If we are like watchmen waiting for the dawn, then we would be in the penultimate watch, the third watch of the night that stretches from midnight until three o’clock in the morning. It would still be dark, but at least the dawn is "closer to you" than it was before.
Gaudete Sunday is like Laetare Sunday in Lent. Historically, it was a time when the penitential mood was broken.
Gaudete Sunday, …, makes a breaker like Laetare Sunday, about midway through a season which is otherwise of a penitential character, and signifies the nearness of the Lord’s coming.
The festive character of this Sunday is dictated by the keyword "Rejoice". The first reading, taken from Isaiah 61 has Zion rejoicing for the things done to her by Yahweh:
I rejoice heartily in the Lord
in my God is the joy of my soul;
For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation,
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
This rejoicing is echoed by Mary in the Responsorial Psalm. She who is the anti-type of Zion sings her Magnificat to the Lord "who has done great things" for her. The Church who recognizes in Mary its own image, makes the handmaid’s joy its own ad she responds: "My soul rejoices in my God"
The second reading taken from Paul reiterates the theme of the day. When Paul invites the Thessalonians to rejoice as he does with other communities (e.g. the Philippians), he is inviting them to identify themselves with him and with the Zion of the end-times whose rejoicing was foretold by the prophets. Paul rejoices not only because of the advance of the gospel he has been privileged to proclaim but also because he sees the Thessalonian community as the image of the new Zion realized proleptically and on the way to being perfected on the Day of the Lord. And to this joy he invites his community to rejoice.
Finally, the Gospel proclamation focuses once more on John the Baptist’s testimony. He like the man born blind later on in the Gospel of John, is under interrogation by the agents of the Jews, the same agents who will later on hand Jesus over to the powers of the kingdom of this world. The Baptist is adamant that he isn’t the one who must come before the end. In fact, the Baptist does more: he points to someone yet unrecognized whose rights to the role of harbinger of the end-times he cannot claim for his own. Like the moon though splendid in the night sky, the Baptist points to a greater light, the Light "that enlightens every man who comes into this world."
The liturgy to my mind invites us to look at two figures of Advent: Zion type of the Church, and John the Baptist, also a type of the Church that proclaims the coming of her Lord. As Zion rejoices in the things that God has done for her, so too, the Church in identifying herself with Mary makes its own the joy reserved for the end-times. This is the joy that derives from hope and faith in the promises of God "whose mercy is from generation to generation".
The witness of John the Baptist, his self-effacing testimony to the Light, is a type of what the Church must do throughout her life: to point the world to the one who gives the light of Life. Advent — the period of waiting — is a special time for the Church whether as a parish or as a household to proclaim the reason for its hope. At a time when secularization holds sway, when men and women are beginning to be convinced that a Godless existence is OK, that religious apathy and indifference is the normal consequence of man-come-of-age, the Church must continue to point courageously to the Light that shines on the face of Christ.
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