Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoicing in the ordinary
Posted: Wed, 09 Dec 2020 16:04
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB explores the words of Isaiah in the first reading of the mass for Gaudete Sunday (Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11)
The Prophet Isaiah gives us the theme for reflection today:"In my God is the joy of my soul." When that is true in our lives, we are walking the road and we know the truth of these words from the same Prophet:
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favour from the Lord.
Isaiah 61: 1-2
In many ways we can see this as the 'mission statement' of Jesus as he began his Galilean ministry using this reference from Isaiah in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth. What joy is brought to those weighed down by poverty, those who are broken-hearted, those imprisoned in selfishness and sin! Jesus brings the favour and blessing of God to those who seek it. As followers of Jesus ours is an invitation to share that 'mission statement' in our Church today. In a special way today is call to help anyone brought low by the pain of this global virus.
On this 'Gaudete Sunday' we are called to celebrate with joy. It is a Sunday of rejoicing. The entrance song for some centuries was always from the Letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice.Looking at 2020 so far, you might rightly say: can we really REJOICE this year? COVID-19 has wrought a misery on our world that is likely to continue for some time to come: can we really rejoice this year? How do bring light to the poor, the brokenhearted and those imprisoned? Can I honestly be joyful today?
The honest answer, as followers of a God of joy, is that we should rejoice. We are called, especially on this day, to be a sign of contradiction, to be counter-cultural—just as the prophets were, down through history. It means that we must stay positive during these days, even though it might so difficult. Our positivity might be just the antidote that our family and friends need at this time. Like John the Baptist, we are called to point to a better way, a way that brings life. As we light yet another candle on our wreath, let it be symbolic of our growing acceptance of this way of peace and joy. The mystic and poet Patrick Kavanagh wrote the poem, 'Advent':
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child's soul, we'll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
Kavanagh writes of Advent as a season of penance, which was common in the pre-Vatican II Church; his talk of stale bread and bitter tea speak of the 'Doom' that he sees in this season, no doubt encouraged by clergy of post-war Ireland. He continues:
... after Christmas we'll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We'll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we'll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
In a way, we join with John the Baptist in this 'search' for the Messiah as we journey through Advent. Kavanagh has that sense of the 'Eucharist of the ordinary' so beloved by fellow Irish poet, John O'Donohue. The joy of Jesus' message is not to be found in fasting, but in Christmas. Kavanagh assures us that once we allow the gift of Christmas to touch our lives, then we no longer need to SEARCH for joy in our lives. We find it in that 'ordinary plenty' of the everyday of Irish country life: in the daily churning of butter, the children playing in the streets—even in the simple act of gardening. I pray that you can find joy in those simple tasks this week—they are acts of real service and help that will bring joy and light. What a joy, what a hope we share, in a time that could be seen as lacking in both hope and joy.
The challenge for us today, is that, like the Israelites of old, when we feel weak, tired, frustrated, scared of the future, betrayed, oppressed by harsh socio-political factors, or threatened by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, political uncertainties, or by wars, and terrorism, COVID, or in our own imprisonment— like John the Baptist, our hope and trust must be focused on our saving Christ, Jesus born for us at Christmas! If you have time read, the poem 'Advent' in peace and quiet. Pray for that time, perhaps in 2021, when the fullness of our joy can be complete, just like the beauty and uniqueness in the discovery of the 'January flower':
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour –
And Christ comes with a January flower
PS: Some of us of a certain vintage will remember this chart hit by Steeleye Span.