OUR ANXIOUS JOY
It’s “Gaudete Sunday”, and that’s why we are using rose candles and vestments at Mass today. “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”, and we are invited to rejoice because Christmas is closer. We are not there yet but the finish line is clearly in sight. The eclipse is nearly over and the sun is set to shine again. But should we really be rejoicing considering all the problems in our world? Why should we rejoice when our Catholic faith faces relentless attacks from a cynically hostile media and other enemies of the Church? Why should we rejoice given the level of acrimony and disunity that threatens the Church from within? Why should we rejoice when we get daily reports of death and starvation in Syria; suicide bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Boko Haram menace in Nigeria and Cameroun; the hundreds of asylum seekers drowning on their way to Europe; the gross abuse of human right in China and other places, the endemic corruption that perpetuates poverty and misery in Africa; and the natural disasters in Asia and South America. Every day, thousands of innocent women and children are sold into slavery, many more are driven into despair by bad economic times across the continents, and we have politicians espousing xenophobic policies just to win votes.
Across the globe, why should we rejoice when millions of babies are aborted every year? Why should we rejoice when tens of thousands of people are taking their own lives? Why should we rejoice when divorce and domestic violence are tearing families apart all year round? Why should we rejoice when we treat new migrants and refugees like lepers? Why should we rejoice when the big bosses of large corporations are getting golden handshakes worth millions of dollars while the poor workers are getting laid off en masse? Why should we rejoice when our politicians are promoting policies that undermine the sanctity and integrity of marriage and family? Isn’t it foolish to rejoice in the middle of such a suffering world? Why should there be joy in the middle of sorrow?
This was the same predicament that John the Baptist faced in prison. He had been a fearless preacher and forerunner to the Lord. He knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah and so could not understand why he would be in jail when the Saviour whom he had proclaimed was in town. Despairingly, he sends a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” Put differently: “If you are the Messiah why don’t you show it, why am I still in prison?” This question posed a dilemma for the Lord. If he said “yes” his opponents would have the ammunition to accuse him of blasphemy. If he said “no” he would be lying; so he takes John back to our First Reading today: “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.” In other words, “my works prove my identity.”
Seven centuries earlier, Isaiah had made these prophecies about the Messiah. At that time, the people of God were facing very many hardships like we do today. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the leaders exiled to Babylon; only the very poor remained in the Holy City. It was in that climate of gloom and hopelessness that the people were invited to rejoice. Isaiah said to them, and he says to us today: “Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.” That is why we should rejoice! We rejoice not because everything is OK but because we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour.
It is an anxious joy built on hope! Hope is the foundation of our joy in the middle of sorrow – a hope guaranteed by God himself and sealed with the blood of his Son. This is true joy; the joy of hope, and Christ is its source. On the first Christmas, he came to fulfil his father’s plan for a broken humanity. This Christmas he wants to come into our hearts for the same reason, to make his dream for our lives come true. While on earth, he gave sight to the blind, hope to the poor, strength to the lame, and forgiveness to sinners. He comes to continue the same work in us. We are blinded by ignorance and selfishness but he offers us light in the teachings of his Church. We are poor in virtue but he fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are lame, unable to pray as we should, to bear witness as we should, and to love as we should, but he heals and strengthens us with his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus has a dream for each of our lives, and he is coming to make that dream come true. That is the reason for our joy!
Jesus Christ is the Lord who sustains all of creation, just as a singer sustains a song. We rejoice that God became man in order that we might share in the fullness of divine life. This is the beauty and wonder of the Incarnation. Christ came to reveal the Father’s love, to atone for our sins, and to open the gates of heaven. We rejoice because he is coming again in glory at the end of time just like he comes into our hearts this Christmas; to spark an out pouring of grace in our lives, and a new flood of wisdom and strength to help us understand and fulfil the dream he has for our lives.
Therefore, no matter what, let us rejoice in our hope for the coming of the Messiah. Let us dance because, against all the odds, we have been invited to God’s own wedding feast. That is the reason for our joy in the middle of sorrow!