“Rejoice!”

“Rejoice!”
Sunday 16 December 2018

As I mentioned at the beginning of the Service, today is the Third Sunday of Advent, commonly referred to as Gaudete Sunday – Joyful Sunday.

The name “Gaudete” comes from the words of Paul in the second reading this morning. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice”. Well if those words were to be rendered in Latin, which they were up until the Reformation in Europe in the 16 Century, then the first word would be “Gaudete” – “Rejoice”. Be joyful.
The reason why that reading is used today and why it has been seen fit to inject a tone of joy into the liturgy during the season of Advent is that we are now over half way through Advent and we see the goal of the season approaching – the Lord is near.

However, the sentiment of the reading goes a little beyond just the third Sunday of Advent. Listen again to Paul’s encouragement to the Church at Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The joy that Paul is referring to is not some isolated instance of temporary elation. Listen to the words he uses: Rejoice always; again I will say rejoice – he repeats for emphasis. Your gentleness is to be known to everyone; do not worry about anything – nothing should phase you; but in everything by prayer and supplication; the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

Do you see that he is using all of his writing skills to emphasise that joy should be an ever-present, an all-encompassing reality, for the followers of Jesus Christ?

And this is not an isolated instance where he makes this point. In 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, he writes:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

It is probably about now that we feel the need to tell Paul to take a cold shower and calm down. How are we possibly meant to be joyful all of the time? It is not possible we say. Look at all of the adversities that confront us in our personal lives, our community lives, our national and global lives. How can anyone seriously suggest that we should maintain a joyous outlook through all of the ups and downs of life?

The other option that we have is to explore the notion of joy to ensure that we are talking about the same thing that Paul is. Immediately, we should note that joy does not mean happiness. Paul is definitely not saying “be happy all the time”.
He himself could hardly have put his hand on his heart and said that he was always happy.

He gives a graphic account of the hardships he has endured for the gospel in chapter 11 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians:
Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman – I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under the daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

No. when Paul says “Rejoice”, he doesn’t just mean be happy. He is obviously referring to something deeper than surface happiness. Possibly the clue lies in the fact that both in Philippians and in First Thessalonians when he is talking about rejoicing it is in the immediate context of praying. In the Philippians letter he says:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And in the Thessalonian letter he says:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…

For Paul, it seems to be that true joy is associated with closeness to God through prayer. The true joy of the Christian is to be found deep inside them at the place where they encounter God in prayer.

Perhaps the children’s hymn you may know has the answer:
“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart
Where?
Down in my heart!
Where?
Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay”.

Paul is encouraging us to experience and live that joy which resides deep in our hearts, in the place where we meet with God in prayer.

In the gospels, the account of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus the tax collector of Jericho gives us a little clue as well. We are all familiar with the story of the short tax collector climbing up the tree to get a view of Jesus as he goes through the town. But Jesus sees him and calls him to come down because he “must stay at his house today” And what affect does this close encounter with Jesus, the Son of God have on Zacchaeus? He comes down from the tree and welcomes Jesus joyfully “into his home”, into his heart.

It is the intimate encounter with God, with Jesus Christ, in our hearts, that brings about the deep-seated joy that can sustain us through all of the difficulties of our lives. That joy is available to us as God’s freely given gift. All that it requires of us is to accept the gift that is offered; to open our hearts to God; to admit our complete reliance on God’s love and mercy. Try to make the words of Paul our own:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Fr Allan Paulsen
Parish Priest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *