Many people say that words fail us during these times of great challenge, when parents can’t even send their kids to kindergarten.
I respectfully disagree. I can say that many of us don’t know what to say during times when horrendous situations befall us, and to protect ourselves from saying something stupid, we say nothing. And that suffices, most of the time. Our presence is more than enough and often that is only what people remember anyway. I remember little of what has been said to me at funerals, but I always remember those that went out of their way to be there.
But that doesn’t mean that preachers and pastoral workers can take the easy way out. Words may not be able to express all that we feel, but they can certainly express something. A friend told me that a mass she attended started with a priest refusing to light the third Gaudete (rejoice) candle for the third Sunday of Advent because we cannot rejoice today.
Yeesh, what an awful message of hopelessness. If I were there I probably would’ve walked out, but not before yelling “BLASPHEMY!”
The truth of the matter is when we don’t have the words to express our feelings the church gives us words. The words of scripture and the gospel and the words that struck me most today are from the gospel from.John the Baptist. Heard in today’s context, they struck me quite differently than usual:
“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
You see we all need to be that herald’s voice today. We all need to shout for joy because The Lord is alive. My grammar school friend Keith Pitts, summed it up greatly today by saying “I’m too blessed to stay stressed!” Note that it says “stay” not “be” because we all become stressed for a variety of reasons but with God we have no reason to stay stressed because God always has the last word.
And we need to share that message of how we can rejoice in the face of such darkness today.
Because God always makes a way out of no way.
Our cloak today is that love that God has offered to us in the darkest moments of our lives that we now share with those who are stuck in darkness. When we see injustice, or worse, when we see people like the Westboro Baptist Church take up their vile words of hatred towards those who are hurt, we need to stand up and say “No, we rejoice in God’s redemption, forgiveness and God’s strength in righting all that hatred tried to upend for us this week.”
Gaudete Sunday is all about words. God’s words that remind us to rejoice because God is with us even in our pain. God is beyond us, somehow holding those who died tightly where no harm will ever come to them again. And God is within us, beckoning us to cloak all those unable to feel God’s love, that Gaudete we speak of, with our own words of healing and touch of understanding their pain.
This was not OK. And today begins our journey to tell the world that God doesn’t think so either.
For tonight…we have only one word. Gaudete …the words of the baptist’s call that God is near and that we need to repent and rejoice…
….and those words of rejoicing are always more than enough.