This Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) has been traditionally referred to as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for "rejoice" and it comes from the first word that appears in the entrance antiphon for this Sunday's Mass: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near."
I love Gaudete Sunday. It's our B12 shot for the winter. It carries us through the long shadows of these December days and reminds us that the dawn of our salvation is near! REJOICE!
But let's be honest. This is easier said than done. For the reality is, we live in very dark times. The weight of this blanket of fear seems almost too heavy to pull off. "To rejoice always" seems impossible, to even try it seems a little naive. We are surrounded by war, division, family strife, daily stress, and tragic deaths; another shooting took place in one of our schools just three days ago. The senseless violence continues, a rampant disrespect for the person rages on, and our culture continues to gorge itself on illicit sex and material possessions. Our hearts are full of the wrong kind of fuel. And still we continue to pour it in and hope that something, ANYTHING, will give us that spark of joy we long for that will fire up the engines of our soul and get us out of this darkness.
We want to rejoice. We want lasting joy, yet we know not where to look. "Religion? I tried the Church, and it didn't work. It's full of sinners and hypocrites, like me. Service to others? Did it for awhile and I just ran out of gas. People don't even notice! I had joy in my work, but the bureaucracy and the paperwork and the triple-typed memos about the previous memo killed my sense of creativity and zeal!"
But you've seen some who have this joy. They wear it like a diamond. Like a glittering sword it goes before them, cutting through the legions of doubt, fear, and anxiety that seem always to press in on us. So how can I put on this joy and stay in it? When can I settle down and make JOY my zip code and PEACE my mailing address! I gotta get out of this place! The place where worry and fear always get the upper hand!
I'm reminded of a tale from Tolkien's mythology (of course!). In the Silmarillion, at the dawn of creation, there are angelic creatures known as Ainur who are allowed to shape the world according to the Music they sing. Known as the Ainulindalë, it is one of the most moving passages ever written. That the world was made in Music, not music made in the world, is a profoundly powerful truth. Perhaps that's why music is the language that seems to speak JOY the most, bypassing our reasons for fear. It's primal, elemental, ancient. It precedes the Dark Void; in fact, Music is the presence that impregnates it. Music contains the seed of JOY.
All of the Ainur lovingly assist the One God in shaping the beauty of Middle-Earth, it's mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, except one. His name is Melchor.
What the Ainur make holy, Melchor desecrates. What they build up, he tears down. What they fill, he empties. A battle erupts and the Good Ainur try to chain Melchor, as he twists and corrupts all that's good and true. When the War seems to take a turn for the worse, another Ainur, unheard of in Middle-Earth until now, descends into the newly made realm. His name is Tulkas. And here is the image that for me gets to the "heart of things" - he comes laughing into battle. Laughing...
Streaming from eternity with pure, unfiltered, primal, blazing JOY, he comes. It is the shine from the face of Tulkas, beaming with radiant bliss and confidence in the One from Whom he has come, that scatters Melchor and sends him into the outer darkness. This same joy is seen much later in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, in the much loved character of Tom Bombadil.
Now just listen to this Sunday's readings, filled as they are with this same joy, and so desirous for us to open up and drink it in:
"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! ... The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear..."
- Zephaniah 3:14
"Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
- Philippians 4:4-7
Let's remember that the measure of our joy and peace lies not so much in what we do, but rather in taking in what God has done for us. Joy is receiving the seed of God's own Love into our hearts, then bearing it out in the world. We can truly "rejoice always" in everything inasmuch as we lay our confidence in this.
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