Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass. The sermon focused on the theme of darkness. The Gospel reading was taken from Matthew 11:2-11.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
Gaudete in Domino semper. This is the ancient introit of today’s Mass, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete in Domino semper — “Rejoice in the Lord always”. It’s from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
And so we sing again and again and again: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come. Pope Francis calls this the "Sunday of joy." We wear rose vestments; we light the rose-coloured candle.
We proclaim again, today, the words of Isaiah that have been proclaimed for over two and a half millennia: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”
And we are sorely mistaken if we think that joy and hope are the results of everything being bright and cheery in life. We are in the wilderness, the dry land; we are in the desert. Joy and hope — this is our deep-down, serene peace in the midst of our wilderness, even in times of suffering.
And Christian Joy is living in this hope.
Hope is truly hope when we are in the darkness and the difficulties. Hope is about overcoming obstacles. When life is always pleasant, there is no need for hope. When we numb ourselves with incessant entertainment, and distract ourselves to death with triviality — there is no need for hope.
But we, in Advent, acknowledge the darkness; we are honest, we are candid about the desert. Advent — I have said it before — isn’t all about “cute little baby no crying he makes”. Advent isn’t for sissies. Advent isn’t for the fainthearted.
Advent begins: “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light.”
Advent acknowledges the darkness, the mess, the tragedy in our world. And even harder: Advent is frank about the darkness, the mess in my own heart.
Even today, we plead: “by the grace of your coming to us enlighten the darkness of our hearts.”
As well as our Advent singing of “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come”, Advent could have, as its anthem: “Hello darkness, my old friend; I've come to talk with you again.”
And in this desert, in this darkness, last week and this week, we encounter John the Baptiser - the one who was not the light, but who came to testify to the light. We cannot of ourselves, darkness cannot of itself, eliminate darkness, but light shining, by the very act of shining, removes darkness.
And why, with an all-powerful, all-good God, does God allow there to be darkness? The answer lies somewhere in our freedom and in giving us the hope of growing into being the love that is God.
The great Sufi, Hazrat Inayat Khan, said it well:
I asked for strength
and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom
and God gave me problems to learn to solve.
I asked for prosperity
and God gave me a brain and brawn to work.
I asked for courage
and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for love
and God gave me people to help.
I asked for favours
and God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
Gaudete in Domino semper. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Hope will break through John the Baptiser’s prison bars and ours. Hope will break through John’s and our imprisoning, limiting image of God. Hope looks at the end, the goal, the Advent picture on the jigsaw puzzle box of the future that we are working towards. Jesus is that picture. And hope passionately pushes forward on our pilgrimage to that end, to that goal.
“Hello darkness, my old friend; I've come to talk with you again.”
That song, "The Sounds of Silence," I’m sure you know, is a song by Simon and Garfunkel. It was on a 1964 album which was a commercial disaster. That failure led to Simon and Garfunkel splitting up. And then, without them knowing, a remix was released as a single in September 1965. It grew and grew. The duo reunited. The rest is history. And people debated the lyrics: was it a tribute to JFK after his assassination, or simply a song written in a dark bathroom.
We now know the story behind the song. In his autobiography, Sandy Greenberg has written about the meaning behind “Hello darkness, my old friend; I've come to talk with you again.” He was Art Garfunkel’s best friend.
In one tale in his autobiography, Sandy tells of Garfunkel saying to him, “I’d like to show you this patch of grass and I’d like you to really look at it,” “At first I was stunned,” says Sandy, “then Art was pointing out how the light illuminated the beauty and complexities of its colours. I was absolutely mesmerized. No one I had known would take time out to admire a measly patch of grass.”
Sandy Greenberg and Art Garfunkel were roommates at Columbia University, and they committed themselves, they made a pact to always be there for each other. They prayed together regularly. And then, through misdiagnosed glaucoma, Sandy went blind. He stopped his studies, went home, and became deeply depressed. Art flew to visit him and insisted that he try to pick up his studies. Art would be there for him as he had pledged.
In his empathy, Art called himself “Darkness”. He would come in and say to Sandy: “Darkness is going to read to you now.” Garfunkel would take Sandy around the city. Art Garfunkel altered his entire life to accommodate Sandy.
And then, one day, in New York’s bustling Grand Central Station, Garfunkel said that he had to leave. He abandoning his blind friend alone in the rush-hour crowd. Sandy was terrified, stumbling and falling, cutting his forehead, his shins, knocking things over. Finally, he managed to get the local train back to Columbia University.
Back on campus, Sandy bumped into a man who apologised.
"I knew that it was Art’s voice," says Sandy. "For a moment I was enraged, and then I understood what happened: that his colossally insightful, brilliant yet wildly risky strategy had worked."
Garfunkel had not abandoned Sandy at the station. He had followed him the entire way home, watching over him. After that Sandy felt he could do anything. He went on to get a Harvard doctorate. He married his childhood sweetheart.
In our darkness, God becomes Darkness; and walks with us every step and stumble of the way, even when we don’t appreciate that. God became as we are — so that we might become as God is. That is the hope and the joy of Advent.