Traditionally the third Sunday in advent is known as gaudete – ‘rejoice’, the title deriving from the first word of the first prayer of the Latin mass for today:
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
We’ve spent the last two weeks focusing on hope, longing for the future, expectant for that which is to come. Whilst undoubtedly this is a vital part of our prophetic calling as those who seek to follow the One who is coming promising a new kingdom, perhaps it comes at the expense of remembering the ‘now’ as well as the ‘not yet’.
Is it too easy in advent to focus on the ‘not yet’ nature of the season? To spend our time peering into the future, with a deep sense of disatisfaction?
This week gives us an opportunity to reflect and rejoice – to be grateful for what we have, an opportunity, as Pope Francis has said, to ‘think of all the good things life has given you’.
Too often throughout history those who have dreamt of the possibilities of a world shaped by love and grace have been known for their grim severity, as a result of their inevitable forebearance of pain and suffering- after all, those challenging the ‘system’ are rarely welcomed! As well as this, the journey of faith can bring with it deep disatisfaction, uncertainty and discomfit – the ‘dark night of the soul’ many of us know as a reality of spiritual development.
Those of us who experience this can come to look with suspicion at those with blissful smiles on their faces, who seem to miss the reality of the grimness of existence for the vast majority of our world’s population whilst perusing their own spiritual ‘highs’…
But perhaps, just possibly, we’re the ones who have missed the point…
You see, to rejoice is not to ignore reality; instead it is to embrace it. It’s to see the glimpses of hope we’re longing for in the everyday, to value each moment as it emerges, to appreciate every breath as it escapes our lips. We become thankful for what we do have, instead of simply focusing on that which we lack.
Don’t hear me wrong – disatisfaction and an awareness of our ‘lack’ is a powerful motivation to bring change, but it can’t be at the expense of realising just how much we do really have, and being grateful for that.
The joyfulness that gaudete represents is not a frivolous thing, but instead a deep sense of knowing that no matter what may come our way, as Julian of Norwich said:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Gaudete joy is a sense that God is already on the move, and that hope is already with us in many shapes and sizes. We simply need to stop and become aware of this reality. I’d add to Julian’s sentiments a present statement – all is well – perhaps not in terms of how our world is, but deep within us. What must come is on its way. Rejoice!
A final thought – it’s intriguing how often the words ‘do not fear’ appear in the nativity accounts…do not be anxious. A sense of joy is a conscious decision to embrace our uncertainty without embracing anxiety – a feeling of powerlessness, that we stand alone against our world.
Perhaps now we should remember that this advent expectation, longing and hope are not something we experience alone. Our God stands with us, even at the point of our greatest uncertainty, expectant that our world will one day be shaped the way it was meant to be, longing for that day to be now, hoping that all may come to know this.
For that, I will rejoice, I shall not be afraid, even when I have no idea how ‘all will be well’.
It is enough for now to work towards the world we the dream, and, as the old gospel chorus reminds us to:
Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God has done! Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Rejoicing in every breath, every moment, every glimpse of hope.