(Isa 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28)
Rene Descartes declared these famous words “Cogito ergo sum”, that is, “I think, therefore I am.” According to this famous philosopher the ability to reason and to think defined human identity. Many people, especially today, would find this definition rather limited, because it seems to exclude a lot that makes us who we are. But who are you?
How do we answer the question “Who are you?” The automatic response is to give your name. By giving your name you feel you’ve answered that question. But once again the answer is incorrect. Your name isn’t you. This is a label given to you by others and with which you are identified. People can, and do change their names. But they remain the same person.
Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher said, “Man know thyself.” This wisdom-laden maxim is one that is capable of saving people from a lot of stress and unnecessary pain and sorrow while at the same time, bringing joy and peace into people’s lives and homes. How do we come to this knowledge of self or of our levels? Socrates provides us with an answer in another aphorism: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This self-examination, leading to knowledge of the self, is key to having joy in this life, which is the focus of today’s liturgy as we celebrate ‘Gaudate Sunday,’ gaudate being the Latin for “Rejoice.”
Joy is an internal quality of the heart that is dependent on a right relationship with God and with our neighbour. Many people experience this joy regardless of their outer circumstances. Isaiah understood this concept of joy and believed he had the responsibility to press it forward. Like the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, there are many who cower in fear under the shadow of death with a self-esteem that has collapsed. God has called His people to be a comfort to those who are afflicted, brokenhearted, imprisoned by physical ailments, are spiritual destitute, and those who are hurting and mourning their losses in order to restore their joy.
The 2nd Reading of today admonishes us to rejoice always, even as we hear Mary’s song of joy in the canticle (Responsorial Psalm), but unfortunately, many people are not happy and may continue to be unhappy because their sadness is self-imposed. This is because they do not know or know but refuse to accept who they are and their ‘level’ in life, so they are in a perpetual state of unhappiness. So to speak, they are living in bondage, and they need to be brought out of their prisons in the spirit of Isaiah’s prophecy in our 1st Reading. To know yourself – like John in the gospel text – will help you live freely and happily.
When John was asked, “Who are you?” he did not claim to be who he was not. While the Jews thought of John as the long awaited messiah, and could even have probably believed him if he had said he was the one, John, knowing who he truly is, his ‘level’ and his mission, admitted not being the Christ. He rather went further to tell the people that the Christ was far greater than he is and that he was simply a messenger announcing the coming of the Christ. How would life have been for John if he had ‘cashed’ in on that opportunity to impersonate the messiah? Would he have lived the rest of his life happy? I guess not. John accepted who he was, the Virgin Mary accepted her lowliness and nothingness before God, they both knew themselves, and they lived rejoicing in the lot God gave them.
How should your sense of ‘who you are’ before God as a Christian shape how you live and what you do? It is sad that today, very many people, very many Christians do not know who they are or have refused to accept who they are. They live a false life to the point that the lie they live as a life begins to appear real to them. In the bid to appear elitist, many people have done many shameful and sometimes abominable things to fit into a social stratum that their present state in life cannot sustain. While they appear to be having the good life in the eyes of other people, in their rooms, they groan in pain and reel in debt.
It is important to stress here that knowing who you are and accepting where God has placed you for the moment does not mean you cannot be ambitious for higher things, but it simply calls for a life of humility, contentment and honesty with yourself and with others. There is no shame in being of a lowly background; there is no ignominy in not being able to possess certain things in life; there is no sin in being a simple but committed member of the Church; there is no humiliation in admitting that someone is better and much more experienced in certain areas of life than yourself; there is no dishonor in simply being you! Knowing this and accepting it is a first and major step in breaking out of the self-imposed imprisonment some people have confined themselves to.
Dear friends, it is God’s wish for us to be happy. The season of advent points us to the joy of Christ’s birth, but if we are busy living a false life, if we are not humble enough to accept our present ‘level’ in life, then this joy will elude us. Child of God, know thyself, know thy ‘level’, enjoy life in that level while aiming for higher grounds, be proud of who you are and what you are becoming and the joy of Christmas will be your portion.
Peace be with you.
Fr Dumlesi Tor