Today, Gaudete or Rejoicing Sunday, Scripture advises:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances. (cf I Thess. 5:16-24)
Of all the things Scripture commands, this should be the easiest. After all, who doesn’t want to rejoice. Nonetheless, it can be a challenge. Here in DC folks tend to get very “big picture;” some because it’s their sworn responsibility to keep their eye on the big picture, but for most of us there is a mysterious, mesmerizing allure to anxiety about the “big pictures” of our lives. It could be politics. It could be family. It could be our efforts on behalf of the most benign causes in civil society. It almost inevitably generates a sentiment, “Everything’s falling apart,” that colors our whole outlook. I call it “Big Picture-itis.” It’s the same feeling I got at university starting each semester. I’d look over all my courses’ curricula and feel completely overwhelmed. The only way forward was one reading assignment at a time… little picture.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve just gotten a dog. Puppy that she is, and novice that I am at bing a dog owner, she’s a handful. That said, the “little picture,” focus I’ve been keeping on getting to know my dog has put big picture demons back in their appropriate boxes. Laying on the couch one night, Annie (my puppy) began to lick my face. It tickled and I couldn’t stop smiling even as I struggled to shift her squirmy form away from me. I rejoiced that the Lord had given me a moment of light and joy via my dog… and then I rejoiced even more because I recognized I had been touched by God (again, via my dog… I don’t worship animals). On the flip side, Annie and I were walking yesterday. She leapt into one of the church flower beds, sniffing as she moved. All perfectly normal, but then she tried to eat one of the wood chips… with lightning speed my hands were on her muzzle, gently prying her jaw open and reaching in to remove the choke-hazard… Only it wasn’t a wood chip she’d chomped on, it was another dog’s droppings. I cleared the…material… from Annie’s mouth and cleaned my own hands in a little pile of snow. Humiliation, humility… Lord, you have shown me my smallness! I was, spiritually aware of being on the cross with Jesus. I was angry and frustrated for a moment, but then felt privileged to be with the Lord. I rejoiced. Annie and I walked on.
One might protest, “Now wait a minute… This isn’t exactly John-the- Baptist-style rejoicing. Can you really claim that ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon you’ (Is. 61) as you have these ‘little picture’ moments?” The answer is: YES… and so did John.
Think about it… John the Baptist came, today’s Gospel (Jn 1:6-28) tells us, “for testimony.” And to what was he testifying? …That God had touched him and would touch others. This doesn’t exactly require an ad campaign made in Madison Avenue. John proved that too… he lived in simplicity in the desert wearing camel hair, eating locusts and honey. He didn’t begin with a crowd of thousands… more likely he met whoever was passing by and had very normal conversation with them. His listeners then testified and then the crowds got big.
Are we really so very different? This Advent, “don’t quench the Spirit.” Believe that the little picture ways in which God touches you are indeed full of his Spirit and share that story with others. When you do you will have rejoiced and given them the perfect gift.