There will always be problems and challenges in life, not least being a Christian in an increasingly secular culture. The only impact we can have is in how we chose to respond. When we experience difficulties in life, like choosing when to speak up on an important issue, we can either be positive or negative, we can see this as a challenge to be overcome or we can be overcome by the challenge. It really is our choice.
The American General George S. Patton said: “Accept the challenges so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” In our first reading, we hear the exhilaration of the people of Judah who have overcome their enemies the Assyrians. They have been liberated from their oppression and they recognise it is because God is in their midst. He is the victorious warrior! They have every reason to shout for joy. They rejoice in the Lord always!
This, of course, is the introit to our Mass today. Rejoice in the Lord always. In Latin, we say, "Gaudete in Domino semper" and from this we get to Gaudete Sunday. No wonder there is theme of rejoicing this Gaudete Sunday. How could we not rejoice after that first reading from Zephaniah, with its incredible image of God dancing with joy and rejoicing out of love for his people? It’s no wonder the penitential purple gives way to the rejoicing rose!
We, too, have every reason to be rejoicing because Our Lord is coming. Christ is about to be revealed amongst us, as He was for the Jews we hear about in the Gospel: ‘a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people.’ For some, this might bring about feelings of guilt, but that would not be the right response. Always there is room in our life for penitence, but part of the purpose of penitence is the desire to live lives that are more worthy of God’s love for us.
In this season of Advent we do well, therefore, to go to Confession. The tradition in our day is for the Church to offer us this Sacrament of Reconciliation during the many Penitential Services that are offered right across the City. Let me say again: For some, this might bring about feelings of guilt, but that would not be the right response! Why do I go to Confession? Is it because I’m riddled with guilt, because I’m duty bound to go or because I have to set a good example as a priest? No. It is because I know firsthand the joy one feels after the priest says I absolve you of your sins. I have accepted the challenge and, therefore, let me tell you, I feel the exhilaration of victory over sin. A victory won for me by our Saviour!
Having been to Confession and prepared myself for Christmas, then I too share in the expectancy of waiting for the Messiah. Waiting for that Christmas morn to dawn upon the earth: knowing that God will become man. Who wouldn’t be exhilarated and expectant? As the feeling of expectancy grows among us, let us remember this: that God loves us and that this is why Christ comes among us. As St John writes, ‘Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God … We love, because he first loved us’. We are responding to God’s initiative of love.
On this Sunday filled with joy at the recognition that God loves us, then let us think about what his primary gift to us might be. If Christmas presents might be tokens of love, then what is God’s gift to us? Well, it is the same as it was for the people of Judah, as it was for the Jewish people and indeed those early Christians. It is faith. God gives us faith. There is a challenge to us in this. As Advent progresses and Christmas draws near, we are reminded of the importance of believing that God is about in our world. We need to expect that we can see the hand of God at work among us. We need to have hearts and minds open to God. God can do great works without our faith, but with our faith we can not only see more of what he is doing, but be changed by it as we respond to his presence among us. There are no problems, only challenges, and we shall overcome with joy in our hearts.