On why we can rejoice …
Today is Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice! the 3rd Sunday of Advent ; a ‘twin’ of Laetare, the 4th in Lent when traditionally Advent fasting restrictions were lifted a little; over half way through Advent, where the focus turns to the future and we allow ourselves to glimpse the light. Today we remember John the Baptist in in the Advent themes, his heralding of Jesus and of The Kingdom of God.
The liturgical colour for today is Rose, symbolising a lightening of Advent purple, and we have lit the rose advent candle.
The name comes from the opening prayer or Introit in Latin Gaudete! –Rejoice and is taken from Pauls words to the Philippians, and as we have heard, echoed in our readings.
Zephaniah tells us that the Lord will rejoice over his people with singing, that we are loved and renewed
And Paul exhorts us to rejoice always! And again rejoice!
Only the gospel it seems hits a slightly jarring note…
“ you brood of vipers” John hisses at the crowds, it doesn’t sound as though there is much here about rejoicing!
But in Johns message there is indeed much to rejoice at,
But also much to be challenged by –because true joyfulness does not come easily, and it is all the more joyful when it has been achieved well rather than easily won.
John calls his listeners to bear fruits worth of repentance
He seems in this to be talking about actions – we hear him calling various sectors of society to account in the way they carry out their life and work. He calls all people to live out their lives in a way that has integrity and Kingdom values,
However to change the way we behave is difficult – to act in the way of the Kingdom, the way to which John points is not an easy call.
John is pointing, as we know to Jesus, who he says will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire
This then is the key. We are called to repentance – a change of direction, a complete turn around,
Not just about individual issues or sins but the whole of our lives, our direction of travel. Not just a once off, but continually returning to the path, redirected like we might need to do with a distracted toddler or puppy
& so in doing that, in understanding that need to change, to direct our lives towards Jesus, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit in us, not just for that moment but continually.
The Holy Spirit works in us, refining by fire, rejoicing over us, encouraging us. Transforming us, from the inside out
And then, only then the fruit comes,
We cannot “bolt on” the fruit of repentance any more than we can tie apples to a tree & say it’s fruitful. We cannot really live that life and behave in the way of the Kingdom without first having turned, and received the power of the Spirit from Jesus.
We need that refining fire in our lives, burning away the dross and the sin, changing us from within to be more like Jesus
This is our hope, our calling
This is what it means to live by Kingdom values, only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we constantly turn back to God.
& when we do! When we know God singing over us, renewing us, and when our lives bear the true fruits of repentance, then that really is something to rejoice about!