3rd Sunday of Advent 2005- B (Gaudete Sunday)
Readings: Is 61: 1-2, 10-11; 1 Thes 5:16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Joyful Hope: Yet More Will Be
Today is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin verb for “rejoice.” The opening line in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians captures the spirit of the day: “Rejoice always.” In the first reading Isaiah calls us to joy when he writes “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” This is echoed in the response to the first reading, taken from Mary’s magnificat. On hearing that she is to become the mother of Christ, Mary proclaims “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Advent is a time of hope for the joy that is proclaimed in these readings. But we can ask, what does it means to live in hope of joy. Is not hope a virtue for people who do not possess what they want? Does not hope imply incompleteness, not yet having what we long for? It is surely true that our work and friendships, and the world’s politics often have not given us what we most deeply want. This means our lives are marked by longing, incompleteness. Doesn’t this not having, not possessing mean that a time of hoping should be a time of sadness? How can hope and joy go together?
The answer, I think, lies in recognizing that real hope begins with the presence of what brings joy, not its absence. If our lives were marked simply by not having, we wouldn’t hope at all. Lives of not having what we most deeply need and want would be lives of cynicism, anger, and despair. For example, someone who has never really known the reality of friendship or never been loved would be very unlikely to hope for the joy of a deep and caring relationship with another person. Rather they would be more likely to become bitter and even despairing. Or in political life, if someone has experienced relentless injustice or violence, they would be likely to be politically cynical and to act on a philosophy that says only the strongest survive. Not having can lead to despair, not joy.
In contrast, real hope begins with having, with already experiencing the source of our joy, even though this experience is not yet complete. For example, when a friendship between two people has begun, it leads them to hope that a really deep relationship can grow from what they have already experienced. Or the joyful hope of an engaged couple looking forward to their marriage begins with the love they have already experienced. Isaiah in the first reading speaks of how the bride and groom are already bedecked with jewels as they come to their wedding. Their joyful hope comes from the gift of love they have already given each other. Their hope is for the completion and fulfillment of what they have already begun to experience. What they already have leads them to hope that yet more joy can come to be.
Or when we hope for a just and peaceful world, this hope begins from our experience that just and peaceful relationships do exist among people, and that yet more of this peace and justice can come to be in our world. Again, listen to Isaiah. This prophet hopes for a day when the God will make the fullness of justice and praise spring up among the nations and when good news will be brought to the poor. Isaiah tells us this hope is based on his experience that God has already touched him with the gift of justice. He has already experienced God’s loving justice in his own heart. He tells us that “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me. . . . God has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” Isaiah has deep hope for justice among the nations because he has experienced the care, compassion, and love that God has for every single human being. His hope is that this compassion and justice will become yet more visible and extensive among the nations.
Like Isaiah, our Advent hope is not for something far away. It begins with knowing that God deeply loves each and every one of us, now, today in the present. The realities of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday have already shown us that. Our Advent hope is that this love will become yet more visible in our lives and in our world. This is a hope that begins in the joy of knowing we are deeply loved by God, and that longs to see that love yet more fulfilled in our lives and our world. It is a hope that can bring true joy.
David Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church December 11, 2005