Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Say It Again: Rejoice

First things first, let's talk about the vestments. This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, which comes from the first word of the Latin entrance antiphon: Gaudete in Domino Semper, Rejoice in the Lord always. Gaudete means rejoice, and so there's this sense where as we get close to Christmas, the penitential aspect of Advent is tempered by the joy of Christmas, so the purple of Advent is infused by the white of Christmas to give us pink, or rose. Now, I have learned that purple and white actually make lavender, not rose, but lavender doesn't exist on the average guy's color palette, and it was guys that made these decisions a long time ago, so we ended up with rose. I'm not actually sure what color lavender is.

So we are called today to rejoice in our Lord who is coming, not just at Christmas, but at the end of time. The Collect set the tone for that. "Oh God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing." This prayer has several movements. First, we noted how God sees us faithfully waiting for Christmas, the feast of Jesus's coming. Then, we asked God to enable us always to celebrate the joys this feast brings us with glad rejoicing. This prayer recognizes that God is the source of our joy, and that if we have joy, it comes from him.

So then we move into the readings. The first reading, from the prophet Zephaniah, continues this command to rejoice. Zephaniah has been preaching against the corruption he saw in Israel, but at this point in his book he turns his attention to the coming Messiah who will remove the judgment that Israel is suffering under. Israel was suffering because they weren't faithful to their promise, but Zephaniah prophecies that this will not last, and so he commands them to rejoice. He tells them that one day God will be in their midst, and so they need to rejoice.

But John the Baptist seems to take the "God is going to be in your midst" thing a different direction, and the joy is not as immediately apparent. John says that one mightier than himself is coming, and he says that this mighty one is coming with his winnowing fan, to clear the threshing floor and to burn the chaff. A winnowing fan is how a farmer would separate the wheat from the useless chaff. The wheat is gathered in at harvest but the useless chaff is blown away by the wind or burned. John the Baptist is using this as an image of Jesus's coming: Jesus will gather his own to himself, but those who are not his will be burned with unquenchable fire. So, rejoice? Luke, who wrote the gospel, describes this as good news that John was preaching.

And it should be good news to us, if we're ready. Jesus didn't come to allow us to keep living our old lives. He came to call us to a new life. When you were baptized however long ago, it wasn't so that you could keep living your old life. You were baptized so that you would have the grace to follow Jesus into a new life, to be the wheat that he would gather into his barns. This is indeed news worth rejoicing over.

And finally, St. Paul in the second reading reiterates this call to be joyful. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always," but then he does something interesting. He says our kindness should be known to all, and he tells us to have no anxiety at all. He seems to link joy, kindness, and peace. He does this by encouraging absolute dependence on God. Paul says that if you depend on God, it will make you more joyful, it will make you kinder, and it will bring more peace into your life.

And Paul's right in this, but it's not an instantaneous thing, partially because depending on God is easier said than done. Dependence on God is tricky, because it doesn't absolve you from doing your own share of the work in your life. If you sit at home all day and depend on God to provide you money to buy food, you'd probably end up hungry. So you and I have to work at the things that it is in our power to work at. But we lose sleep over a whole lot of things that are far beyond our power to control: the choices our family and friends make, the direction our country is going to go, what the future holds, and a million other things. These are the things we have to turn over to God.

There's a famous story about Pope John XXIII (if anybody has cause for anxiety it's the pope) who would pray for the Church every night and he would always conclude his prayer with, "Well, it's your Church Lord, I'm going to bed." And because John XXIII found peace in letting God take care of the things that he couldn't, he was known as an exceedingly kind and joyful man. Kindness and joy came naturally to him because he let go of the problems he couldn't control.

We all have a risk for increased stress as we get closer to Christmas. I urge you strongly to resist that. If the house isn't perfectly decorated or that last present isn't bought, it's ok. None of it is worth your own peace, which is truly a gift from God. So rejoice today because the Lord is near, and let the peace of that Lord permeate the last half of Advent.

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