The prophet Zephaniah exhorts us to “Sing joyfully, be glad and exult” with all of our hearts. He writes in the context of the worst kind of spiritual and political corruption by the very leaders who are supposed to care for the poor and the oppressed of Judah. Isaiah writes in the midst of suffering, as the people experience the devastation of the Babylonian exile. Paul is writing from prison. But each in their own way tells us to rejoice. Why? Zephaniah says it best: God “… will rejoice over you with gladness…he will sing joyfully because of you.” (Zep 3:17-18). Because of you. Because of me. Wow! The source, the overflowing fountain of joy pouring into the world. The words of the second reading are the hallmark of Guadete Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.” A call for a universal chorus of joy.
Sometimes we aren’t part of the universal chorus. We are mired right here in everyday life. What are we supposed to do? Ignore the hard realities of life? Reduce everything to “Don’t worry; be happy.” We have problems and how are we supposed to be joyful? Be like Zephaniah, Isaiah and Paul – daily live into the belief that God can and will bridge the gap between the world we long for and the world we see before our eyes. To be joyful is to see things clearly, as they are and as God promises they will be.
One verse in the psalm: “With joy you will draw water and the fountain of salvation” always captures my attention. Prior to my time in Kenya, that verse was a soothing line of scripture; an image of some day in the future, in some Elysian field, everyone dressed in white, harps in the background, and there in the middle of was a fountain gently with the gently flowing waters of salvation. All very neat and tidy. After I returned from Kenya, people asked me if I had running water – sure …. If you ran and got it. Do you think “Rejoice in the Lord” came to mind while hauling buckets of water? Well… it is kinda’ your choice – complain, grouse, be grumpy – or repent – and find a way to rejoice in the Lord!
Maybe you just take small steps. “Well, at least we could be thankful we were way upstream from most of the slum where we lived.” And I think you know what I am saying. “Who will I meet today?” In time I began to look forward to who I might meet at the river. As you get closer there was always a cacophony of chatter: news shared, tales told, and gossip passed along. At the river there was always a joyful greeting. It was a joyous noise of life lived right where it was planted.
I lived in a tough place, with tough people having to endure the worst of times. The only people poorer than the Kenyans were the Rwandan refugees. There was poverty, pestilence, sickness, hunger, corrupt government, and more. It was the worst of times, but it was always the best of times. Every day, there was joy in the waters as we filled our jerry cans. It wasn’t a “Smile, be happy” kind of joy. It wasn’t joy from a bottle or a pill. It was a joy because on this day there was water.
We were filled with joy that God brought the rains, enough but not too much. You heard praise for the holy name of God – because today there was water. They praised God for what they had, not for what they wanted. That’s important: for what they had, not what they wanted. That is a hard lesson to learn.
I can remember sharing some version of this story with people here at home, and hearing, “Well they just do not know how poor they are, that’s why they can be happy.” Trust me, the people there knew exactly how poor they were. They knew they lived on the edge of destitution and all it would take is one small touch to push them over the edge. They also knew that life that was close to the edge required two things: God and the community. God would provide the water; the community would distribute it and make sure everyone had what they needed. And in that there was peace. As St Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Here at home, storms, illness, death, politics and our own personal crises can push us to the edge of devastation and beyond. In those moments we choose. Choose to be part of the universal divine fountain of God’s grace, compassion, comfort, and peace – and choose to be joyful. We can choose to be part of our community that will distribute what is needed. We can choose to be people who pray for others, the survivors, those who carry the memories – that they may know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
What should we do? This is what we are called to do: find joy in God and the community. Seek out the joy that is right there before you. And then remember to give a joyful thanks. Remember to cry out with gladness. Remember to “rejoice in the Lord always.” For the extraordinary people and love in your life, and for the most ordinary: that today when you go home there will be water. All are a veritable fountain, a sign of God’s overflowing joy for you.
God provides joy in so many ways. It surrounds you and calls you. Right now in the Eucharist – the great sign of heavenly love and joy – right here, right now. So, an anxious heart or no, troubled soul and all, come forward with a joyful Amen. Drink deeply from the waters of salvation: “rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.”