They Rejoiced With Exceedingly Great Joy!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Happy New Year!  I hope your Christmas season was blessed in many ways as it comes to a close tomorrow on the Baptism of the Lord.  It is true that we all desire happiness and we are hoping for it in the New Year. But God does not want you to be happy; he wants something more for you than sheer happiness.  Let’s look at today’s gospel to get a look at what God really wants for you.

You know this gospel and it comes from Matthew and it tells of the Magi who come from the East in search of the Messiah.  They are pagan foreigners, completely un-churched, nonreligious people who are one of the first to comprehend that Jesus is someone special.  The religious people miss out on who Jesus is, while the illiterate shepherds and Persian astrologers get it.

Think about it, the Magi had every reason not to follow the star since they had no idea where they were going, the trip was difficult and dangerous, and there were no promises that the star would lead to anything.  And willing to take a risk and none of these concerns stopped them.   However, there were clearly looking for something more in life.  That’s how they even saw the star to begin with.  It seems that everyone else missed it, even the religious leaders.  They were looking for something.

Clearly the Magi were people of affluence who enjoyed the possibility of travel, to have an education and in view of the gifts they brought.  They lived a comfortable life, probably had a lot, but were looking for something more.  Discontent is not what we are looking for, but it can often lead us to something great when it motivates us to take action.  If you are not content with your life God may be leading you to a new place.  Follow his star, take a risk.

Their search brings them to Jerusalem and they go to King Herod asking for this newborn King of the Jews.  When Herod learns of this he and all of Jerusalem are greatly troubled.  Often we are looking for a comfortable life and God often disturbs our comfort to move us to something better.   Don’t miss what he wants you to do, or to learn.

Unlike the Magi, Herod is well known from history and his life is well documented.   He is a master politician with boundless ambition and devoted to his power.  He was a ruthless and violently eliminated anyone who threatened him including his wife, his three sons, and all of his in-laws.  He had immense power and was completely paranoid, a bad combination.

So his greatest fear was a contender to the throne and we are told that he consulted the religious leaders since he was not Jewish and was ignorant of Scripture.  They spoke to him about the predictions of the Messiah being born in the city of Bethlehem.  So he sent the Three Kings to Bethlehem and asked them to let him know when they found this child.  Herod of course is plotting to kill this child and eliminate the threat.  We see again in the littleness of Bethlehem how greatness emerges from what is small and insignificant, and worldly greatness collapses and falls.

The star leads the Magi to the Holy Family and they prostrate themselves, worship him and open their gifts and treasures.  They got down on their bellies to do him homage.  Their worship is active or if not it is not really worship; it’s just watching!   At the end Matthew tells us that they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

For us there are different levels of well-being.  One is on the physical plane, which we call pleasure and usually has to do with our senses.  God created pleasure and wants us to enjoy a good meal or a good song or many other things.  But we will be hungry again, or desirous of hearing more music.

The next level of well being is something more interior and includes experiences like contentment, excitement and gratitude.  Hopefully after a meal with family and friends you have this experience of love and support.  Of course, eventually the holidays are over everyone goes home.

God created pleasure and happiness and when we enjoy this in appropriate ways it pleases him.  It is just that this is not the goal of our life.  We have a good meal and then it passes.  We share some experiences of happiness and then it ends.  Pleasure and happiness are thoughts and feelings which are circumstantial and temporary.  But God wants something more for us.

There is something that you can experience in the deepest part of you, and that is your soul, and this is joy!  It does not depend on circumstances; it is entirely independent of them.  It is not temporary; it is long lasting, even permanent.

There is one huge difference between pleasure, or happiness and joy.  We can acquire pleasure and happiness for ourselves.  Many people spend a lot of their time and money doing exactly that.  A huge part of our culture is doing this for themselves.  But joy is different.  It is not something you can buy or make, not something that someone else can give you.  Ultimately, it is a gift from God and a sign of his presence.  It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.   We all desire joy, but joy is not just about us.  It is about the people you encounter every day and work and live with as well as those who you don’t care for.

When you live your life with joy it changes your relationships and rubs off on them. If you are an adult Christian, a disciple of Christ, joy is essential.  Joy is the most compelling case for others to find Christ.  You need to pursue it and leave behind ‘your things’ and follow that star.  How do you do that?  Well, follow this series on the Joy Factor and be open to this possibility.  Look for it and be open to receive it.  Spend some time with Him.  Like the Magi, you and I are searching for something more!  The world cannot give you and me the joy that God wants to give us. Once you have it no one can take it away.