Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Now the people were filled with expectation"

Today is Gaudete Sunday (the Sunday we light the rose colored candle). The Latin word Gaudete simply means "Rejoice." It is taken from the Introit of the Mass. At The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve, the Introit is that music sung by the choir, in Latin, back by the Baptismal font before Mass starts. The Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent is: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. Say what?

In English, the Church says this- "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" — (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1).

With the Third Sunday, Advent undergoes a not-so-subtle shift, from what I think is best described as a penitential time to a time of joyful expectation, even anticipation. Our readings for today amply demonstrate this shift: the response of the Baptist's hearers in today's Gospel, as well as the opening words of our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, but also our Psalm response and our reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians (the same passage from which the opening part of the Introit is taken).

There is no way we can enter into worship this Sunday not mindful of the horror that happened in Connecticut on Friday. While this violence is still a raw wound on our national consciousness, it is important, if a bit incomprehensible (at least when we think in a worldly manner), that even this can be an occasion for hope, for just the sort of joyful expectation we're called to today. As I did in my post on Friday evening, I turn once again to Bishop Steven Croft's The Advent Calendar, the entry for 14 December, in which Alice, upon being brought into a vast chamber where, through headphones, she could hear prayers and see angels receiving and conveying these plaintive petitions upward, asks her guide, JB (for the John the Baptist), "Can every prayer be answered?" To which he responds,
Every prayer is heard child... Each prayer which is the cry of the heart makes a difference. Each tear is counted. Many more are answered than you or I can know. But prayers are not like the wishes in your stories. Not all can be answered yet. There is too much that is still bitter and twisted and evil in the world. Too much is still to be set to rights. But the day will come. The day will come when the King returns... Then every sorrow and every sigh will flee the earth forever
As I believe the author intends, this puts us in mind of the beginning of the twenty-first chapter of Revelation:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.' The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:1-5a). This does not constitute so much the "why" of heeding Paul's exhortation to "have no anxiety about anything," so much as it tells us how to do just that; to be people filled with joyful expectation, even as we make our way through this valley of tears.

Let's make today's collect our prayer, as we pray for the victims, their families, and, yes, even for the perpetrator of this incomprehensible evil:

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity,

enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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