Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) ‘Surprised By Joy’

Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) ‘Surprised By Joy’

The Virgin and Child. The Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, St Dominic, St Peter the Martyr and St. Thomas Aquinas- Fra Angelico c.1387-1455- in the Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico. Florence, Italy.
Gaudete Sunday reminds us that true joy mustn’t become something that we take for granted. True joy is transformative, it may be fleeting in time but it continues to hit our hearts deeply. At this time in our Advent journey we come face to face with a dramatic preacher in the wilderness. St. John the Baptist reminds us that we need to be ‘Surprised by Joy’ as we wait again for the Incarnation. In order to be truly surprised therefore at this charismatic signpost, we must be willing to show and reflect upon the areas in which we are lost.

This phrase ‘Surprised by Joy’ originates in a profoundly personal poem by Wordsworth, in which he reflects upon an incident when he forgot the death of his beloved daughter. The first three lines run as follows:

‘Surprised by joy- impatient as the wind,
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the tomb,’

In this poem Wordsworth is complaining that his visionary gleam has passed away, the fact that the joy of his daughter’s life now is no more.

In stark contrast to this romantic sense of being lost comes today’s Gospel. We witness, with the man sent by God, a heralding towards a new reality. We are given a clear signpost in the form of St. John the Baptist pointing the right way, a way to life everlasting in the light of Jesus Christ. ‘Make a straight way for the Lord’.

C S Lewis, in his autobiography of his early life also entitled ‘Surprised by Joy’, harks back to Wordsworth’s suffering in the light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. He concludes his work with this image,

‘When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries ‘Look!’ The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare.’

From this, let us not become complacent as we await again God becoming man, this reality has already been revealed to us and has and continues to change the whole of creation back towards God. St. John the Baptist is this signpost that Lewis refers to, pointing to the clear and obvious way.

Lewis also points out in his autobiography his conversion experience, which interestingly sees him returning to the faith of his childhood. So too must we return to an infant like state in order to grow in maturity of understanding the Joy of Christ this Advent. We must acknowledge that to be youthful in the spiritual life and infant like towards God Our Father actually provides us with great tools of humility and prepares the way for the faults that we need to face in order to grow alongside a risen Lord. We learn by doing, so let us think we can nurture God as a child, and in doing so, God will nurture you into new life.

But seriously how much do we really think about the surprising nature of God becoming man?

We as Christians pass this strange signpost every year, and again hear from the strange bearded fellow with interesting dietary requirements, speaking and heralding us again.

Let therefore the familiarity of such a sight, not prohibit us from seeing the redemptive meaning of our salvation. Christ’s Joy was in the crib and on the cross, a journey of anticipation and constant trust in God the Father.

One way in which we can respond to this is via St John the Baptist himself, who is our model given to us by Our Lord today, a model of true humility. We possess, as he did, the truth, let us then like him become beacons of humility in possessing such Joy, ‘I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap’.

St John, who has such a very high degree of perfection, considers himself still not worthy. We should consider his humility and mortification in ourselves, so that as the body of Christ in the world today, we may be voices crying out that should prepare the way and make straight the path of the Lord, so that, as we receive him in this life, we may enjoy Him in the next. May we decrease so he may increase in our life.

Our challenge today then is to joyfully watch for symbols of this new reality right now. Firstly, in our own spiritual life, how am I to respond to a God who reaches out and offers those things that we hear in Isaiah?

‘Being clothed in the garments of salvation, being given a cloak of integrity, wearing his eternal wreath’.

Secondly, how can I this Advent reflect and give those garments to others, in prayer, in action?

Let us be like St. John the Baptist then, less hairy and hopefully with a more balanced diet, but nonetheless, placing into the ground a coherent sign post, that many people have seen and may have already ignored, but you humbly place it in the ground firmly nonetheless, as a marker of truth and new life. And of course one day, they might, just might, stop and stare at the object and see that it was not of unimportance.