For Gaudete Sunday the readings are flooded with JOY - the keynote being sounded by the Entrance antiphon! And Advent is very much a time of joy and hope, so it is right that this should be highlighted in the liturgy. If HOPE is based on things unseen, things we do not yet see or possess, then the Joy of Advent is truly a hopeful joy - that is a joy which is about something which we do not yet possess - a joy which is linked to the future. It is a joy of expectation - an unfulfilled joy. It is like that of an expectant mother. She is joyful because she has conceived and she knows that she will bear a child. But, while it is a real joy, one in which she takes note of the slightest movement in the womb, it is nothing compared to what her joy will be when she sees her child, caresses and embraces it. That is full-term joy, and it makes what has gone before, pale into insignificance. Nevertheless, the joy during the pregnancy is very real - it is a joy that is full of hope and it looks ahead to what is promised. That the joy in Advent is an expectant joy is emphasised very much by the fact that everything is expressed in the future tense.
Who is this Lord that we are waiting for with such longing? He is the Lord of history and we invoke Him under many titles. In a special way in Advent, He is addressed by many names of honour, all of which reflect a different aspect of His saving mission. We have been exposed to many of these titles, particularly in the prophesies about the Messiah and from the 17th December onwards, we will be given special ones to reflect on in the "O Antiphons". One of these is His Title of "O Oriens", which is translated as 'O radiant dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice'. It is also translated as 'O Rising Sun'.
Pope John Paul II called the youth "Sentinels of the dawn.
What does it mean to be "Sentinels of the dawn"? Well, firstly, we must realize that we have been on the watch through a long dark night. The first part of the watch is fine, when we are fresh, but it goes on. Then, as we watch the time and feel it dragging and almost begin to despair of the darkness ever lifting, suddenly, a flicker of light appears on the horizon. It is not the full light of day, but it lifts our hearts and promises that a new day, a new beginning is on the way. We are on the dawn of a new era. The one, which is just ending, has been long and often dark, but we know we are awaiting a brighter future and that He who came to redeem us, will come again as He has promised. The time has gone on for so long now, that often people do not even think about it and do not believe it will happen. But we are called to proclaim the HOPE which our despairing world so badly needs, the Hope that Our Redeemer is 'Emmanuel' - God with us and He will come again as He promised.
It is easy for us too, to let the darkness take over. We are not immune from what ails our society and the darkness that seems to prevail. Why should we be? In fact our vocation is precisely to be at one with our brothers and sisters, to experience their joys and sorrows, but to bring them into the Lord's presence and transform them. And so, we too experience darkness. It blinds us and can overwhelm us. But we must try to look back at the times when we have seen the light and let that rekindle our hope. And, this is something that we have to work at - a sentinel is not just a night watchman. He is that, but more then that - he is a soldier. Soldiers are highly disciplined men, trained to be alert for every movement and ready to take action when it is necessary. We too, need to be disciplined, in the sense that, while God does come and rekindle our hope and help us to see things positively, we ourselves need to work at it too.
This is very much what I think St Peter is trying to do as he remembers the transfiguration:
"We had seen his majesty with our own eyes. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when a voice came to him from the transcendent Glory, This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. We ourselves heard this voice from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have confirmation of the words of the prophets; and you will be right to pay attention to it as to a lamp for lighting a way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds."
With this in mind, let us conclude by invoking Our Saviour with the O Antiphon for the 21st December, praying that He will penetrate any darkness we may feel and help us to experience the fullness of His Joy: