‘The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;you have no more evil to fear.’ (Zephaniah 3:15)
As we move into the second half of Advent, the tone of our liturgical season changes. Gone are the dark readings about judgment we heard in the past weeks – today we are presented with more cheerful readings about rejoicing; readings which remind us that the only cause of lasting joy is ultimately God himself. In a similar way, purple, the colour used by the Church to symbolise penitence and contrition is replaced by a lighter, more cheerful colour – by rose. This brighter, livelier colour invites us to shake off any gloom around us and to turn our eyes towards our coming joy – rose reminds that in all things, even in a penitential season such as Advent, we ought to be rejoicing. So rejoicing and joy, are the themes for today – the common name for this Sunday being “Gaudete Sunday” where the word “Gaudete” simply means “Rejoice!” This name is borrowed from the Entrance Antiphon and from the Second Reading where we heard Paul saying to the Philippians, to Christians like me and you, ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness’ or in a rather more concise translation ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’ (Philippians 4:4)
Rejoicing in the Lord; delighting in what God reveals to us in his Son Jesus Christ; taking pleasure in the God’s goodness… these worthy sentiments should form the underlay to the Christian life, the product of loving God and others each day at the best of our abilities. But on this point we must be honest, we are not always joyful in our faith, are we? We are not always rejoicing in knowing Christ. Our Evangelicals brothers and sisters are often better than us at manifesting their joy in the Lord. Perhaps, we could take a leaf from their book, but better still, we could let today’s readings inspire us.
Shout for joy, daughter of Zion…Rejoice, exult with all your heart (Zephaniah 3:14)
This is what the prophet Zephaniah says to God’s people, but why should we rejoice? Because on the day if his coming, God brings salvation and security to his people and our celebrations of that day are fast approaching. On that holy day our salvation became more visible; on that day heaven and earth appeared as one; on that day the mercy of our God begun to walk among us, freeing us from evil. On that holy day Jesus came to break oppression, to set the captive free, to take away transgression, and rule in equity – as one of our hymns sings this morning. This is the reason why we should be rejoicing. But there is more, at his coming as our Saviour Jesus took upon himself our humanity, to share our condition in everything, and to make us sharers in his divine nature. He did this so that he could be in our midst in a very real, tangible way. On that day the child of Bethlehem revealed himself as the fulfilment of Zephaniah’s words which say,
‘The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;you have no more evil to fear.’
Jesus came to be with us as our king, the one to free us from fear. God became one of us and suddenly we were not lonely anymore in the universe. And after that, he kept on being in our midst concealed within the Eucharist, by giving himself to us in a constant and selfless act of love. In this sacrament he still gives himself as a token of his victory over everything that would scare and oppress us, in this sacrament he still lives in our midst. If we have the Eucharist, we have Jesus among us.
So, mindful of this great salvation, let us shake off any gloom, let us rejoice in the Lord, again I will say, let us rejoice! For as the prophet Zephaniah says, truly the Lord is in our midst; truly we have no more evil to fear.