In her book, Healing Troubled Hearts: Daily Spiritual Exercises,(Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1993), Lyn Holley Doucet recounts the story of Monique, a resident of Louisiana, a region renowned for – among other things – hurricanes. In the aftermath of hurricane Lily Monique stepped outside to her backyard and witnessed a sight that stirred nothing but sorrow. The trees were uprooted; all her green plants and flower beds were gone; only debris covered the backyard. From the deck of her house she recalled the special times the backyard provided for family and friends and now it appeared these memories were lost forever.
Monique knew that the fact that her house was still standing deserved thanksgiving but she was not able to be thankful. The sorrow in her heart was too heavy. Just then she noticed that her Cherokee rosebush remained intact. There were also flowers it whose yellow colors reflected the sunlight.
That picture seemed to reassure her that hope was still alive even in the midst of destruction and sorrow. Think of that flower growing in a rock!
Chapter 3 of the book of Zephaniah from which the First Reading for the Third Sunday of Advent comes is full of comfort and hope after scathing warnings of destruction and sorrow in the preceding chapters. “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion”; declared Zephaniah, “shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem” (3:14).
How could this be possible after declaring in 1:15, “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and darkness”? It sounds like the day of the hurricane, does it not?
Similarly, the Gospel Reading has John the Baptist chastising the crowds, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). The text ends with the words, “with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18). It begins with sorrow and ends with good news.
How could Paul, in the Epistle Reading from Philippians 4:4-7, and while sitting in a prison, write: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
It is a spiritual mystery: Be thankful in everything and everything will be alright. In so many ways, that is what this season is all about.