Third Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

December 11, 2016

Today is Gaudete Sunday, ‘Rejoice Sunday’, ‘Sunday of Joy’. Of course, every Sunday is a Sunday of joy because Sunday is the eighth day of the week, the day of the Lord Resurrection. The word ‘Gaudete’ can also be translated as delight, gladness, happiness, take pleasure in.  The joy we celebrated today is an anticipatory joy, a kind of liturgical foretaste, to help us prepare for the great feast of Christmas, what our collect today calls, ‘the feast of the Lord’s Nativity’, met with ‘glad rejoicing’ at the ‘joys of so great a salvation’.

Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah really captures this sense of joyful anticipation.  Listen to Isaiah’s choice of words scattered throughout the text, ‘rejoice and blossom’, ‘rejoice with joy and singing’, ‘everlasting joy shall be upon their heads’, ‘they shall obtain joy and gladness’.  ‘Sorrow and sighing shall flee away’, you can just see them running away from your dancing feet.  I love the Prophet Isaiah.  You know the Hebrew word for joy is found more times in the book of the Prophet Isaiah than any other book in the Hebrew bible, and that it was Jesus’ favorite book to quote from, along with the Psalms of course.

Speaking of the Psalms.  Our psalm today is ‘saturated’ with joy.  It doesn’t mention ‘joy’ or ‘rejoicing’, but almost every line gives a reason for joy.  It praises God for being a God, ‘who executes justice for the oppressed’, ‘gives food to the hungry’, ‘sets prisoners free’, ‘opens the eyes of the blind’, ‘lifts up those who are bowed down’ under heavy burdens, ‘who upholds the orphan and the widow’, who is there for those who have no social hope, who are at the end of their rope, their hope, and their capacity to cope.

Imagine being in any of these situations. Imagine also of the joy of being restored or liberated from the particular burden.  Have you ever been hungry, really hungry?  I don’t mean, ‘like I could really use a snack right now’, kind of hungry.  I remember once in my mid twenties, I was hitchhiking on the East Coast, midway between Halifax and Yarmouth, I hadn’t eaten for a couple of days and someone gave me a small, dried, smoked, kipper.  Now in spite of my Scottish heritage, this is not normally my idea of something good to eat, at least not until you soaked it and served it up with some oatmeal, but I can still remember the joy I felt when I was given and ate that kipper.  In my mid teens I had a friend who spent the summer of 1969 in jail.  I can still remember how happy they were on the day of their release.  Those of you who walk with a cane or a walker, imagine the joy of being able to run or dance with facility and ease.  Liberation from any of the situations described in our psalm today would be a cause for great joy.

Our gospel also echoes this same joy.  John the Baptist, who has been languishing away in Herod’s prison, probably at the bottom of a dry well, literally, a hole in the ground, sends word to Jesus.  ‘’Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?’’ Remember, this is the same John the Baptist who ’lept for joy in his mother’s womb because he recognizes the presence of Jesus in Our Lady’s greeting.  What is Jesus is answer to John’s question?  Jesus answers with all reasons great joy. ’The blind receive their sight’, ’the lame walk’, ’the lepers are cleansed’, ’the deaf hear’, ’the dead are raised’, and ’the poor have good news preached to them’.

Such is the joy that is coming to us, has already pitched its tent in our midst, such is the joy of the gospel.  As Pope Frances said in his letter of the same name; ’’The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”.  Does this mean that if I don’t have joy in my life, that I have not yet really encountered Jesus?  Perhaps.  God definitely wants to give each one of us more joy. ‘’Joy to the world the Lord is come”, or at least we anticipate today, on this Gaudete Sunday, the joy of God’s Advent in the person and mission of Jesus.  God gives us this anticipatory taste of the joy of God’s presence in our midst in order to strengthen us on our pilgrim journey to Christmas.  For as the Prophet Nehemiah reminds us; ’’The Joy of the Lord is your strength’’.  Not so much our joy, which can be a fleeting and passing thing, but God’s joy, ’the Joy of the Lord’; the way God delights in us, draws near to us, takes pleasure in our company, so much so that God takes on human flesh, human nature, right down to the bottom. Human flesh, God’s flesh, lying in a manger.  Are we ready to embrace this weakness