It goes without saying that the one thing everybody longs for is to be happy. The commercial world capitalizes on this need when it advertises the latest gismos with the not so subtle suggestion that happiness is only to be found in having whatever is being promoted. The reality is that what we looked forward to having last year has left us empty enough to be wanting something else this year. Happiness is very fleeting. In truth we tend to get more enjoyment out of the looking forward to having most things than in actually having them. So happiness as the word suggests depends on what happens. If I get something that I want I feel happy, at least for a short time, and if I don’t get what I want, I don’t feel happy, also for a short time.
So there must be something that is not as transient as happiness. Something that goes much deeper. It’s a three-letter word that is the theme of today’s liturgy. It’s called JOY and it comes from deep inside.
To have joy in our lives depends far more on what we do than what happens to us. The people of Jesus time asked his cousin John the Baptist that same question. What must we do to find joy? The answer he gave not everyone wanted to hear. If you have two coats and you meet someone who has none you must give him one of yours. In other words you will find joy in giving. Learn to be generous and share what you have.
Two weeks ago there was a national collection for SVP, the charity that helps people when they are in need. On the radio during the week two people who were collecting told the story of how they stood with their buckets and so many passed without giving anything. These were usually well dressed with expensive overcoats and fancy designer handbags. Then a homeless man came up and emptied his pockets of everything he had begged for that day. They asked him if he was really ok about what he was doing and he said, ‘Absolutely. I was taught growing up that what goes round comes round. I have a bed in a shelter for the night and that is all I need. Tomorrow is another day.’ Someone listening was so moved they offered to get him permanent accommodation and I just hope they were able to find him because he deserved it.
That man found joy in giving and there is equal joy in forgiving. If you think of the word for-give, it’s another form of giving. Here let me tell you a story called The Bridge Builder. Like all stories it begins with, Once upon a time……there were two brothers who had always been very close. They lived in two farms next to each other. After 40 years of farming side by side, being the best of friends, and sharing everything, they had a row, they fell out, and while it started as a simple misunderstanding it became serious when it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by months of silence. They now had a major difference where any kind of reconciliation was utterly unthinkable.
One morning, one of the brothers named John, heard a knock on his door and he answered it to find a man with a carpenters toolbox. ‘I’m looking for a few days work’ he said, ‘would you happen to have any jobs for me here?’ ‘As it happens I do,’ he said ‘you’re just the man I need. That farm across there belongs to my brother and up to last week there was a meadow between us with a path linking the two farms. Just to spite me he went in with a digger and opened up the bank of the river and flooded the field making into a creek. I need to go one better. There’s a pile of timber over yonder and I want you to build me a big 8-foot fence that will finally divide us so I won’t ever need to see either his ugly face or his place anymore. That will soften his cough.’
The carpenter said, ‘I think I understand the situation. Just show me your digger, get me some nails and I will be able to do a job that pleases you.’
John got the supplies needed by the carpenter and then had to go away for the rest of the week. Meanwhile the carpenter worked away sawing, measuring and nailing.
When he returned at the weekend the carpenter had just finished the job. The farmers eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. There was no fence but instead there was a bridge stretching from one side to the other, right over the creek of water. It was a fine piece of work, complete with handrails, and coming across was his younger brother with his hand outstretched.
‘You are quite a fellow’ he shouted, to do what you have just done and build a bridge like this especially after all I have said and done to you.’
The two brothers first stood at each end of the bridge, not quite knowing what to do. They then ran to meet in the middle and take each other’s hand. With tears of joy in their eyes they agreed to put their past differences behind them and right there were fully reconciled.
They turned to see the carpenter hoist the toolbox onto his shoulder. ‘Please wait,’ said the older brother `I have lots of other jobs for you to do.’ ‘I would love to,’ replied the carpenter, ‘but the work `I have done is what most needed to be done and I still have many other bridges to build.’
And perhaps so do we, and there’s no greater joy than in building bridges.