Advent’s third Sunday has traditionally been known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete come from the Latin and it is roughly translated as “Rejoice.” This sentiment is well captured in the Entrance Antiphon at Mass, taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4) Why do we have to rejoice? The antiphon provides the reason: we have to rejoice because “Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). The opening prayer of today’s liturgy takes up this theme again. It prays God to “enable us…to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” We run into the theme of rejoicing again in the first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah. The reading expresses the human emotion of happiness, joy, gladness, and rejoicing in seven words at seven different moments.
Dear friends, if someone were to ask you upon leaving church today what the message of the liturgy is, you would be right if you just said: “Be happy.” We are summoned by God to rejoice. The Lord invites us to drink from the wellspring of joy because Christmas is near. That joy is Jesus himself, “joy to the world” as a beautiful Christmas hymn puts it. Therefore, today’s liturgy serves as a kind of ‘break’ in this season of penance, when we recall the hope we have because the Lord’s coming is at hand.
But are there people who are not happy? Yes. Pope Francis once said that, “There are many Christians whose lives look like Lent without Easter.” They are always sad, sorrowful, and gloomy; they find no reason at all to be happy. While we cannot dismiss their reasons for being unhappy, today God himself addresses such people. He invites them to at least find one reason to be happy: Jesus our Redeemer is coming. Jesus is the source of our joy. As such, we can listen again to Pope Francis who says that a Christian should not look like someone who has just returned from a funeral!
This truth needs to be resounded in today’s culture that is suffocated by materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and atheism. Human beings often mistakenly think that by acquiring more and more material things and by consuming more and more fantasies and pleasures of the world that they would find happiness. Modern culture has succeeded only in multiplying occasions of pleasure, but has failed to engender true joy. We see this in the remarkable bitterness on the faces of many people. Amidst all the comforts and pleasures of modern life at their disposal, they still feel a deep void in their hearts that all of the material things of life cannot fill. The more material goods they acquire, the more they want more. The more pleasures of life they consume, the more their bodies and instincts yearn for more.
We need to know that material acquirements are not sinful in themselves. But simply acquiring more and more objects of material pleasure cannot fill the void in our hearts. The mad chase of pleasure will not bring us true joy. Only God can. Like the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 who ran up to Jesus to inquire what he must do to inherit eternal life, we discover at a certain point in life that our consumer culture and all our material fantasies can never satisfy us until we find Jesus. Human beings want happiness that last forever, not ephemeral excitements, temporal pleasures and fading euphoria. Jesus is the answer to our genuine human longings. He comes to bring us happiness. Nothing else can take his place in our lives. If we can find him, we can be happy. In fact, he is coming to find us. Let us prepare for him. That’s the admonition that John the Baptist hands on to us in the Gospel.
Ojeifo, a prolific essayist is a Catholic priest of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Abuja.