Today’s introit and epistle bid us always to rejoice in the Lord. Should we make this a daily resolution? “Today I’m going to be joyful.” No, that won’t work. We might resolve to be more charitable or more patient. Charity and patience are virtues, good habits. We acquire those virtuous good habits by repeating them over and over again. We cannot cultivate joy in the same way, for the simple reason that joy is not a virtue. It is a response within us to a gift which comes to us from outside of ourselves.
There is one well-known occasion which regularly seems to stir up joy; the joy that is felt on the happy occasion of a Christian wedding. Such an occasion seems to touch something deep within us, not only in the happy couple themselves, but in the guests also. This is a suitable thought for Gaudete Sunday, because of what we are preparing to celebrate when Advent become Christmas. We are preparing to celebrate the birthday in time and place of the pre-existent Son of God. The Son of God Who we know by revelation to be the Bridegroom of the human race.
In Christ, God married the human race. This is one of the great themes of Holy Scripture. In the Old Testament God is often described as the lover or bridegroom or husband of His chosen people. He is the patient suitor, striving in every generation to attract the attention of His beloved, trying to elicit from us some sort of response. God is the one Who pursues and courts mankind, and fortunately for us He is persistent in His attentions.
This theme finds its fulfilment in the New Testament. Let one example suffice, not from today’s gospel, but from another familiar passage from St John’s gospel – the wedding feast at Cana. That gospel episode is often under-interpreted. It’s not about marriage in the ordinary sense. Nor is it about more alcohol for a party. The patristic interpretation of Cana discloses the gospel’s deeper meaning; that Christ our Lord is the true Bridegroom of the human race. Christ the Bridegroom transforms our deficient humanity by inundating us with the rich wine of His new and everlasting covenant – a new and unbreakable marriage bond.
The feast of Christ’s nativity marks the arrival in our world of humanity’s true Spouse. The Bridegroom was born in poverty and obscurity. At first, His true identity was hidden. He spent His first thirty years in silence, the hidden years in Nazareth. Then he began to reveal His intentions, publicly. The formal betrothal took place at Cana. His wedding presents to the race He marries are the gifts which He generously bestows throughout His public ministry: His compassion, His mercy, His forgiveness, His healing.
At the Last Supper He bestows the greatest gift of all – Himself. At the institution of His Eucharist He lays Himself before us. On the Cross, the nuptial union is consummated. At the Resurrection the new marriage between heaven and earth is publicly revealed. At the Ascension, the divine Spouse presents our recreated and ennobled humanity to the whole court of heaven. And then, at Pentecost, the first fruits of that union are delivered, the Church is born.
As Christmas draws close, our hearts should certainly rejoice at the thought of the arrival of the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom comes in sight. We should go out to meet Him, well prepared. The marriage feast is about to begin. The marriage feast which is His, and ours.