3rd Sunday of Advent
In earlier times the third Sunday in Advent was known as "Gaudete Sunday" because the entrance prayer or "Introit" began with the Latin words, "gaudete in domino semper." Translated the phrase means "rejoice in the Lord always." Today, as it has always done, the Church injects an element of joy into the penitential season of Advent. In many churches the priest will put aside the purple vestments which signify sorrow and penance, and put on rose colored vestments, a symbol of joy. The Church is asking us to look ahead to the glory of the coming of the Savior on Christmas.
In this liturgical year the first reading for each of the Sundays in Advent is taken from the prophet Isaiah. It is common for us to think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future but usually the Hebrew prophets just talk about their own time, especially its problems. Today, however, Isaiah sings a different tune for the reading is all about joy.
I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
In my God is the joy of my soul;
The reason for the joy is that the Lord has heard the cry of the poor and the brokenhearted, and has sent his anointed one to teach and heal. That someone is clothed in a “robe of salvation” and wrapped in “a mantle of justice.” Just as the earth bears fruit, the Lord will make “justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the last of the Hebrew prophets, is trying to convince the people of his time that the Lord’s anointed is coming into their midst. He says,
I baptize with water,
But there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
The one who is coming after me,
Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.
One thing that I have always liked about John the Baptist is that he never claimed anything for himself. He insisted that he was not worthy to even untie the sandal strap of the anointed one. He only claims to be a voice preparing the way. But what does John’s call for repentance have to do with rejoicing?
To rejoice means to bring joy back into our lives. To rejoice means to recover or regain the joy that we once knew or had. Maybe it means to find the joy we once dreamed of as children, especially at Christmastime. It is hard to read the papers, watch the TV, or just surf the Web and not see that joy has gone out of so many people’s lives. In some cases it is not our own fault. Bad things happen to even good people.
But in many cases it is our own fault and often we can find ourselves carrying an enormous load of guilt on our shoulders. How do we get rid of it and free ourselves to experience joy again. Repentance is the answer. Like the younger son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we must come to our senses, take responsibility for our own failings, and seek forgiveness.
Modern science and medicine, for all the good they have accomplished, can never give us forgiveness. St. Augustine believed that the mere recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was sufficient to forgive all small or venial sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the celebration of the Eucharist itself is “a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.” For mortal or serious sins, the Church provides the great Sacrament of Penance as the primary means to repentance and rejoicing.
The crowds ask John what they should do to prepare for his coming. His words could profit all of us this Advent. John’s advice for preparation is not radical or impossible. Jesus himself constantly forgave sins but never made impossible demands on those he healed. We do not have to give up all that we have in order to find joy. We have to realize that many of the things in our lives to not really provide true comfort and joy.
Every Christmas I’m reminded of an article I read by a man who was a well known lecturer, TV personality, and author. He had a beautiful wife and son and was extremely successful. Yet he wrote, "I am almost 60. Time flies and it scares me. I don't want to die. I like being in good health. I don't want to be sick and have wires and tubes and scalpels in me. I like having enough money. I don't want to be old and poor. I sat in my car...shivering in fear. And then it struck me. I spend too darned much of my life in fear. I always have. You can't imagine how much of my life I have thrown away by being a slave to fear."
In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Rejoice always.” He gives a simple set of instructions for rejoicing: pray without ceasing, give thanks, do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophetic utterances, retain what is good, and refrain from every kind of evil. He ended with this blessing that is especially appropriate for this season:
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
And may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
Be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading 1. Isaiah 61: 1-2a
Reading II. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Gospel. John 1: 6-8, 19-28 (Rejoice Always)