12 December 2009

PINK OF HEALTH

Third Sunday of Advent
Lk 3:10-18

You are rushing your way to school or to the office. It is another dull Monday and Friday is too far from sight to even imagine. The rain worsens it. More probably than not, Manuguit will be flooded again. And when you arrive home from school or office after a tiring day, you still will have to clean up the mess. But in the midst of the rain, there she comes. You see how she savors walking under the rain. She is very happy, enjoying her every step on the wet pavement. Is she from another planet? You wonder why she is so happy.

When you are finally just an arms-length away from each other, she throws her arms around you and give you a really big bear hug with a matching beso. Then, when you succeed in disentangling your self from her embrace, you ask her: “Why are you very happy? Is there anything to be happy about? Half of the world hungers while the other half dies in war. Here in our own country, corruption seems like an incurable cancer, eating our flesh away. People are massacred, beheaded, mutilated, killed like pigs in the slaughter house. And in the midst of our impoverish life, many of our leaders are simply ruthless, heartless, and godless with all their lies and greed for power and money. So, tell me, why are you happy?” But she does not answer; instead, she gives you the puzzled-look for a moment, then smiling, she winks at you and continues on her way, humming a happy tune. She is really very happy!

You are left confused, puzzled, wondering.

It is indeed puzzling to see the joy of others while you are very sad. The reverse is likewise puzzling: while others are desolate, you are jumping with joy. but the most puzzling is when others are happy even in the midst of much difficulty and suffering. They are people who refuse to be imprisoned in an environment of despair. They are like the three characters in our readings on this third Sunday of Advent. Take for example, the Prophet Zephaniah – from the ruins of Jerusalem, his call to joy and feasting rises. Another is St. Paul the Apostle – imprisoned and awaiting execution, he manages to even write to the brethren to console and encourage them. And, in the gospel, John the Baptist – in the middle of the parched wasteland – also conquered by the colonial power – he shouts the Good News.

Why is that so?

The Prophet Zephaniah, St. Paul the Apostle, and St. John the Baptist – they share a common vision: the Lord is near. If the imminent coming of the Lord at the end of time threatens many of us, these three figures from our readings today do not consider the same coming as a threat but as the radical source of joy – the kind of joy that can never be stolen from them, even by their persecutors and executioners. Because of this joy, they are much different from those who, like them, also announce the kingdom of God but with a long face. This joy of theirs gives them the ability to see beyond the present trials and sorrows. This joy urges them to encourage others to have the same kind of joy. Not one of them is already contented with being joyful in themselves; each of them moves with the hope of contaminating others with their joy.

And this, indeed, is the message of the third Sunday of Advent: rejoice, the Lord is near! Take note: it is not “The Lord is already near” but “The Lord is near.” In a very real sense, the Lord is no longer coming. He is here already! Indeed, He is very near. Despite everything that says otherwise, do you feel that the Lord is truly near? Are you able to share this experience with others even in the midst of your own sufferings and pain? Are you a prophet of doom only or a messenger of hope as well? You are indeed an apostle of joy, but are you a joyful apostle?

What is joy? Joy is healthy living. “Healthy” here does not mean freedom from sickness or handicap. One may be physically well and complete but spiritually decaying nonetheless, right? The really and completely joyful person is he or she who is healthy in body and soul. In a word, healthy living is clean living.

We all want to live healthy, but not all of us live cleanly. This is the root cause of sadness in many people’s lives. Thus, we all continue searching, researching, and inquiring about joy. “How can I be joyful?” we ask. And John the Baptist answers in the gospel today: be compassionate and generous to the needy, be fair in all dealings, never intimidate, never extort, be happy with the fair pay for your work. In a word, live cleanly and justly. If only we follow John the Baptist’s advice, the world will surely be a happier – not only a safer – a planet to live in. And every man and woman will experience – not only feel – that Jesus indeed is near and is not only already near because, in fact, He is here.

When we were together in a concert at the Philippine International Convention Centre (PICC), I asked Chairman Bayani Fernando why pink is the color of the Metro Manila Development Authority o MMDA. Do you know why? BF said, “Pink is the color of good health. Do we not even have the idiomatic expression ‘pink of health’, meaning ‘the best of health’, very healthy?

On this third Sunday of Advent, which is called Gaudete Sunday or “the Sunday of Rejoicing”, the priest may wear pink. Usually, the explanation for this unusual color in the liturgy is that pink is the color of joy – the purple has started turning into white. It is, however, not bad to think that the pink of today’s liturgy is a reminder for us to live healthy; that is, to live clean lives, for only he who live cleanly live joyfully.

May you always be in the pink of health.

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