If celebrating the halfway mark helps boost our spirits, Gaudete Sunday does just that: lets us rejoice not only because Christmas is near but also because we have persevered in preparing for the Lord’s coming. This Sunday draws its name from the introit of the Latin Missal which reads: “Gaudete in Domino semper”, meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Besides the pink or rose of the candle and of the priestly vestments symbolising joy, the readings, imbued as they are with a supernatural joy, help us bide our time to contemplate the Babe of Bethlehem.

But then, can we really rejoice with war, disease, corruption, climate change, suffering, and unrest all about us! Or will that rejoicing be possible only in the messianic times? In the First Reading (35: 1-6a, 10) Isaiah speaks of the time when nature will rejoice and sing at the coming of the Lord of Creation with strength, to save those who had longed for Him and suffered for the sake of His Holy Name.

On the other hand, we too can experience joy in this valley of tears. It is not a superficial joy brought in with festoons, but a supernatural joy that comes with faith. This joy is not a mere sensation but an act of the will – not dependent on what we feel but on what we consciously wish to feel. Truly, Christian joy is not contingent on the ups and downs of daily life but guided by our conviction that God moves and controls all history. By His Incarnation we know that He is there for us and saves us: easily a cause for rejoicing!

In the Second Reading, taken from the Letter of St James (5: 7-10), the Apostle[1] addresses Christians of Jewish origin. It is more of a moral rather than doctrinal teaching. He preaches patience, akin to that of a farmer awaiting “the precious fruit of the earth”, or, we may safely add, a woman expecting a baby. His wise counsel: “establish your hearts”; “do not grumble against one another”; “take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” as role models. Simple yet effective advice. If we conduct ourselves in keeping with our faith, cultivating prudence and resignation, soon we will be on the highroad to holy joy.

Of joy we have a harbinger in St John the Baptist, one of the many prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. In the Gospel (Mt 11: 2-11), Jesus says that John is “more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.’ Yet, we find that the Forerunner of Christ is a little unsure: he demands to know if Jesus is indeed the Messiah that they were waiting for (we must take a leaf from him in our age of false messiahs, mustn’t we?) That happened partly because John had expected Jesus to save Israel in the temporal realm. For his part, the Messiah defined his scope of action, directing John’s gaze to how He had fulfilled the Isaian prophecy, by giving sight to the blind and letting the lame walk, by cleansing the lepers and curing the deaf, and miracle of miracles, by raising the dead!

Those wonders were there for everyone to see, yet only the poor took no offence at Him. The rest – then, as now – were spoiled children that found no place for the Lord; they went on from smugness to spiritual blindness and hard-heartedness. They had failed to appreciate that both Isaiah and John pointed to the same Messiah. Quite an eye-opener for us, who are dutybound to bear witness to God’s mighty works and proclaim them from the rooftops; evangelise, prophesy, and be the salt and light of the world.

But alas, the ungodliness of the contemporary world falsely equates joy with feasting. Paradoxical though it may seem, supernatural joy calls for fasting, besides a life of prayer, virtue and penance. Only then can we hope to rejoice like the little children, who will inherit the kingdom of God; or, like the shepherds, who were the first hearers of the Good News while they kept watch over their flocks by night. Thanks to their proverbial joy, the third candle of Advent is called Shepherds’ Candle. And as we light it today, may we receive the grace to become progressively hopeful, repentant, joyful, and better prepared to meet the Lord.

[1] “Brother [cousin] of the Lord” (Gal 1: 19), a man of great reputation but barely mentioned in the Gospel. He began to believe in Jesus only after the Resurrection and a few years after Pentecost was a leader responsible for Christian communities having a majority of Jews in Palestine, Syria and Cilicia (present-day Turkey) (cf. Acts 15: 13-29) Of all the apostles, he was the most attached to Jewish traditions – the extreme opposite of St Paul.