Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly:
script of commentary:
We’re well into our Advent journey now. We’ve moved from the theme of vigilance in the first Sunday, the need for preparation last week and now we move on to the practicalities preached by the Baptist. And there’s a strange feeling around with our vestments changing from purple to rose-coloured, with a rose candle on our Advent wreath for one day only on our journey. Rose recalls the colour of the sky as a new dawn begins to shine. Yes, it’s Gaudete Sunday, a day to rejoice that we’re moving on and making good progress.
Our responsorial psalm is chapter 12 of Isaiah. That is one of a number of hymns found outside the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. True to our theme of rejoicing on Gaudete Sunday, Chapter 12 urges everyone to “shout and sing for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!”
Isaiah of Jerusalem is writing in really tough times: the nation of Judah is threatened by the powers of Egypt and the flawed king Ahaz is looking to Assyria for protection. This “protection” will quickly turn sour as Judah becomes a vassal state. The king’s councillor Isaiah has advised in vain against that alliance. He exclaims, “It is in God that lies is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song!” He sees God as a well of salvation.
Unlike the powerful Assyria with its rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and unlike the threatening Egypt with its Nile, poor little Judah depends for water on rainfall or good wells. Isaiah sees God as a most reliable well of salvation.
Isaiah 12 is a great hymn of hopeful TRUST. In spite of the dark times around, it tells of the great rejoicing that will take place when the faithful remnant will surely return to Jerusalem. “I trust. I shall not fear!” he acclaims.
Three important points follow in Isaiah’s song: first, “Call on his Name!”; second, “Tell others about God!”; and thirdly, “See that God is already in your midst!”
That last phrase in our song makes a bridge back to the first reading from Zephaniah who says: “The Lord is in your midst!” The Hebrew word Zephaniah used can mean “The Lord is in your womb!” (We can think of the pregnant Mary here). The psalm when it says, “Make God known to the peoples”, continues the bridge forward to the Gospel scene where the Baptist makes God known as he addresses three groups about what they should do to prepare for the Good News. He tells the ordinary people to share their cloaks; the tax men to stop cheating; the soldiers to be satisfied with their wages and avoid extortion.
Isaiah the prophet of joyful hope wants us also to sing and act as people who know God is really in our midst. Indeed Vatican Two’s liturgy Constitution tells us that we cantors really make God present when we sing scripture too! God is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are proclaimed in the Church! Yes, we Cantors make God present when we sing! Let’s do this with joy on this Gaudete Sunday! (Sacrosanctum Concilium para, 7)