Know who you are to find true joy
LUKE 3:10–18 By Abbot John Pereira OSB
“A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ …” (Lk 3:15)
Much of the sadness in today’s world is due to false understandings which we have of ourselves or of others. The people were beginning to think that John might be the Christ. This was a false understanding of John.
John knew that he was not the Christ and he made it a point of telling the people who he was. He was not the Christ, and he did not pretend to be the Christ. “I baptize with water,” he said. And he was happy to do so.
In today’s first reading, Zephaniah prophesies that Jerusalem, the Holy City, will be restored and pleads with the people of Israel to “shout for joy”. The response to the responsorial psalm exhorts all the people to “sing and shout for joy”.
In the second reading, Paul urges the Philippians “to be happy, always happy in the Lord”. Today’s gospel gives us the key to true joy.
The very first thing that we learn about John the Baptist in the scriptures is his joy. We are told that he leapt for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth (Lk 1:44).
And this joy foreshadowed the joy he experienced in knowing his identity – his true self! He knew that he was not the Christ, and he was happy to know who he was, one who merely baptises with water.
Advent is a time to accept who we are and to find an inner joy in accepting that. Joy comes with knowing who we are and accepting ourselves as we are.
The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally referred to as ‘Gaudete Sunday’. ‘Gaudete’ is a Latin word which means ‘rejoice’ and the word comes from the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the third Sunday of Advent: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice…” (Phil 4:4).
In the midst of the spirit of prayer, penance and preparation associated with the season of Advent, we are invited during this third week of Advent to reflect on the joy of Christ’s coming and to live in a spirit of joy at all times.
“Know thyself” is an ancient Greek aphorism and is the key to a happy life. It is a warning not to be guided by popular opinion in determining our identity.
We need to go beyond what people say about us and come to a deeper consciousness of who we truly are. John the Baptist knew himself. According to popular opinion, John was the Christ. But he knew that he was not the Christ. The Christ is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit and fire. John knew that he is the one who merely baptises with water. And he was happy to do so.
He did not pretend to be who he was not. The pathway to true happiness is to come to an understanding of who I am and to accept it with joy.
Heavenly Father, I trust in You. Give me the joy of accepting who I am and the grace of living with that joy at all times. Help me to be like John the Baptist who did not aspire to be one who he was not, but who went about his daily living joyfully doing exactly what he was called to do, merely baptising with water. Amen.
The gospel reflections for December are by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.