A Moment of Joy: Moment of Refreshment and Renewal!
Readings: (1st: Ish 35, 1-6; Ps: 145, 6-10; 2nd: James 5, 7-10; Gos: Mtt 11, 2-11)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall be exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not stumble!” (Ish 40, 30-31). Today is Gaudete Sunday. That is, the third Sunday of Advent. This term Gaudete simply means rejoice! The significance of this Sunday to us Catholics and perhaps some other mainline Christian Churches like the Anglicans, Methodists etcetera, is that having engaged ourselves for a couple of weeks now with solemn and penitential preparation for the Lord’s coming, the Church encourages us to lighten our mood this Sunday. This is also why symbolically the church lightens the colour of her liturgical vestment for today’s celebration from purple to possibly rose. The Church also gives us a pat in the back by way of saying well done for the courage and sincerity you have exhibited so far. She says to us, be joyful because very soon your expectation and efforts shall bear good fruits. As a comforting mother she says to us today: “Gaudete in Domino semper” (Rejoice in the Lord always…, Phil 4, 4). She equally re-echoes to her faithful the traditional Jewish encouragement that we find in the Scriptures in the Old Testament: “Go and enjoy choice food sweet drink…this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8, 10).
In the first reading of this Sunday the prophet Isaiah exalts us to be joyful because God himself is coming to save us his people. He says to us: “Courage! Do not be afraid, look your God is coming.” Our God being a generous God will come with lots of gifts and goodies. He is the “Real Father Christmas Par Excellence,” when it comes to dishing out gifts of well being to his people. Hence, the prophet lets the cat out of the bag for us concerning what the Lord will bring when he comes: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be open, ears of the deaf unsealed…for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.” Most important of all these is the joy that will accompany the Lord’s coming with which his people who waited patiently and faithfully shall be filled to over flowing: “They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament ended.” Therefore, the joy that fills our heart today is only a foretaste of that which we are to experience when Jesus comes. It is only a tip of the iceberg and a sign that the future is bright with lots of prospect for us.
Two men, Utondu and Izundu were sent on a special mission for the well being of their community. It was a very long and painstaking mission that required lots of courage, discipline, maturity and dedication to the mission. However, as they embarked on the mission they were warned beforehand to beware of the goodies they might encounter along the way. They were no doubt asked to help themselves with some of them if need be, but must not fail to bring back the item they seek for the wellbeing of their community. After many days of toiling, being thirsty, they came across a very clean and beautiful stream. Since they were barred from entering the stream without a fetching bowl, a very pretty young lady there offered to help them fetch water with her bowl in order to quench their thirst and be refreshed. After drinking, Utondu became infatuated and “fell in Love” with the young lady, and so, refused to continue with his mission. In spite of all the persuasions and advice from Izundu, he refused to continue saying: “I have found joy here, a beautiful stream and a beautiful lady. What more do I need in life?” After making a frantic effort to win him back to continue their mission without any headway, Izundu forged ahead alone. Of course he did succeed and was adequately rewarded and made one of the pillars of his community. He became a renowned figure, got married to one of the prettiest ladies around and became wealthy in every ramification. A couple of years latter Utondu, appeared from oblivion looking haggard and devastated. Of course, he remained very wretched until his death. This is sad! But he of his own free will lost focus and did not get to his final destination because it was truncated and punctuated by what was supposed to be a brief moment of joy and source of strength for the journey ahead.
In deed the strength that we need to complete our waiting stems from the joy that we derive from being Christians and ultimately as God’s children. One former military head of state (according to his personal military philosophy and ideology) once said that: “A soldier should smile only once in a month – the day he/she receives his/her pay package.” In order words, after that day, the soldier must returns to serious business of keeping watch and being security conscious. This does not mean that on this day the soldier should lax because, because if he does, he might be taken unawares by the enemy as was the case of Troy and the Trojan’s war horse in Greek mythology. Gaudete Sunday therefore is one of such days in our Journey this Advent when we must lighten up our mood with a smile. Yes, this Sunday we are called to rejoice, but not to be carried away because the preparation and the battle is not yet over! It is only a moment of refreshment. Take in some fresh air, fresh water and a few slices of well buttered bread, be rejuvenated, and strengthened for the rest of the journey ahead. Today in order not to be carried away by this joyful mood, the church simply and gently re-echoes in her encouraging, gentle and caring words as the angel of God spoke to Elijah in the wilderness: “Get up and eat for the journey is too much for you” (1Kgs…). Gaudete Sunday is only but a moment of refreshment not an aeon to be spent jubilating. It is a time of spiritual re-strategizing on how we shall get to the end of our project. It is to be done joyfully, yet, with watchfulness. It is only but a stopover at a “God’s filling station” in order to have a spiritual refill for the rest of the journey. It is not our final destination even though there are plenty of pleasant goodies in it that gives joy to our heart.
In the second reading James of course, having worked with and tasted the Lord, is cocksure of the fulfillment of the promises of Christ. So he is emphatic in his assurance. Hence he tells us: “Be patient brothers until the Lord’s coming…. Do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon!” In the game or exercise of waiting, patience is the key word and the basis of endurance. These two come together to produce the joy which keeps us moving. Today therefore as we relax, let us check the level of our patience for the rest of the journey ahead. We must re-assure ourselves like the athlete that we can do it, we shall get there and that we must get that hand shake with the Lord Jesus who brings with him fullness of joy. In the gospel of today, Jesus’ work elicited great marvel, joy and response. Here, he fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah to the extent that even John the Baptist heard of him from his prison. Therefore, at his coming Jesus will fulfill the expectation of the prophets. His gifts will include that “he will make the blind see, the lame work, the deaf hear” amidst other things. This therefore calls for great joy, and so the Church this Sunday gives us the opportunity to have a glimpse of what that joy looks like.
Therefore this season, God and the Holy Mother Church in their wisdom have arranged our journey in such a way that there is a brief moment of joy and refreshment – Gaudete Sunday, the mean or middle point along our journey. It is like the timeout or half time period during games when we find ourselves in “God’s dressing and refreshing room” briefly, only to return for the final round of the context. Today, the Holy Mother Church has blown the timeout/half time whistle. Let us therefore rejoice, enjoy, and be refreshed while yet being mindful of the rest of the journey ahead of us. Let us take full advantage of this special Sunday, this moment of joy and refreshment this Advent, but we must come back to the rest of the journey with vigor, diligence, and courage to succeed.
Peace be with you!