Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6,10; Psalm 145:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the latin ‘gaudete’ which means “rejoice”. The entrance antiphon of the Mass today begins with “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete”. This can be translated as “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice”. Pope Benedict XVI highlighted that these words of St Paul urge Christians to rejoice because the Lord is coming, his glorious return is certain and will not be delayed. We wait with hope, certain of Christ’s second coming because we have experienced his first.
In preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas Day and the peak of Advent, most of us will at some point be rushing around trying to find presents for people, buying a turkey (or perhaps a vegetarian alternative). Rushing from one shop to another to get those last minute items, sometimes our consumer mission is interrupted by a street preacher or someone shouting about the need to repent, with seemingly random bible passages on the second coming. Certainly the first thought to enter my head is “I’d better walk on the other side of the street” or sometimes there might be a slight increase in my stress levels depending on what message or agenda they are trying to convey. I suspect most people walk past street preachers without giving too much notice. If serious questions were to be asked, then people aren’t usually going to ask them in the context of rushing around the high street.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus affirm John the Baptist as the messenger who prepared the way for Jesus the Christ. He was, perhaps, the equivalent of today’s street preachers with signs around them saying ‘repent and your sins will be forgiven’. John the Baptist denounced immoral marriage, lifestyles of vice and sin, and he demanded the repentance and baptism of his hearers on the banks of the river Jordan. The same message could perhaps be heard outside shopping centres today, but one of the key differences is the credibility and authority of John the Baptist and his preaching on what was to come. Not just another mad man wearing funny clothes, eating locusts and shouting about the end of the world. He was taken so seriously that he baptised many hundreds of people, including Jesus. Indeed, his influence extended so far that he ended up in prison for causing offence to those who held power in Galilee. John the Baptist made his hearers stop and think about their need to repent. So, as he was in prison, John could rejoice in the fact Jesus was now taking over the preaching role, but this time being much more than a prophet or messenger: someone with a deep and real working knowledge of what it is going to be like after we die, and what we can do on this world to gain access to the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life.
Perhaps in our Christmas consumer rush, we need to stop at this point of Advent and take note of what the genuine preachers are saying to us. The end of the world may be at hand, but what today is about is rejoicing about this rather than being in a state of fear. We do need, on occasion, to step back from a consumer-driven Christmas and focus on the Gospel of Christ. It is the annual cliché of course, but there is more to the festive period than buying vast amounts of presents, eating and drinking too much. We need to tune in to what preaching message challenges us, forget the deep-filled mince pies, as they don’t really matter. What does matter is that we are prepared for the end of the world, and then we can rejoice always.
For strangely dressed, genuine preachers and the chance to repent, visit a Dominican priory near you!