As a vicious persecutor of the Church, Paul encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus, received infused grace (as we do on the day of our baptism), and was transformed. “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
What about us? What about you and me? Where do we fit into all of this?
In our lives, especially when we are young, we tend to migrate toward the “stuff of life” believing the wisdom of the world that it will provide us with joy.
But it never does.
As our years pass and our proverbial runway becomes shorter and shorter, our joy focuses more on relationships. With my own grown children, they’ll ask me what I want for Christmas. My response: “Spend some time with your dad.”
This is, as I like to say, acquired wisdom. God’s wisdom, however, is for all times. Not only for when we are old, but also for when we are young. It beckons us to open our hearts, eyes, and ears so that we might come to recognize the joy that only comes from Him! And specifically, through a relationship where we invite the Lord into our lives and ask Him to accompany us on our journeys. 24/7, 365 days a year, He’s there for us.
For me, that’s joy!
On rejoice Sunday, a deacon I know raises 7 fingers, each representing a letter that makes up the word—REJOICE…
Relationship—that each day, we try to be in relationship with Jesus, communicating with Him as often as possible.
Evangelization—that each day, we share the love and saving grace of Jesus with those we meet.
Justice—that each day, we are moved to give back, to help those who need helping.
Only—that each day, we remember the most important thing; namely, that we place Jesus first in our lives.
Intercession—that each day, when we pray to Jesus (for others and ourselves), we remember that He is standing at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.
Community—that each day, when we gather with others, we remember that Jesus is there and promises to strengthen us.
Everlasting life—that each day, we remind ourselves of our eternal destiny and that He has built a mansion in heaven for us beyond anything we can imagine.
On Rejoice Sunday, may we do just that—rejoice! In today’s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28), John the Baptist is repeatedly asked: Who are you?
Regarding ourselves, when others ask us who we are, may we boldly proclaim that we are joyful Christians!