THE SHEPHERD’S CANDLE: JOY
HOMILY FOR THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (GAUDETE), YEAR C. Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Psalm (Isaiah 12); Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke3:10-18.
The third Sunday of advent is popularly known as “Gaudete Sunday,” which means, “Rejoice.” This Sunday is symbolized by the rose/pink candle which signifies joy. The candle is called the Shepherd’s Candle because it stands for the joy of the Shepherds which means that Christ also came for the humble and less-important people like them. The Liturgy of today is therefore an anticipation of the joy we will experience on Christmas day. The readings express the joy of having a redeemer who will liberate and restore His people, and it urges us to share this joy with others.
In light of the glorious promise of restoration to an oppressed people, which is represented as the sinful people of Jerusalem, the first reading, taking from the prophet Zephaniah of whom we know little about, presents a parallelism between Zephaniah 3:14 and 3:17. In the first part, God invites Israel to sing and shout for joy, “Sing aloud O daughter of Zion; shout O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and sing because God’s joy too has a voice and breaks out into singing in verse 17, which states, “…he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.” In this parallel, the intimate fellowship and communion between God and Israel lies at both the root of God’s joy for Israel and man’s joy in God. So, our joy is His joy. We are to be glad because God is glad. He is glad because we are so glad.
The passage gives us steps for consolation, as we understand from it that the Lord is in our midst and we shall fear evil no more. This is the secret of stable and perpetual joy. It is to have the confidence and assurance that God is with us, His love resting upon us and rejoicing over us with singing. Similarly, the Psalmist said, “Shout and sing for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” With the Lord’s presence in our midst, evil has been defeated and so let us rejoice, let us be cheerful and let us be glad.
St. Paul in the second reading re-echoes the message of today, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He did not say rejoice in our wealth or possessions, or any form of materialism. Our joy is not based on these but in the Lord. In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we are called to rejoice always in the Lord. Those who are very happy in the Lord have minimal tendency of either offending others or taking offense. Their minds are so occupied with higher things that they are not easily distracted with the troubles which naturally arise among us. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord. Paul exhort us to, “always rejoice in the Lord.” This calls for an ongoing activity. To be cheerful and happy should be our lifestyle, not only in favorable moments in businesses, studies, families, etc. but also in all circumstances. At this point, it is good to note that St. Paul wrote this letter from Prison, after he was beaten alongside with Silas as portrayed in Acts 16:25. In essence, he lived what he preached by demonstrating what it means to rejoice in adversity. In common parlance we often say, “Wahala be like bicycle; problem no dey finish.” In all these, let us rejoice.
Let us not be like some Christians always looking unhappy. Let us not be sad Christians, sadness betrays our identity. The fact that we are Christians gives us joy for what we have and are. We have Christ and we are content with Him because He has made us His brothers and sisters. In some cases, we often become sad when we aspire for things beyond our reach and lack contentment with what we have, which could also lead to depression. Depression kills! Other times, we are just being sad for no reason. We are called to rejoice!
There is something spectacular about the joy of John the Baptist, his joy began in the womb when Mary visited Elizabeth, “The child in her womb leapt for joy” (Luke 1:41). In the Gospel, after John’s message of repentance to the multitude, some individuals emerged with questions, “What then shall we do?” To the multitude, John responded, “Share with him who has none.” To the tax collector He said, “Collect no more than is appointed you” and to the Soldiers he responded, “rob no one by violence or with false accusation, and be content with your wages.” For us, what then must we do? The answer is simple and clear: to share the joy we have received with others and the joy we anticipate at Christmas; not to be sadists who derive joy in making others unhappy. We are called to be fair to each other and be content with what we have.
In a different manner, John tells us that what the Lord requires of us is humility. As the people were questioning if he was the Christ, he answered them, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Instead of cultivating his own popularity, he gave it all to Christ. John had many reasons to be proud, yet he was humble. He had a miraculous birth, a prophesied destiny, a man called to personally fulfill great promises, a powerful preacher and a man with great followers. Despite his monumental profile, John the Baptist communicates to us that true repentance begins with humility and in it we can find peace and joy. Hence, let us not use what we have to oppress others but to help them as he did.
As a way of conclusion, the liturgy of today reminds us of the African adage “Ubuntu,” meaning humanity to others and to remind us that, “I am who I am because of who we all are. If we have the interest of our neighbour at heart, we will all be happy because the Lord is involved, and our joy will be complete when the Lord comes.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ