Sift through today’s readings and we hear of good news, rejoicing, liberty, release, comfort, gladness, blessedness, laughter and shouts of joy.
The prophet Isaiah promises that God will make everything new as God rejoices with the people of Israel albeit in the midst of their fear and anxiety. We are encouraged by Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica to rejoice always, holding fast to God’s promise of the coming of the Christ among God’s people. Thus we have a shift in tone today from the air of foreboding and warning of recent weeks to a sense of joy in the waiting and anticipation of what is yet to be. Thus the rose candle – Gaudate Sunday – from the Latin, to rejoice and be glad.
I remember a seasonal middle school concert a few years ago when the school chorus sang a version of “Jubilate Deo.” Those two words were sung over and over in the choral piece and I remember being drawn in, like a mantra piercing my very soul, finding myself deeply moved. Unexpected grace came, of all things, at a middle school event! Afterward, as we were filing out, I overheard a conversation between two teenagers in front of me as one said to the other, “What in the heck is a ‘jubilate deo?’” Ah, an opening was being given to me – sometimes I get it – so I said, “It means rejoice in God!” They gave me an odd look that only a fourteen-year-old can give an adult, and we went on our way.
We hear in the 126th Psalm today: “Our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy.” Why? The Lord had restored the fortunes of Zion, God’s people, from a time of hopelessness and devastation. Once again they had hope. It continues, “We are glad indeed” for “God has done great things for us…Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy!”
Even severe John the Baptist, a killjoy if ever there was one, in pointing the way beyond himself says, “Among you stands the one you do not know, the one who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Thus we see an attitude of humility, adoration, even worship.
What is the constant theme thorough all of this – the concert, Isaiah, Psalm 126, John the Baptist? All are focused on joy and gladness, not mind you, because life is always so great and everything is easy and good. Indeed, the times were rough. The economy of Isaiah’s day was in a shambles. Israel was in a precarious place of exile with no temple to assure them of God’s presence. They were wondering if God would be faithful in the midst of their oppression. The early Christians of the new Thessalonian church were being dominated by an oppressive Roman government and persecuted by some religious groups. They had joy not because of the circumstances around them - there wasn’t much evidence there. They had joy because of their faith that God was in their midst and that God’s promises of restoration were true.
That evening at the choir concert as “Jubilate Deo” was sung, I became clear once again of who God is, who I am as God’s, and it evoked joy as I found a renewed trust right in the midst of my heartache, even soul-anguish, over dioceses in conflict, families in crisis, nuclear sabre rattling, climate change, extreme partisanship, institutional racism, the lack of good care of the downtrodden and marginalized of our country, and all the other ills that plague our communities and world. The evidence around me would indicate otherwise, but I found myself wrapped in the wonder, glory and hope of God who in Isaiah’s words calls for a great reversal on behalf of the oppressed, the broken-hearted and those experiencing captivity. Participating in this movement of God to restore the creation is what those receiving the laying-on-of-hands are committing themselves to today.
This is what was emanating from the Psalmist who was so expectant of God restoring Israel it would not stay closed up inside of him and it became a song of the synagogue and church for over 2000 years. The thing about Advent, if we are paying attention, is that it invokes a single-minded focus. It is a hunger, a yearning, from deep within one’s heart for God alone, for we know that given the condition of the world, nothing else will satisfy us. It is the peace that passes all understanding – it makes no sense based on the data, but we find ourselves in a place that knows that “All will be well,” as Julian of Norwich so famously said, even as she said so in the midst of The Plague of the 14th century.
Of course, we are in that place all of the time, for in Jesus heaven and earth are always joined, but we are often too inattentive or fearful to notice that very thin place. You’ve experienced it in significant moments like the birth of a child, a first step, a graduation, a special moment with a good friend, falling in love, walking in the woods, looking at a brilliantly clear night sky, at the bedside of a dying loved one, even in Bread and Wine. Recall the amazing sense of focus, total attention, sense of wonder, the clarity of the moment when you know you are connected to something infinitely beyond yourself.
Our call today is to once again sing the song of the angels, to know as St. Vincent is to have said, “God thirsts to be thirsted after.” We are called to have such an integrity of life and soul that we know we stand on holy ground each moment of every day, to be aware as John the Baptist said in today’s Gospel, “Among us stands the one who is coming.” A middle-schooler’s question of what the heck is a “Jubilate Deo.” beckons us to rejoice. May such joy be yours.