The central theme of today’s readings is the command “Rejoice!” We are to do so mainly by realizing the presence of Jesus in our midst, by receiving Jesus into our lives through our repentance, our renewal of life, and by doing God’s will. Today is called “Gaudete” Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). Today we light the rose candle of the Advent wreath, and the Priest and Deacon wear rose vestments, to express our communal joy in the coming of Jesus as our Saviour. We rejoice because a) we are celebrating the day of Christ’s birth, b) we recognize Jesus’ daily presence in our midst, and c) we wait for Christ’s return in glory.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says, “Shout for joy, O Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel.” Zephaniah made this prophetic proclamation at the height of the Jewish exile when things appeared hopeless and unbearable. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Is 12:6), the prophet Isaiah gives the same instruction: “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” St. Paul echoes the same message of joy in the second reading, taken from his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice… The Lord is in your midst… Fear not… be not discouraged… The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…” Paul was imprisoned when he made this appeal for rejoicing!
In the Gospel today, John the Baptist explains the secret of Christian joy as a wholehearted commitment to God’s Way lived out by doing His will. A sad Christian is a contradiction in terms. According to the Baptiser, happiness comes from doing our duties faithfully, doing good for others, and sharing our blessings with those in need. John challenges people to develop generosity and a sense of fairness, and to use these to give others reason to rejoice. John’s call to repentance is a call to joy and restoration. Repentance means a change in the purpose and direction of our lives. Filled with joyful expectation that the Messiah is coming near, the people ask John, “What should we do?” He tells them to act with justice, charity, and honesty, letting their lives reflect their transformation.
For us, that transformation occurs when we recognize that Christ has already entered our lives at Baptism, and that His Presence is to be reflected in our living in the ways John suggests. In other words, John reminds us that membership in the Church, knowing the teaching of the Church and the Bible, being baptised, and going to Mass on Sundays, while important things to do, are not enough. We must care for others and share our blessings with others if we are to live out our Faith.