Rejoice always! Paul throws one command after another in rapid succession. This is Paul at his best, at his most excited. This is Paul when he was younger; in fact, this is the oldest book of the New Testament. No one had had time to become jaded and cynical; the persecutions had not yet begun. Things were new; Jesus had been crucified less than 20 years before this was written.
The world was new and full of hope. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks all the time. Let the Holy Spirit be free; listen to the prophetic voice, hold on to what is good and stay away from what is evil. Then you will become a holy people.
What is the first Christmas you remember? Do you remember laughter and lights? Are carols and joyous laughter in the visions that you recall? I hope there are good memories of family, of feeling safe and secure, and of knowing that something very special was coming! As you became adults, did the season come to mean one of responsibility? Gifts and cards, decorations, baking, shopping and a whole bunch of other “to do’s”. Did the Mary in you turn into Martha?
Paul says everyday is Gaudete Sunday!! We live in the time between the first and second coming of Jesus and we dwell in that tension, but we have everything we need. Each Sunday we rejoice, we pray, we give thanks and we ask that the Holy Spirit come to each one of us. We listen to the preacher and to one another; we try our best to live holy lives. We re-enact the story every week, but do we really give ourselves permission to rejoice? I have talk much this Advent about coming to it as a child would: with an openness and innocence and with all the awe and wonder of seeing Jesus for the first time. Children are often very excited when they know that a new brother or sister is coming and they watch the preparations for the birth, from the increasing size of their mother to the readying of a nursery.
I think we need to be excited and expectant this Advent. Not look for perfection or for some dim replica of our favorite childhood Christmas, but instead to live into the wonder. We should never stop expecting the coming of the Christ, but we should live as though we are the caretakers of creation, for that is indeed the job that was given to us; that is our charge. We are created in the image of God and are made to praise God infinitely.
Have you ever thought of yourself as Isaiah? God has anointed you to bring good news this season and every season to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners. This is the year of the Lord’s favor; today. It is you for whom Isaiah was writing, it is you who must utter those words and declare the coming of God. You are the prophet; you are the one filled with the Holy Spirit.
And you must do it not with the jaded indifference of adulthood, but with the complete innocence of children. Like Lucy in the Narnia Chronicles you see the world as wounded and less than perfect, but a place where the potential for goodness and beauty and love exists. I think part of the Good News is that Jesus came to tell us everything is holy, from our bodies and our food to all that exists in the world around us. Everything is holy now. Lucy jumps into the fray with both curiosity and wonder, and knows that Narnia does not have to live under the rule of the witch. She rejoices in what she sees. Picture yourself clothed in the garments of salvation, a robe of righteousness, a garland and jewel. You are precious before the Lord; you are also the word of the Lord; you are Christ in the world. This is for your sake and for the sake of the world.
I think that nothing captures the spirit of the day, the season, and the life to which we are called and to which we look forward, more than the medieval carol Gaudete! Listen and rejoice, always and everywhere.