There is an idea prevalent now that religion hinders one’s freedom, that religion cramps one’s lifestyle, that it is an oppressive force. Some people are ashamed to talk about religion to each other or their friends. Some believe their reputation would suffer a big blow if it were known that they had strong faith so they hide it. Some people say they would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

In fact, far from hindering us or cramping us in any way, living with a strong faith in God brings us the true happiness we cannot find elsewhere. Therefore Paul wrote in the second reading, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” or as another translation has it, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.” (Phil 4:4) Notice where he says we will find our happiness, “in the Lord.” We will find our happiness by living the Christian life.

The joy and happiness in the Lord that we celebrate today is symbolized by lighting a rose candle on the Advent wreath today instead of a purple one and also symbolized by wearing rose vestments today instead of purple ones. I would like to recall a number of times when we see Jesus being happy and joyful. Did Jesus feel cramped and hindered?

Not according to what we read in the Gospels. In John 15:11 we read Jesus saying, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.”

Jesus was joyful and wanted his disciples to share his joy, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” Jesus attended many dinners: the one given him by Matthew/Levi after he called him; at Zacchaeus’ house; and Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner; and there was dinner at Lazarus’ house.

At Cana Jesus changed between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine so that the wedding guests could continue to enjoy themselves, and it was wine of the best vintage. That was a lot of wine, but we must remember that at that time the wedding celebration lasted a week which explains why so much wine was needed.

Each time he told them to give up something or not to be greedy. Our journey of conversion is a journey from wanting and being greedy and possessive to becoming unselfish. That was the journey John the Baptist asked his hearers to make and the journey we are challenged to make this Advent so that we will have true joy and happiness to celebrate at Christmas rather than just Santa Claus coming to town.  I know it’s very difficult when we live in a material world that is pummeling us with advertisements, social media banners, pop-ups, and even on our cell phones.

Of course, we will. We will have troubles and problems as long as we live but we will have inner peace in the Lord and find our happiness in the Lord. I find the following two examples of being happy in the Lord in spite of severe difficulties very challenging and I doubt that I could be equally happy in such difficult situations but they are examples to us of being happy in the Lord.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was in one of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and volunteered for the death chamber in the place of one of his fellow prisoners. The jailers reported that whereas the death chambers were usually places of despair and cursing, in this case the condemned men were singing hymns.

I am sure you will agree that they are very challenging examples of being happy in the Lord. They remind us, as Paul reminds us today, that God wants us to be happy.
The Lord wills us to be happy. Since the day we were baptized we are sons and daughters of God. We could say that the words of our first reading  were fulfilled in the lives of each of us the day we were baptized,

The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear…

He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.

Can you imagine God rejoicing over you the day you were baptized, renewing you by his love? As we heard in the Gospel John the Baptist told his listeners that he was baptized with water but Jesus was coming after him and he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. When you were baptized you were touched by God. God put his seal on you when you were baptized. Why be unhappy? God wants you to be happy.
And i am sure that there are some that even despise Christmas because of personal reasons like the loss of a loved one, abusive parents, loneliness, depression, and other reasons.  I hope that is the one Christmas that turns that around.  That their attitude towards God, towards one another, and even towards themselves become pierced with the true Joy from the words they hear in our scripture and then they too become a source of light for someone else.
And so, here we are, on one the shortest days of the year. The longest darkness. And we are here because somewhere inside of us we believe that it is true. We believe that the light will always overcome the darkness. And we believe in the miracle that is about to come into this world.
And so, our job as followers of Christ is to spread that light, and spread that joy. Because joy is different than just a feeling. Joy is a way of living as people following the light of Christ into the world. Claiming joy is an act of faith, and living with that joy is an act of revolution in a world that could use a little joy right now. God’s gift of joy is there for us all to claim, not just in the good times, but especially in the bad.
As we watch and wait this Advent, be witnesses to the light of Christ, and the joy it brings. And live as the people who believe that this joy, and the child who brings it, can change the world. If you do that, you’re halfway to Christmas already. Amen.