Today is Gaudete Sunday, the one day in the year the priest may wear rose vestments to express communal joy in the coming of Jesus our Savior and the day we light the rose candle in the Advent wreath. The Latin word Gaudete means Rejoice as we heard in today's reading from Paul's letter to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, Rejoice." A typical response to that directive by many people is, "That's easier said than done." Looking at it a little different we might say, "Why Rejoice?" The answer to that question for us Christians is, "Because we belong to Christ Jesus and he promises to bless us with peace. And we know we can believe him and put our trust in him even in this violent and uncertain world."
One of my instructors in the seminary always took pleasure in asking, "What are two things we can't avoid?" Of course the standard answer is, "Death and taxes", and his response always was "Wrong, they are death and change." That of course has been true since the beginning of time and in spite of that, God calls us to always rejoice. The way we can bring ourselves to rejoicing is to believe in God and trust that God will bring us joy and peace in the long run by way of change.
The prophet Zephaniah prophesied that the exile of the Jewish people who had been burdened with war, destruction, and displacement would end and he called everyone in Jerusalem and Judah to celebrate and shout with all their hearts.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians, which he wrote while in prison, he tells us and them to "Rejoice in the Lord always". Can you imagine being in prison and knowing that almost assuredly you will be killed and then writing to the Church you founded in Philippi from, where you were forced to leave by the Pharisees and tell them to rejoice. No simple task.
There are examples of people today who follow his direction to rejoice in the midst of real adversity. One such example was written about in the Readers' Digest. They reported a story of an attractive successful businesswoman who noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair one morning. As days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor. Her worst fears were confirmed. The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery. When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like that of a mummy. She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut in the wrapping. When the bandages were removed after a week, she was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by facial paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor. Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had to make a choice whether to laugh or to cry. She followed Paul's instruction, "With thankful heart she offered her prayers and requests to God and then realizing that she belonged to Christ Jesus, God blessed her with peace that no one could completely understand. And that peace would control the way she thought, felt and decided. As difficult as it was she laughed in the face of her adversity. She continued her life with joy and gave encouragement to those with similar paralysis. What a fantastic way of accepting change and being rewarded with true peace.
God invites each of us to bring everything to him, no matter how big or how small so that he can give us his guidance and his comfort. Thereby giving us reason to Rejoice in the Lord always and say again Rejoice.