The Message to the Shepherds, Munir Alawi, Chapel of the Shepherds, Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority.

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Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!   Zephaniah, 3:14.

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

First, that Latin name, Gaudete Sunday. It simply means Rejoice on this Sunday. It represents a sort of break time in the middle of Advent, and a time to give way to the excitement of the approaching feast. Even the liturgical vestments worn at Mass may be brighter, should the priest be so moved, and become rose instead of purple. You will recall Lent has a similar moment, called Laetare Sunday on that occasion. 


The Old Testament reading is packed with joyful thought and feeling, the Epistle likewise is happy, “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again:  rejoice!” and then there are the words of the Baptist, proclaiming that the One will appear who will be immeasurably greater than John himself, who was by then extremely well known and revered. So the rejoicing proclaimed in the readings is in anticipation of the arrival of the Savior, just as it is with us in the middle of Advent today. 

What is there to rejoice at, you might ask. In the middle of a never-ending pandemic, with everyone just sick of all the rules and regulations, anger at those who do not comply with the way each of us thinks should be the right way, and the background fear that we may catch this thing ourselves, what is there to rejoice about? Well, looked at it through that eyeglass, not much. But that is a narrowly focussed prism, letting in only black light. Look at the picture of the shepherds above though. There the night was black, they were probably pretty cold, probably tired and stiff with lying on the ground, miserable over the minimum wages they almost certainly received, and yet…. Something happened to change it all, forever. They witnessed an inner transformation which altered everything. All the misery became background; still there, of course, but deep inside each of them – and us – there was a recognition of a greater, more glorious and welcoming reality. Here was a manifestation of God, of light, of beauty, of song, of hope, of total inward change. All of a sudden we are no longer unhappy mortals, oppressed by the world, which is of course what the devil wants, but are welcomed into a higher realm where we are welcome, treasured even, where we are children of God. When we hold to that truth, that we, each of us, is beloved of God, then things cannot be the same. And bear in mind that shepherds were probably from the lowest ranks of society, probably stereoyped as thieves and robbers. Yet the glory of God shone on them! No-one is excluded from God’s company, unless, of course, we choose to do that ourselves.

The challenges we face still exist, unhappliy. Worries remain with us. But as we await the arrival of the One who would treat each and every one of us as brother and sister, as a friend and companion, then inward attitudes can change from heavy and threatening, to uplifting and positive. Isn’t that a reason to rejoice? Let us do so then, in the middle of Advent, with the angels singing and the light descending. The Lord, the source of all light and life, is near.


ΦΩΣ και ΖΩΗ, phōs (light) and zōē (life), Castellani 1860, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.


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