Joy in the Lord
“I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” the prophet says in the First Reading. And why wouldn’t he? He has glad tidings. The poor will be taken care of, the brokenhearted will be healed, the captives will be freed, and the prisoners will be released. Who wouldn’t rejoice in these things?
As the winter dark and cold encroach on our days, and the birth of the baby Jesus draws near, we hear these beautiful words everywhere. But the problem is that, for many people, this is a time of depression, not of joy.
And why? Well, because the poor are still poor; people are broken-hearted; and the captives and prisoners are not released. The bank forecloses on the house of a person who has lost his job; a friend is treacherous; a spouse succumbs to alcoholism. What has happened to the promise of the beautiful words? How is joy possible?
The answer lies in Mary’s words in the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” she says. Does anyone think that she took these words back when she stood by the cross as her son was crucified?
How can Mary maintain the words of the Magnificat even at the foot of the cross? The answer is that the greatest love of the Lord was there. The words of joy that Mary spoke before the Lord was born are only more true in the suffering she bears at his cross. His love doesn’t take away her suffering at his crucifixion. How could it? But her suffering is enveloped in his great love, and so it is transfigured.
Joy in the Lord is compatible with waiting for the final redemption from our suffering and our sin because Christ is Emanuel, God with us. Even now, because his love suffuses all our suffering, our souls can proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and our spirits can rejoice in God. Our Lord transfigures the suffering of our lives in his love.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University