We call this Gaudete Sunday. Quite literally, it means rejoicing, and that theme is woven into the readings. One centuries-old hymn – my personal favorite – proclaims loudly: “Gaudete, Gaudete! Christus est natus” or “Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born.” If you need some help getting into the mood and medieval carols are your thing, look for the Irish choral group Anuna’s performance (Hozier in a doublet is a nice bonus).
An aura of anticipation also pervades this week’s readings: gladness and exultation, dancing at festivals, singing praise, for the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, and Jesus’s coming is near.
So too at school, where the next week and a half presents a maelstrom of party planning, exam creating and grading, and service-project organizing. I walk into classrooms and sense students’ anticipation tilting from joy towards frenzy as they stare down a string of days filled with projects, unit tests, and special assemblies.
Yet each day around lunch I pass through the hall above our chapel and hear students practicing for our annual Vespers service, voices rising along the familiar lines of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and a sense of rightness settles.
In this week’s Gospel, the people ask John the Baptist a pointed question: “What should we do?” The whole world is straining in expectation of the Lord’s coming, and the people essentially want a checklist.
John’s advice is deceptively simple: share with those in need, don’t practice extortion, don’t falsely accuse anyone. In short, be a decent human.
What does this look like for us in the midst of this festive and busy season? How are we to prepare for the fulfillment of a promise made in ages past as we walk into assemblies and whittle away at that pile of grading and yes, the copier might be broken again? More, how do we greet the Lord in joy at His coming when we are confronted with the very real needs of the students in our care during a pandemic that seems still to be plodding along?
John provides a final hint. When the people ask if he might be the promised Messiah, he tells them no, for “one mightier than I is coming.” John puts this mightiness in stark terms, telling the crowd, “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals,” before promising again the image of a world renewed and set right.
I love those words. In tandem with rejoicing, John preaches humility. Here, at last, is the paradoxical answer to greeting the needs of a busy and imperfect world with joy and gladness. Be good to your neighbor, and in the midst of striving, embrace your limitations.
I do all that I can, and give the rest up to God. The unburdening is my gift.