This is “Gaudete” Sunday. More precisely, it is “Gaudete in Domino” Sunday. Rejoice, but rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in anticipation of his coming, the coming that has already been and the one that is yet to be. We are still on our journey, but we rejoice because we are certain of its end. What is that end? It is our entrance into the glory of God. On the way, we can get distracted, tired and uncertain so we need above all at those times to encourage one another to “Rejoice in the Lord!”
That is just what we do at Mass when we recite or sing the Gloria. Having called to mind our sins, we realise that they leave us spiritually infertile, like the wilderness and wasteland in that first reading. But the mercy we receive in the Mass, most especially at Holy Communion, restores joy and makes us fertile again. In the Gloria we exalt the glory of God that we long for. We express our worship, thanks and adoration of Him. We thank God for being God, for being his thrice-holy self. The mercy given to us is a share in his glory, in the magnificence of his love. And since God is love, then in his mercy he gives us himself, his very being. You could say that his mercy truly makes us divine. It restores God’s likeness to us. The first reading says that the glory of Lebanon is bestowed on the wasteland. In other words, in the place of our sinful barrenness God bestows through his mercy the glory of his own life. In doing that, he prepares us not just to sing his glory, but to see it. To see God is the deepest desire of every human heart. It is the deepest longing of humanity itself. The beatific vision of the glory of God is the driving force behind every genuine desire of the human person and community.
Singing God’s glory, though, is not like admiring a picture. Looking at a picture does not transport you into it. But the Gloria, as does all true prayer, brings us to God. For as we sing it, the divine Glory comes to us; it manifests itself more and more fully as we desire it more and more fervently. We sing for it to come to us, to strengthen our weary hands and steady our trembling knees, to give courage to our faint hearts. In the Gloria, we ask the Lamb of God to continue to have mercy on us and to hear our prayers. That is, we ask him to deliver us from affliction, evil and death. And when He does finally come, we will go to him redeemed and free, with everlasting joy on our faces because all sorrow and lament are ended.
It is right to be impatient for this to happen. It is a holy impatience. Who among us does not want freedom from illness, disappointment, failure, tragedy, sin and death? Who does not want an end to corruption, injustice, war, famine and disease? Who does not want freed from the darker side of power politics, from unjust and false laws and from the judgments of courts which insult the holiness of God and the true dignity of man?
We can express our holy impatience in the song of the Gloria. It is a song of defiance, of refusal to surrender to the twisted logic of darkness and defeat. Singing the Gloria shines a bright light which cuts across the horizon of darkness, like the first rays of the rising sun scattering the gloom of night. The Gloria is a statement of ultimate truth: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is! God exists! God is glorious, wonderful to know and adore. God precedes us and will come once more to us! So even when you don’t feel like it, even when your heart is down, let that holy defiance well up and pray the Gloria or even just the Glory be to the Father. In such defiant prayer, his glory will come to you, help you, lift you up to see that despite everything there is still actually something to see: there is hope, definite and certain hope, a hope that does not deceive because the pledge of its fulfilment has already been given to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit, like a great torrent of love poured out into our thirsty hearts. There is hope because there is God, there is the glory of God. Refuse point blank to surrender to negativity. As you pray or sing the Gloria, you may first have to weep because of whatever is afflicting you and would suffocate your hope. Well, then, weep! Weep freely that you may hope fully! And praise the glory of God through your tears until your voice stops shaking and becomes strong and resonant in the praise of God.
The Gloria puts into prayer the first commandment. “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other god but me.” This is the primacy of God over all things and people. We need that primacy to keep us right, on the straight and narrow. When you have God’s primacy first in your heart, soul, mind and will, everything else will eventually fall into place. Lose that primacy and you will lose yourself, no matter how together you may seem to be.
So the Gloria jolts us back into position. It is the reset button which returns us to our true default position. And God knows, we all need that, every day. People talk of the “wandering eye.” We all have the wandering eye, heart and mind. We are easily distracted and seduced by the beautiful things God has made. Yet, as St. Augustine observes so acutely, had those things not been in God, they would never have been at all. So, yes, admire the beauty of God’s handiwork, but admire the even greater beauty of God himself, for he is of course infinitely more beautiful than what he has made. Don’t grasp the gifts and dismiss the Giver. If you do, the gift will eventually corrupt and destroy you. If beauty is sought without its Author, the beauty will turn ugly and it will turn the heart and soul ugly in the process.
But holy impatience needs balanced with holy patience! You could say that the cry of the Gloria is a burst of impatience in the midst of the patience. Life takes time. Growth takes time. Instilling God’s primacy into the deepest recesses of our being takes time. Being patient with yourself is really just a reflection of God’s being patient with you. He is the master craftsman, slowly shaping us with infinite respect and tenderness into the beautiful masterpieces he has desired from all eternity. And yet we can still sing to him on the way: Gloria in excelsis Deo! We can aspire to join in this song of the angels.
Of course, at Mass during Advent and Lent we are not allowed to pray the Gloria! These two seasons are times in which we are to focus on our repentance through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But it’s good to sing a little Gloria now and then – to remind yourself of where all this is going, what it is all about. Call it holy insolence, if you like, but I’d say the Lord will love it if you do! Holy defiance, holy insolence, the primacy of God, the final victory of the Good. These are the hallmarks of the Advent Christian.