3rd Sunday of Advent        

            I am sure many of you have already encountered – perhaps on TV or social media – the man named Nick Vujicic. Nick was born without fully formed limbs – no arms and legs. How he has overcome his ‘disabilities’ to become a pastor and great inspirational speaker is already a remarkable feat. But what really strikes and impresses me most is his compelling sense of joy and peace in his life.

            Once Nick Vujicic said, “Often people ask how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs.” “The quick answer is that I have a choice. I can be angry about having no limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose. I chose gratitude.”

            My favorite quote from him is this: “The joy of the Lord is my strength, knowing that He is with me, knowing that He will never leave me, knowing that He is bigger than any circumstance, and that He loves us. “It is not that everything is going smoothly. It is not that Nick never cries or Nick is never fearful anymore. It is not about Nick being happy, but Nick’s trust in God.” “My joy comes from knowing that God is with me and that God loves me.”

            If St. Paul were here today, he would point with pride at Nick Vujicic and say, “Be like Nick.” “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is what Paul is telling us in today’s second reading. In one sweeping statement Paul summarizes the Christian spirit. The Jerome Biblical Commentary puts it this way: “Paul depicts Christianity not merely as a series of obligations toward God and neighbor, but as a way of life oriented to God in joy, prayer and thanksgiving.”

            What is this joy that should characterize our Christian life? How can people like Nick Vujicic “rejoice always” when there is so much pain and frustration in their own life, and so much suffering, poverty, and misery in the world? Their secret is to rejoice always in the Lord… to rejoice because we belong to him in as much as his Spirit lives within us… to rejoice because we will return to him as the fulfillment of our life.

            When we live in the Lord, we can always celebrate our existence – whether in health or sickness, success or failure, security or poverty. The Bible teaches that true joy is formed in the difficult seasons of life. And it is said, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.” We can always rejoice in the Lord because in him light triumphs over darkness, love overcomes fear, life prevails over death.

            Why should a Christian pray without ceasing? Prayer puts us in the mysterious presence of the living God. A God who loves us, yet allows suffering to inflict us. A God who adopts us as his children, yet permits to discipline us. (Albert Cylwicki) We should pray because it enables us to discover the meaning and purpose of our life. We should pray because it enables us to connect to God and to have a personal relationship with the Lord. We should pray because it enables us to understand everything that happens to us in the light of our faith – faith that something good will come out of it. We should pray because it reminds us how precious we are to the Lord. We should pray because it enables us to respond to the needs of others.

            What does it mean to give thanks in all circumstances? Dr. Hans Selye, in his book Stress of Life, gratitude is good antidote for stress. If we focus our attention on what we do not have and complain about it, we get uptight and anxious. But if we concentrate on the countless blessings we do have and thank God for them, we experience contentment and peace.

            Gratitude and happiness go together. (Daniel Mahan) One cannot be grateful and unhappy at the same time. William Law, a writer, has this to say about being grateful: “The shortest and surest way to happiness is to make it a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.” “For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.”

            As Christmas approaches, St. Paul tells us how to get ready for the Lord’s coming: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” 

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