Posted December 11, 2015 in Word Made Flesh:
And the Father Will Dance

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

After many years of faithfully writing this column, Fr. Pat McNulty is no longer able to do so. So Fr. Denis has generously agreed to take it on.

Though Fr. Pat’s unique style is obviously irreplaceable, Fr. Denis’ style, too is unique, and like Fr. Pat, his writing has both depth and humor.

This first article is about the Third Sunday in Advent, December 13th, Gaudete Sunday. Enjoy!

"And the Father will dance (and the Father will dance!) as on a day of joy (da-ay of joy!). He will exult over you and renew you by his love (cue the tambourines!)."

So now I’ve got that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You can thank me later.

If you grew up Catholic in the era I did, that song and a half dozen like it were your staple fare at your childhood liturgies.

"Rejoice in the Lo-ord always; again I say rejoice. Rejoice, rejoice" … sung as a round, perhaps. And now you have that one stuck in your head, too. Hey, no need after all to thank me.

For myself, even though I have come to consider the style of music of that era somewhat less than suitable for the solemn celebration of the Mass, I have to be honest—I have a soft spot for it.

When I was a teenager and all that stuff was more or less the latest thing, the first tentative shoots of adult faith springing from my cradle Catholic childhood were nurtured by those very simple songs of exuberant joy.

We sang to the mountains a new song while the Father danced and peace flowed like a river to give glory and praise to our God as we built his city.

For my adolescent self, tormented and beleaguered by the angst and sorrows common to that season of life, the expression of joy, expressed in three-chord harmonies and simple lyrics, was nonetheless the first beginning of actual faith that somehow, somewhere, Someone was out there, was real, and was (so especially important to know when we’re young) listening to me.

In the midst of my teen doldrums, a little river of joy began to flow, yes indeed out into the desert of my heart to set at least one captive (myself) free.

The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.

The name, which in Latin means "rejoice" comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, which itself comes from the second reading for this Sunday in Year C: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say: Rejoice! (Phil 4: 4) And then the antiphon gives us the reason for our joy: "The Lord is near."

So it is "Rejoice Sunday," and the reasons for this joy flow through all the readings. We have the great prophecy from Zephaniah, so familiar to the whole "the Father will dance" generation—hands not falling limp, no more evil to fear, being renewed in His love, and so forth.

The response, taken from Isaiah 12, tells us of the assurance of salvation, and that great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel, an unquenchable well of life and refreshment to his people.

Paul tells us in the reading from Philippians that this God of ours is near to us, so we need not worry about anything, but simply let Him know what we need, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 1: 4-7).

Well, that’s all well and good so far. I guess. Or … is it?

But what if we don’t feel like dancing? What if God seems to us, not very near, but very far away indeed?

What if our prayers seem to us to have gone unanswered, the peace of God fleeting at best, and the worries of life so surmounting upon us that we cannot just "not worry about anything," no matter how poetically Paul tells us to do so?

How are the depressed, the burdened, the anxious, and the grieving to celebrate Gaudete Sunday this year?

This is an important question, of course. If Christian joy is only for people who are in a good mood, or whose lives are going well, then it is of little value. Even the tax collectors do as much (Mt 5:46), after all.

A joy that is on that level alone—everything’s coming up roses!—is a joy shallow and susceptible (as roses are) to the slightest frost, the smallest setback.

The Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 3: 10-18) helps show us the deeper reality of Christian joy. John, telling the crowds coming to him to be baptized, is giving them moral advice—share with the poor, be honest and upright in your affairs.

But then he begins to speak of the one greater than him who is to come, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

This is the "Lord who is near," whose nearness fills us with joy. Not a warm teddy bear of a Messiah, not a cuddly Santa Claus God, not a Savior coming to tell us that he’s OK and we’re OK and to leave everything just the way it is, but maybe just a little bit nicer …

No, this Lord is coming with his winnowing fork in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, to gather the wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with everlasting fire (Mt 3:12).

In other words, God is real, God is near, God is here and now, folks. And he comes, he is here, to shake things up, to toss everything up in the air (that’s what winnowing is, for those of non-farming stock), and to burn all that is empty and foul so that the clear, clean grain of humanity made new can be gathered into the barn.

We do not have joy because everything is just fine (just fine, I tell you!!), or because God is our fairy godfather granting all our wishes and catering to all our whims. We do not have joy because we are on top of the world and it’s a fine sunny day, every day.

We have joy because the Lord in whom we believe, the Lord who is very near, is the Lord who does not think everything is fine, and whose whole action in our life is to throw everything in our life around until all the useless stuff that harms us is blown away by the Spirit’s winds.

Who comes with fire to consume all that is not from him, of him, and for him. Who comes, not to pat us on the head and give us a Christmas cookie, but to make all things new and to rebirth the world in fire, water, and blood.

It will be Christmas soon, and that is why we have Gaudete Sunday. Our joy is deep and real, even if we are beset with troubles. Even if our lives are dark in their mid-wintertime, our hearts blue with cold, buffeted by winds, and heaped high with snow drifts and icicles.

We have joy in these times—and really, we celebrate Christmas at this time of year—precisely because we know that the Lord is near, buried under the snow perhaps, hidden in the darkness of the world, penetrating the cold and the ice of our sin-broken, death-haunted humanity with the warmth of his love and the victory of his life.

There is joy aplenty, joy to the world, and peace surpassing understanding to all men and women who seek for it and patiently await it. He is coming—Advent is the season for that sentiment, right? And the hope of his coming is the joy of all humanity.

And yes, the Father will dance, as on a day of joy, and renew us by his love.


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