Today is Gaudete Sunday. It comes with the good news that we are created by God to rejoice in Him. It’s a command. That’s what Gaudete means: Rejoice!

But then, why are we so often at the end of our tether? And can we afford to rejoice when the world is in a shambles and our personal lives awry? Yes, we can, for Christian joy is not bound to our whims, nor does it depend on how smoothly life is going; it doesn’t depend on our bank balance or on how well our house is decorated, at Christmas or other times. Joy comes from accepting God’s will for us and feeling complete and fulfilled in our Christian vocation.

It is also important to note that Christian joy is not about frolicking but thanksgiving; it’s not about praying only when trials and temptations, pain and suffering come our way, but about having the Lord before our eyes at all times. So, feeling miserable is about having failed to rejoice in the Lord in the first place. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all and end-all of our life. Thus, Christian joy is basically a spiritual, not a material, joy; it is an inner joy that spills out into externals, and not the other way round.

In the First Reading (Is 61: 1-2a, 10-11), the Prophet is upbeat about the Lord anointing him to bring good tidings to the afflicted; to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of His vengeance. Above all, the Lord’s promise to have righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations is a cause for joy.

Here, “the year of the Lord’s favour” and “the day of the vengeance of Our Lord” may sound contradictory. It must therefore be clarified that while the former referred to the restoration of God’s people from Babylonian captivity (comparable to the “year of Jubilee” when liberty was proclaimed throughout the land, in Leviticus 25); the “day of the vengeance of Our Lord” refers to the time when God will judge His enemies on the last day. Favour and vengeance will go hand in hand, as God’s mercy and justice always do.

Isaiah’s New Testament counterpart, John the Baptist, too, was happy to be anointed by the Lord. Today, St John the Evangelist (Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28) speaks of him as having been sent by God to bear witness to the Light, Jesus Christ. St Mark’s Gospel last Sunday described him as a man clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather girdle around his waist and surviving on locusts and wild honey; and today, we get to know him a little better through St John.

When questioned about his identity, the self-effacing Baptist made it clear that he was not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor even a prophet… “I am the voice crying in the wilderness”, he said, very simply, and quoting Isaiah, exhorted the people to “make straight the way of the Lord.” He clarified that whereas he baptised with water, among them stood One who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit and fire (cf. Lk 3: 16).

From Lk 4: 21 we know that, in the temple, after reading out that marvellous passage from Isaiah, Jesus commented: “This passage of Scripture has come true today, as you have heard it being read”, meaning that He was the long-awaited Messiah whose coming — filled with the Good News of Salvation — heralded the “year of the Lord’s favour” in modern times.

It is a pity that, like the Jews of yore, we too sometimes fail to pay attention to the One standing among us; we fail to hear the Good News. Yet, Jesus is invariably in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, and those oppressed for speaking the Truth…. For whatsoever we do to the least of our brethren, we do unto Him!

But let bygones be bygones. Let us resolve to be different from now on. It is never too late to turn a new leaf, make a new start. Let us believe and trust in the Lord always, give Him praise and thanks for all that He means to us. Let us not think of Jesus only when Christmas is round the corner. Rather, let us look forward to Christmas in the perspective of His Second Coming and be ready to receive Him in His glory.

That is why St Paul’s advice (Thes 5: 16-24) bears repetition: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you… hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.” That will ensure we will be blameless and joyful at the Second Coming.

Joy is a consoling certainty for us whose God is close to us and ever present in our midst. He is Emmanuel, God with us!