Dancing for Joy

Dancing for Joy

Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday). fr David Goodill looks to the source of our true joy, Jesus Christ.

One of the Dominicans who influenced me and many others, fr. Jonathan Fleetwood, once observed that there is a modern day obsession with turning everything into entertainment. Before entering the Dominicans he had been an engineer and maintained an interest in engineering, but found it irritating when perfectly good and informative television programme on engineering topics were turned into entertainment. You may have summoned up the image of a dour old man, shaking his head in front of the television, but Jonathan was full of life and had a great love of study and learning up to the end of his life. Nor was he against entertainment; it was the artificiality of forced entertainment and the idea that everything in life has to be entertaining that troubled him.

In today’s first reading, from the Prophet Zephaniah, it is prophesised that God Himself will be doing the entertaining. God will dance for His people and there will be shouts of joy on a day of festival. This is no forced, artificial entertainment, but rather the crowning joy which the people will experience when God frees them from their enemies and He dwells among them.

The people who went to see John the Baptist were not looking for entertainment, or at least if they were they would soon have been disappointed. John’s was a simple message of repentance. He offered no quick fix, feel-good solution to those who asked for his advice; but rather told them to live a just life. Yet he was full of life, full of a joy which no amount of artificial entertainment can give us. And the source of the joy: Jesus Christ. The child who leapt in his mother’s womb is the man who now utters every word, and performs every action in witness to the one who is to come. The dance which begins before his birth now comes to fruition as his whole life becomes an utterance and performance pointing to the Christ.

The repentance which John preached was his invitation to enter into a dance of joy; to experience the joy which comes when our lives are lived in response to the great dance of creation and the eternal dance of the creator. This is to live in justice, which brings the harmony of peace. Religion is our dance of joy in response to the creator, bringing harmony to our lives and through us to the whole of the material world.

John is emphatic: he is not the Christ. His dance is made possible only because of the one he points towards. When he leaps for joy it is in response to the dance of the one who will start a fire which will never go out; the one who is God among us, dancing in the midst of His people. As we listen to the words of John and look to our own need for repentance, it is essential that we always do this in reference to Christ. Without Christ we cannot enter into the joy which is the crowning of our salvation. His is the dance of a mighty warrior, the dance of one who has freed His people and established them in the harmony of His kingdom of peace. This is entertainment on a cosmic scale, for through Him the whole of creation is transformed.

As Christians we rejoice in the coming of Jesus Christ. This is not a forced artificial entertainment, but a real joy which is the crowning of His victory as He comes to live among us. Advent prepares us for His coming, as we follow John the Baptist in seeking to live our lives in response to the coming of Christ. He comes to give us the fullness of life; to leap for joy at His coming and to allow ourselves to be transformed in the burning fire which is the eternal dance of His love.

Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18|Philippians 4:4-7|Luke 3 3:10-18

fr. David Goodill OP is Provincial Bursar of the English Dominicans, and teaches moral theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.