In the Roman liturgical calendar, this is Gaudete Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday,” a break in the (formerly) stark fasting and penance of the Advent season in favor of a little anticipatory celebration of Christmas. If, like members of monastic orders, you’ve been steeped in self-denial these past two weeks, today is a good day to lighten up a bit! The spiritual encouragement of the day is good medicine for the world-weary as well, especially prolifers.
The Coming of Better Government
First, a little context: The season of Advent is God’s answer to mankind’s age-old lament about bad government. Ever since the first tribal chiefs mishandled a mammoth hunt or a skirmish with a neighboring tribe, exposing their subjects to famine or slavery or worse, human beings have been complaining about their leaders. The Jewish people codified in their inspired texts the insight that good government helps them live in righteousness and peace with God, while bad government has the opposite effect. The prophets promised a day when God would raise up a messiah whose government would be perfect. We prolifers, who are endlessly lobbying our neighbors and our rulers for justice—in law and in fact—for the unborn, can appreciate this ancient hope!
As with other truths revealed in ancient Judaism, the first Christians accepted this promise and looked to see how it had been fulfilled by Jesus. They understood his original coming—his birth and the inauguration of his ministry—as something like the birth and anointing of a new king, joyfully anticipating a new government that might be better than what preceded it. They also recalled Jesus’ descriptions of the “Son of Man” as Judge of the world, and heard in those stories the promise of a definitive justice for which God’s people had longed. The season of Advent captures both our celebration of his first coming and our preparation for the coming of Jesus as our Judge.
Be Careful What You Pray For
But if you think about it for a moment, it’s a little intimidating to contemplate God’s coming government. In chapter three of the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist promises the coming of the Lord as King and Judge. He describes the transformational power of that coming and warns even those who sought him out in repentance—“You brood of snakes!”—that being members of God’s people will not spare them from the demands of His new government.
The people respond with a measure of handwringing anxiety: “What then shall we do?” John answers that the people are to share their food and clothing with anyone who needs them. Soldiers and police are not to abuse their power by making false accusations or extorting their subjects for “protection.” Tax collectors are not to abuse their office by demanding more from any household than its fair share. (Back then, they got to keep the surplus.)
One way to hear John’s answers is as a retort: “You want to prepare for the coming of God’s government? Then begin to govern yourselves well. If you want to be ready for God’s justice, then practice justice now.”
Those of us aware of how often we fail to practice John’s stern justice might grow fearful, hesitant to welcome the Lord as our Judge. We know we are not worthy of the promised government, and so we may grow discouraged.
Thoughtful prolifers, too, may sometimes despair of our cause. Abortion’s perversion of law and jurisprudence stretches through everything: politics, medicine, journalism, education. It is not humanly possible to function in American society without in some way, however remotely, participating in the abortion “regime.” Even to oppose it, and oppose it badly or ineffectively, as we all have done, indirectly strengthens the practice of abortion. The gravity of the problem and its pervasiveness can weary us all.
Have No Anxiety
The prophets and apostles anticipated our discouragement, and for Gaudete Sunday the Church pairs the sober excerpt from John’s preaching with words of encouragement from Zephaniah and Paul. Despite our failures, we are told that the Lord will rejoice over us with gladness and renew us in his love (Zephaniah 3). Paul tells the Church in Philippi to “have no anxiety at all,” but instead to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4). The Lord knows our failures in government, not least the failures of our own personal self-government, and intends to bring healing justice and peace to the corruption of our human hearts.
So do not despair—not in the evils of abortion, nor in its distortion of the institutions of our country, nor even in the disorders and failures of the pro-life movement. In our peaceful, hopeful, and joyful longing for better government, the Lord will find welcome, and even rejoice in it.