My friends, today we find ourselves in the middle of our Advent journey of waiting, of preparing for the wondrous feast of Christmas. I say, “wondrous” because what Christmastime, the whole 12 days should say to us is that we are mightily loved by our God! If you and I were to allow just one “seed to set roots” within us during these four weeks of preparation, it should be this—that the God of us all loves and cherishes us, each one of us—with no strings attached. Why else would this Being, who didn’t need us, choose to be one of us? We will leave that thought for now.
Let’s look to our Scriptures for an overall theme for the beginning of this week. The prophets, Zephaniah, the writer of the Psalms, thought to be David, and Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, all speak without a doubt of “joy” and “rejoicing,” because this is Gaudete Sunday.
“Gaudete” is Latin for joy and being that for centuries, all Catholic liturgical prayers were in Latin, we can understand perhaps why this Sunday is called, “Gaudete.” That, and the fact that Catholics are ever so slow to change! In the Hebrew/Aramaic language that Jesus would most likely have spoken, “Simcha” means “joy” and we can assume that to be, “joyful” or “full of joy” was seen as a good thing as some people even used “Simcha” as a given name. So much for your language lesson today.
The prophet Zephaniah says of it, “Be glad and exult with all your heart…fear not…your God is in your midst.” Additionally, “Our God will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in love” and “Our God will sing joyfully because of you,” says Zephaniah.
For the psalmist David, we are called to, “joy and gladness with the action of, “crying out”— one that denotes great emotion.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, “ups the ante,” as it were, with the time frame of, “always”— “rejoice in the Savior—always! —because this same “Savior,” is near!
And finally, from the gospel of Luke, we learn from the prophet, John the Baptist what this Savior has come among us to do—what he himself does, and this is what we too must do. Our Savior Jesus has come to show us the right ways to live in our world in our one beautiful life. Those “who have” are called upon to share with those “who have not.” Those who “collect taxes” are “to be just, exacting no extra.” Soldiers are, “not to bully.”
And we my friends can transpose the meanings of these instructions to our present day. We must “share” what we have, “be just” in our dealings with others and show respect for all.
Further, we learn from the Baptist that we must “learn our place,” coming to know, as John did in his life, who he was, and who he was not— “I am not the Messiah,” in fact, “I am not fit to untie his sandals.”
So why is it important that we come to know, as did John “who we are and who we are not,” we might ask. John accomplished in his life what he was called to do because he came to know who, in fact he was, and even though he had a significant following and could have run with that, he didn’t; but in fact, “did his piece,” which was, “to be a voice…preparing the way.”
For all of us, the lesson is clear—we must never get in the way of, “the message.” For each of us, as Jesus’ followers, it should always be about, “shedding more light” on our brother, Jesus—allowing him to become greater in this world.
So any attempt then, on any of our parts, ministers and pastors included, to concentrate on anything that is not about “love” and “love shared” as we can see from the example of Jesus in his life, is clearly, a waste of time. Hard and fast rules and regulations are generally about, “black and white” issues and the ultimate end is usually about controlling others, rather than, “setting people free” to express the God-given love that has been placed in each of our hearts by this same God. Why else would Zephaniah say that our God, [has renewed] “you in love” [?]
Why? —because this is our ultimate call as Christians—always, always—to show love! And for those who are worried about “rules being followed,” for whatever reason—trust me, that if your response to life, however it presents itself, is primarily, “to do the most loving thing,” then the most important rules will be abided by as well.
So, is this “loving thing” always easy to do? Not at all! All the prophets who have ever lived—who have asked great things of the people they have prophesied to, always include the words, “fear not,” because when we are asked to do the “hard things,” speak the word that perhaps no one else will speak, our human condition calls up “fear” in us—fear that others won’t understand, speak ill of us, and in some cases, abandon us.
And while the reading from Luke “pushes” us beyond “the joy of the crib,” it is good to remember that that time will come soon enough. I believe the majority of the readings for this “Joy Sunday” call us to this simple, yet profound realization that we are loved by God and that our God came among us for that profound—while simple, reason—alone. Because you see, for God, it never was about, “needing” us, but always about “wanting” us—to be close, as anyone who loves another, knows. Amen? Amen!