What are you so happy about?

3rd Sunday of Advent (B) 2020

            Today is known by the latin title as ‘Gaudete Sunday’; and Gaudete means joy. The reason today is called Gaudete Sunday is obvious when you read the readings, especially the first two: they tell us to be joyful;  from Isaiah and from St Paul, even the refrain of the psalm speaks of joy. 

I don’t need to tell you that joy is in short supply these days. If it were only Covid 19 it would be bad enough, but many people are experiencing other difficulties; illness, unemployment, lack of money, shortage of food; more people are ending up homeless. Young and not so young are being challenged mentally; some can’t cope. No one is finding this easy. No wonder joy is in such short supply. And yet this is the message from today’s readings. Isaiah says, ‘the spirit of the Lord has been given to me… he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken.’ Well, there are plenty of poor today and many hearts have been broken. So these words are very timely and welcome. Isaiah goes on to say, ‘I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.’ It is not a superficial joy, one that soon passes. My soul, he says, rejoices in my God; that is the deepest part of our being. 

St Paul writing to the Christians in Thessalonika tells them to be ‘happy at all times.’ Not just when there are reasons to be happy but to be happy when there aren’t. Like now. Easier said than done. But Paul isn’t making this up. He means it; he gives his own example. How he suffered in life, especially once he became a follower of Christ. But in the midst of his sufferings he gave thanks to God. Some would say he was crazy. But Paul wasn’t crazy, his heart was full of the love of God, and that made him rejoice even in times of suffering. 

In the gospel we have John the Baptist. I suppose one wouldn’t immediately equate John with joy; more austerity and penance. But John was overjoyed that he was heralding the messiah. He was a witness to the birth of Christ; the last of the prophets to do so. The church asks us to be witnesses to the birth of Christ today; to be, in a sense, other John the Baptists. To tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. And it is good news: sinners will be forgiven,  we are all loved by God and we are lovable. Who doesn’t want to hear this? Not pop-song love, but real love; love that changes you, makes you feel better, that gives you a reason to live. A love that is so powerful that you want to share it with others. This is what John the Baptist did and the other prophets. So, if we really believe we are loved then, in spite of the pandemic and other difficulties, we smile and we are happy. We are kind to people and helpful, especially to those who are worse off than ourselves, we give and don’t count the cost. And we do all this gladly and with a cheerful face. 

Yes Gaudete Sunday is a special day. A day to give thanks. A day to look forward to the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ,  the cause of our joy. It is a joy that won’t go away because it is based on the truth: that Christ is coming to save us, to make us whole, to free us from our sins, and to show us that we are loved. Isn’t this reason to be joyful? 

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