The Scripture readings on this joyful, Gaudete, Sunday in Advent begin: “Shout for joy,O daughter Zion!” (Zephaniah 3:14-18a). The prophet encourages Israel (and the people of God) not to be discouraged for “God is in your midst, a mighty savior who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in God’s love, will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals”. Imagine God rejoicing over each one of us and renewing us in God’s love. Imagine God singing over us,singing like a mother sings over her children, like a full choir sings the Hallelujah Chorus or like my church sings: Soon and Very Soon ,we are going to meet the king”. Imagine God’s joy and all encompassing love in your life. Imagine a world where this is so for all, leaving no one out, and indeed it would be the reign of God heralded by the prophets and the coming and living and dying and rising again of Jesus the Christ. Imagine in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well”. I am feeling better already but I know that we will need to help to build this new Jerusalem,this new world.
God is in our midst, not only within each of us- but in our midst, in our families and neighborhoods and places of worship, in all countries and in our world, in our goodness and in our turning away, in the midst too of our messes. God is in our midst especially in our community of love and faith. It is in community that we propagate the reign of God, the kin(g)dom that Jesus the Christ came to grow and bring to fruition. The prophet Zephaniah heralds a new day for Israel and for each of us that comes to fruition during the reign of God. For us, a reign that blossoms forth in shouting joy with God incarnate on Christmas in a helpless baby who grew in strength and wisdom with the faithful abounding love of Mary and Joseph and his family and community to fulfill the prophecy of John the Baptist: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”(Luke :10-18). Now, John the Baptizer was a fiery prophet indeed, he spoke truth to power and taught the fulfillment of the Law of Justice and Charity-“share with the person who has none”. But,great as he was, he said he was nothing compared to Jesus, the Christ who would have the power to impart God’s Holy Spirit and to set people on fire for God and for justice. This is the power to animate us, to bring us into life once life has weighed us down with despair and yet given us the glimpse of heaven on earth in love and justice. This is the power of Nelson Mandela, of Msgr. Oscar Romero, of Rosa Parks and Viola Liuzzo, and Jean Donovan and her Sisters, the power that Martin Luther King Jr. had as he led the Civil Rights Movement despite what his own fate would be-a fate similar to John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. And yet, to quote the poet Maya Angelou, hatred and conflict, violence and death, prejudice, discrimination, racism, classism, heterosexism and all the other isms have no power over us for still we rise as Jesus did and as we do every day of our lives: “And still I rise”. And this is the power and the cry of the Roman Catholic women priests world wide who have defied the man-made rule of the church that only men may be ordained and stepped out ahead to accept valid Holy Orders. Whatever our fate may be, we act in prophetic obedience and risk our own status in the church to renew the church. We have been set on fire and filled with the Holy Spirit and will not be silenced or discouraged. We shout for joy!
As the Responsorial Psalm, actually the words of the prophet Isaiah says, “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel”( Isaiah 12:6). As we stand for justice with all the unnamed saints above and below God is in our midst. Again, it is God in our midst,not in our DNA, not only within us like a captured bird, but in our midst-among us. God is transcendent and immanent, both,always and especially in this season as we await the coming of the Christ-child into a world characterized by those who oppress others and make others subservient: as such was the reign of the Roman Empire in all of Judea and much of the world at the time of Christ. And, such is the struggle now-between those who would dominate others and hoard all of the resources, and those who would share the world’s goods with one another so the earth itself may survive the greed of its people, and all may have and all may live.
Pope Francis,a prophet for our times, has been wonderfully outspoken on the matter of sharing the world’s resources, and caring for the earth and all of its people, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged and disenfranchised-women, orphans, and all groups left out and judged. His inauguration of this Year of Mercy, of Jubilee, of welcoming all people back to God-to bask in the sunshine of God’s renewing love is what the church and the people of God everywhere ought to be doing. Today in his homily from St John Lateran in Rome he said” God’s love and tenderness does not love rigidity but like John it invites us to act justly and look out for the needs of all who need…” He said that sadness is not allowed today, not because he is a pollyanna-type person who does not know the pain in the world, but precisely because he does know the love that God gives and therefore pain that God feels when love and justice are not the order of the day. He knows too well the need for mercy in this world and he welcomes us all back to God. He said “We have opened the holy door here and at all cathedrals and sanctuaries of the world”. This is not only to welcome people back to God when they had been lost to despair or cynicism or hopelessness, but “to admit joy… in this jubilee of mercy it is time to rediscover the presence of God.”
It would be nothing short of a miracle of love if Pope Francis would welcome back the women who are now priests and all those to come, if he would be able to open that door. Probably that is not going to happen and it is not up to him. But we are with all of the world’s outcast already inside the holy door opened by our loving God, nothing dampens our joy for we are home with God and God is in our midst. Let us,therefore, with Pope Francis and all who follow the Laws of Justice and compassion open the door for others. As Paul said to the Phillippians: (Phil $:4-7) “Rejoice in God always. I shall say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all….” Amen.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida