Catholic Christians traditionally call this “Gaudete Sunday” (Latin gaudere, “to rejoice,” from the Entrance Antiphon) to stress the joy of anticipating the Lord’s coming. Today’s texts express the joy of the watcher who heralds the dawn while standing between darkness and light.
John is a dour man in a camel-hair tunic who eats a ghastly diet foraged from the wilderness. But a distinct joy infuses the New Testament texts about him, springing from his privileged position as forerunner and friend of Jesus. His mother Elizabeth hears the greeting of Mary and says, “The child in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). In the fourth Gospel account, John came “to testify to the light” (John 1:7), saw Christ’s glory, “full of grace and truth,” and cried out in witness to his majesty (1:14). Later, when Jesus first came to him, John exclaimed, “Here is the Lamb of God” (1:29). He then surrendered his disciples to Jesus and described his joy with a vivid metaphor: “The best man rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; but I must decrease” (3:29-30). This is the joy in the Isaiah text applied to John today, all the more striking for the contrast between the prophet’s “garments of salvation” and John’s rough clothing.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians strongly anticipates the Lord’s coming, while also reminding readers to “rejoice always” (5:16). How would you describe the character of joy in a time of waiting?