Third Sunday of Advent – “Gaudete Sunday”
Isaiah 61: 1 – 2, 10 – 11
Psalm: (Luke) 1
1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 24
John 1: 6 – 8, 19 – 28
The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” is a Latin imperative, it’s a command which means “rejoice.” The Church is telling us to be happy. And in the first reading a marvelous passage from the sixty-first chapter of the prophet Isaiah, which presents the motif of the “anointed one” it gives us the reasons why we should rejoice. The theme of joy is everywhere in the readings from Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10 -11; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28. Especially, you see it in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. “Rejoice always!” he says to the persecuted believers in Thessaonica. What strange advice to give to people in the mist of hostility, surfing, pain, sickness, anxiety and depression. Where can you find joy when you hear about tumbling markets closures of business and loss of jobs? Where can we find joy in a world going through so many crises? Is there anything to hope for? Where is the joy?
Why have we to rejoice? We have to rejoice and be happy because Jesus is near us, so near that He became a child. We realize that today’s world, where God is absent, is dominated by fear, by uncertainty. Nonetheless, the words, “be joyful because God is with us”. Joy is the true gift of Christmas. Joy transcends every pain an suffering, even death. This joy, of course, is more than a happy, outward smile.
Glimpses of joy are possible but not by material means. They are brought to us through incredible experiences of connection that bring us face to face with real and authentic faith, hope, and love. And, they are glimpses and do not last. The moment we find ourselves looking back at them, they are gone, and we find ourselves remembering the moment in memory. To carry joy within us is to realize that it is not something I create, manufacture or even acquire. It is not able to be purchased. It is a gift. My need for joy mirrors my need for eternity, for a Creator who has a claim on the very essence of who I am and desires a home within me. As C. S. Lewis discovered, joy is a surprise that speaks to my very soul and is given as gift by the God who loves me.
The beauty of Advent is found in discovering the beauty of the gift of joy. God has visited his people for no other reason than to show them where and how to find joy! All of our human and earthly joy experiences are always only glimpses. They never satisfy us, sustain us or fulfill us. It is only God who is the joy of my soul. Real, Divine experiences of joy catch us off guard, make us stop and become aware, bring a feeling of awe and rightness and have an eternal Otherness about them. Nothing created by humans can ever come close to this. We probably will not fully realize the truth of all of this until we actually meet God face to face in heaven one day. Then, in that sacred moment when our hearts leap for joy we will understand what we have been tirelessly searching for all along. Intense gratitude will most surely follow
The heart of St. John the Baptist’s message in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading is that we are responsible for preparing a path into our hearts for the Holy Spirit to rush. We have still a week and a half to examine seriously our consciences and to approach God in the beautiful Sacrament of Penance.
In our search for our own personal truth, two of the big questions that drives us are, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’ We seek after our identity, in the broadest sense of that term, and we try to clarify for ourselves the ultimate purpose that drives all we do and say. In today’s gospel, those two big questions are put to John the Baptist by the religious authorities, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you baptizing?’ In answer to the first question, John began by declaring who he was not. He was clear that he was not the Christ, the Messiah. John did not try to be more than he was. Later on in the gospel of John, using an image drawn from a wedding celebration, he would say of himself that he was not the bridegroom, only the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices at the bridegroom’s voice. In this morning’s gospel John declares himself to be the voice crying in the wilderness; he is not the Word, only the voice; he is not the light, only the witness to the light. When John was asked why he was doing what he was doing, why he was baptizing, he declared that he baptized to make known the ‘one who stands among you, unknown to you.’ He did what he was doing to open people’s eyes to the person standing among them, to the Messiah who was in their midst without their realizing it. There was a great light shining among them that many were unaware of, and John had come to bear witness to that light. John did what he did because of who he was. The answer to the question, ‘Why are you baptizing?’ flowed from the answer to the more fundamental question, ‘Who are you?’ “What do you say about yourself?”
Once we allow God to clear away the debris of sin, and once we devote ourselves to making an examination of conscience a more regular part of our lives, we can begin to sense the workings of the Spirit. Then instead of acting simply according to our own self-interest and self-will, we are more easily disposed to God’s will, and to being moved by His Holy Spirit. We can more easily imitate Mary, whose hymn we hear this Sunday in the response to the First Reading.
The Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice to invite people into relationship with God. We too are asked to use our voice to make Christ known. We can use our gift of communication to spread faith in Christ and illustrate his values and his attitudes. In our behaviour too, we can let the Lord communicate through us. If we realise our calling to be witnesses to the light, it can shape how we live and explains why we live the way we do. The answer to the question, ‘Who are you?’ grounds the answer to the question, ‘Why do you do what you are doing?’ Advent is a good time to reclaim our fundamental identity, our Christ-linked identity. If Jesus is to be born anywhere today, it will be in the hearts of his followers.
These beautiful three readings we heard proclaimed from the Word of God today remind us that true joy and happiness is to be found only in God. If we are not finding our joy and happiness in God we are under an illusion. Only in God can we find true joy and happiness. Those who abandon God are on the road to sorrow and pain. Advent reminds us that the joyful answer to our problems lies in God. So when Jesus summarized the first three commandments as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength he was really giving us a prescription for deep and permanent joy and happiness. Any unhappiness we experience is really an experience of the lack of God. God is the fulfillment of our anxieties and worries, of our needs, of our greed. What a difference there is between “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” Anyone, even a pagan, can celebrate Happy Holidays, but how beautiful it is to have Christ at the center of a Merry Christmas. Christ is the one and only gift at the center of a Merry Christmas.
God bless you. Have a blessed Sunday.
Fr. Michael Dias