God has come and given us the gift of salvation and integrity.
First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
“Rejoice!” The entrance antiphon wastes no time and cries out the theme for today’s Mass. We had a prelude to this wonderful theme of joy last week as Isaiah prophesied the coming joyful messenger of the Lord. We get a repeat of the revelation of that messenger – John the Baptist – this week from John’s Gospel. It’s a message we need to hear in a world shaken by COVID-19, political upheaval, war, and the uncertain future that seems to loom over us. You could be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much to be joyful about!
Yet, today, joy takes centre stage, appearing in the very first word of the Mass, picked up again in the collect, and running as a thread throughout the rest of the liturgy.
Today’s Mass serves as a pivot between the Lord’s Second Coming, which we long for now, and Jesus’ first coming 2000 years ago. It also serves as a bridge between the dominant images of the spectacle of God’s incredible glory and the earthier, homelier images of tenderness that now move into focus. One of the great tasks of Advent, though, is to move through this transition without losing hold of what we’ve experienced in the last fortnight. If we can hold those experiences in our hearts and minds, we’ll come to a fuller appreciation of Christmas.
Once again, Isaiah is our guide, with a passage that may well sound familiar as it’s the same passage that Jesus read out and applied to himself at the beginning of his ministry. It’s a summary of the message he came into the world to preach, the message for which John the Baptist and the entire Old Testament had laid the groundwork.
“I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God,” Isaiah cries out. It reminds me of passages in St. Paul where he has to pause in his letter and inserts a moment of spontaneous praise. We can imagine the prophet and the apostle becoming so overwhelmed by the good news they were writing about that they just couldn’t contain themselves and had to express that happiness in praise!
Over familiarity can dull our senses to why that kind of a response bubbled up in Isaiah. Let’s break it down:
– he has clothed me in the garments of salvation
– he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity
The first thing to notice here is who is performing the actions here: it is God! He is bestowing gifts, and it’s his activity. We might hear echoes in the description of the parable of the prodigal son, where Jesus gives us the image of a father dressing his returning son in rich clothes. Here, though, these clothes are given names: salvation and integrity.
Here is the reason why the prophet bursts into praise: God has come and given the gift of salvation and of integrity. What that means is: God has overcome evil and wrapped us up in his own gift of goodness and life. This is the good news that binds up broken hearts and sets us free. This is the good news that leads us to praise and song.
We see that, don’t we, as the words we receive from Isaiah today, recede into silence. And the Church puts on our lips, as a response to the great song of Our Lady, the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God.”
The joy is uncontainable; as our response to the word of the Lord in Isaiah comes to an end, the Lord speaks again through St Paul with the call once more: “Rejoice always”. We’ll be able to pick up that link more clearly the next time we approach these readings with the new ESV translation of the lectionary, and today you’ll hear that line as “Be happy”.
So, rejoice! Rejoice because Christ the Saviour has come and because he is surely coming again; because he offers himself to you here in the Eucharist; because he has given the gift of the Spirit to make us holy and safe. And if your heart is faint, as we pray in the communion antiphon, and you just can’t feel it: take courage, look – our God will come, and he will save us.