Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoice Always

Readings for Sunday, December 11/ Gaudete Sunday:
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

What does it mean to rejoice?

It seems like a simple question, but as we come to this Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, or Rejoicing Sunday, and hear these readings about rejoicing, it’s just been in the back of my mind - what does it mean to rejoice?

As I thought about it, I knew that rejoicing isn’t being happy. I knew it’s not feeling good about something or being upbeat. It’s not an emotion or feeling at all. In fact, the more I thought about rejoicing, the more I began to wonder if it’s even something that we can control.

As I continued to think about this question in hopes of find a homily somewhere in it, I continued with the other things that needed to be prepared for this weekend. I began to look at the books and liturgy outlines and then the other night I went to the rectory to get my rose colored vestments from my closet. It was in getting these vestments that something strange happened. As I slid the hanging clothes aside to reveal these rose vestments, my heart was filled with joy and a smile came to my face as I quietly gazed upon these simply pieces of cloth. In that moment, I could not help but rejoice in the silence of my heart because I knew that this color meant that Advent is nearing its end, marking the nearness of the Lord. The Christ child is almost come; the Savior in our midst!

In light of this experience I looked at the scriptures for today and other passages that spoke of rejoicing, and noticed a pattern. Almost every time the word ‘rejoice’ is used, it is used to describe people’s response to the presence and action of God in their lives. It is something that arises from deep within the soul; a spontaneous response to God that is so powerful that the words that we use to describe it often seem to be shadows in comparison with what is taking place.

The rejoicing of Isaiah’s soul cannot be contained in a few words, but rather comes out in a beautiful, poetic verse: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”

In the responsory, we hear Mary too rejoices in the greatness of the Lord, recounting the many ways that He has blessed her and the world, in much the same way as Isaiah.

Preaching of John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Lastly, we see the true cause of our souls rejoicing in the Lord in the words of St. John the Baptist. “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” In his humility, he realizes that he is not worthy even to do the lowliest of tasks for the One coming after him and yet Christ does come in the midst of Him, and more than untie His sandals, John is asked to baptize the Lord.

Like John, when the Lord comes to us, when He makes Himself known and reveals to us His great love, we too are humbled and our souls rejoice at the greatness of a God who comes into the midst of ones who are undeserving of so great a gift. As we grow in awareness of the closeness of God to each of us at every moment of our lives, then we will truly fulfill the exhortation of St. Paul: “Rejoice always.”