Sing and Rejoice

Sing and Rejoice

Third Sunday of Advent. Fr Colin Carr suggests that a cheerful attitude is essential in building the Kingdom.

Advent is a hungry time; if we were Orthodox (with a capital O) we would be fasting; we’re longing for the coming of Christ, we know we can’t be satisfied until he comes to us; and in the middle of Advent, the third Sunday, we have Gaudete Sunday, to cheer us up. We need reminding that what we’re longing for is a joyful event, when everything will be put right. The passage from Isaiah is applied to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, but it could also be applied to John the Baptist, whose job could be described as arranging the marriage between Christ and humanity. The servant of God brings good news to the poor, binds up broken hearts, tells captives that they are free, and announces a jubilee year from God, when debts are cancelled and people can get their lives back on track. We mustn’t over-spiritualize that kind of language: the tasks of siding with the poor, or campaigning for debt relief are both political and spiritual. We believe in sacraments; we believe in the incarnation, when the word became flesh. Material reality, political reality, are not on a different plane from spiritual reality; God meets us in the stuff of everyday life, and the tasks of making the world a better and a freer place. He meets us in bread and wine at this Mass – not just in pious thoughts; and he meets us in our struggle to be good news for broken people in our world.

But our struggle is not about ourselves doing good: it’s an announcement, a pointing to Jesus who is the good news. The style of our struggle in the world is not a frantic effort to force the world to become a better place: that will just make us angry, because we won’t succeed anyway; it will play havoc with our blood pressure. Some of the most uptight people in the world are highly idealistic people who think that they have to do it all. But our task is to work in such a way that we are pointing to Jesus. That takes a lot of pressure off us. John the Baptist did what he had to do, was obedient to the vocation God had given him, and pointed away from himself.

We aren’t all called to preach about Jesus directly; and some people who do talk directly about Jesus are a real pain: I think that’s because they are trying to force us into their Jesus camp, rather than letting us be free to meet the Saviour who sets us free. No, our way of working in the world is to demonstrate that the way of Jesus – siding with the poor and the broken hearted, caring about prisoners and oppressed people – is in fact the way of happiness. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” asked William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Whether the Sally Army came up with particularly good tunes, I don’t know, but the idea of bringing joy into worship was a way of telling people that faith is not miserable. Their commitment to the poor went hand in hand with joyful worship. I hope it’s also true of Catholics that when we set about trying to make the world a better place we do so with a proper lightness of heart: it’s not what we achieve that matters, so much as where we’re pointing. Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder labours in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. Mary sang her Magnificat – which is our responsorial psalm today – to celebrate not her generous Yes to God, but God’s generous Yes to her and to all of us. We will remove mountains more effectively if we know we depend on God than if we are convinced we’ve got it all to do ourselves. We’ll remove them more effectively with a song than with an earnest, puckered brow. Gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord always: the Lord is near.

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8,19-28

fr. Colin Carr lives in the Priory of St Michael the Archangel, Cambridge.