My Dear Sisters and Brothers! St Paul some two thousand years ago wrote to his beloved Christians in Philippi: ‘I want you to be happy… I repeat, what I want is your happiness… There is no need to worry.’ These words are not as easy as McFerrin’s lyrics to sing, though it looks like both texts have a similar message. But, do they really have a similar message? McFerrin’s message is about ignoring problems, troubles, disadvantages etc. St Paul’s message comes down to the reality that ‘The Lord is very near.’ That’s what drove St John the Baptist who, as we could hear in the Gospel, said: ‘Someone is coming.’ This someone was Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, who was admired for his integrity and austerity, was looking forward to Jesus’ appearance because this someone, Jesus Christ, was more powerful than he was. However John wasn’t frighted of this more powerful Jesus who was coming but he was looking forward to Jesus’ coming. Why should he be frightened? When his ancestors cross the Red Sea, when they were saved from the Egyptian army they sang as they continued on their journey to the Promised Land: ‘I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph! Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea! The Lord is my strength, my song, my salvation.’ The Lord they loved, worshipped and followed was the Mighty One who was coming to their rescue.
Recently someone said to me: ‘I don’t need to go to church because I don’t sin.’ The Bible responds to it in this way: ‘The man who thinks that he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.’ But the Bible also reminds us that ‘If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves.’ In both situations we need the power of the Lord: to support us to persevere in doing good. John the Baptist didn’t relay on his own strength to persevere in holiness. He desired the Lord’s coming because only Jesus could sustain him in his integrity and austerity. The people, who were coming to the Baptist, were moved and inspired by his example. They didn’t want to deceive themselves that they were sinless, that’s why they asked John: ‘What must we do?’ First the Prophet from the Jordan told them to practise integrity and honesty in their own circumstances, whether they were soldiers, tax collectors or ordinary folks. Then the Baptist told them about the coming of Jesus who would ‘baptise them with the Holy Spirit and fire’ so that they could have grace from heaven to do what on their own they couldn’t enhance in their own life and in the life of their community. Remembering this St Paul told the Philippians: ‘I want you to be happy’ and immediately he added ‘always happy in the Lord.’ This is the word of God, the word from heaven for us too. We don’t need to go on mad shopping trips hoping that by purchasing all sorts of products and services we will also buy happiness with them. Happiness doesn’t come from having everything or having at least a lot. Happiness comes from having the Lord Jesus in our life.
I believe that Advent is a much needed time for us and for our society as there is so much overconsumption. By giving us this sacred time of waiting for the Lord, God has given a spiritual, mental and emotional remedy to heal our erratic search for happiness in things. The grace of Advent evokes in us the desire for having Jesus in our lives. Frederic Faber a nineteenth century Englishman, who after being influenced by St Cardinal John Henry Newman, as an adult joined the Catholic Church and was ordained a Catholic priest, wrote more than 150 hymns to enrich our Catholic worship. Among them there is the hymn: ‘Jesus, my Lord, my God my All.’ Jesus is all we need to happiness.
My Dear fellow Advent pilgrims! When the next time you hear the song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ remember that the secret to achieve it is in what Fr Faber wrote: ‘Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All.’