Gaudete! Rejoice! The words of St. Paul ring in our ears. In times past, when the whole congregation processed into the church to begin mass, they sang an entrance procession. The hymn for the third Sunday of Advent was always the same. The Latin text began “Gaudete.” The English translation was, “Rejoice.”
The feast of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the Savior, is very close at hand. The Gospel account of John the Baptist makes this very clear. John’s preaching in the desert had reached the ears of the authorities in Jerusalem. But the authorities were so busy with their own affairs they couldn’t bother to investigate themselves. They sent lower officials to investigate and report back. It reminds me of King Herod with the Magi.
These minions then try to uncover the power behind John’s preaching.
“Are you the messiah?” “No.”
“Are you Elijah?” “No.”
“Are you the prophet that we are looking for?” “No.”
“Then who are you?” “I am the one who Isaiah foretold, ‘The voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord. He is more than I. He is in our midst and you haven’t seen him.’” Those minions left, mystified. Can you imagine the scene when they returned to Jerusalem and made their report to the higher-ups?
Our response is quite different, yours and mine. We know more about the story. We know that the historical Jesus of Nazareth has been born, has preached, has died on the cross, was buried, and has risen from the dead. He has saved us from sin and from eternal damnation.
The pivotal moment in all history was the birth of Jesus. We celebrate that event every year. We have to celebrate it. The Church gives us three-plus weeks to get ready to celebrate. Jesus is coming. Rejoice! Prepare the way of the Lord. Decorate the house. Buy gifts to exchange with others. Wrap the gifts. Get a Christmas tree (or dig out the artificial tree from last year). Decorate the tree. Bake cookies. On and on.
What is missing from all these preparations? The spiritual dimension. People who looked to John the Baptist for guidance had to go out to the desert to find him. The desert was the place of solitude, of silence, of simplicity. In order to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we have to make time for solitude and silence. God speaks to our hearts. Can we hear Him? “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For five minutes a day turn off the TV, turn off the cell phone. Give God your undivided attention. St. Paul had some good advice for the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing, listen to the Spirit. Test all you hear for truth. Give thanks. And rejoice.
In the face of a pandemic that has altered the way that families gather to celebrate, I say “Rejoice.”
In the face of climate change that threatens all life on our beautiful blue planet, again I say “Rejoice.”
In the face of the sexual abuse scandal that has shaken our trust in Church leadership again I say “Rejoice.”
In the face of political turmoil that threatens the very foundations of our democracy, again I say “Rejoice.”
In the face of the darkness of sin, of greed and selfishness, again I say “Rejoice.”
Rejoice – Christ is coming.
Gaudete – Christmas is almost here. Rejoice!!