Christmas is coming fast. We have been reminded about Christmas since before Thanksgiving as we see the stores and malls filled with decorations and flyers for pre-Christmas sales. Neighborhoods are starting to be filled with lights and decorations. Nativity scenes are on lawns and in front of churches. All these things point ahead to the day we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord.
As our spiritual preparations continue we recognize that in this season of Advent we prepare ourselves to rejoice at the dawn of salvation, that the light of the world has come to dispel whatever darkens our life.
The readings for today’s liturgy speak of that joy that comes with the Day of Salvation. Zephaniah the prophet proclaims: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” The reason for the joy is that “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a might savior, he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love….”
The great joy that Zephaniah proclaims is one that we experience as we grow in awareness of God’s great love for us in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ. The love dispels fear and encourages us on this journey through life. St. Paul echoes the call to rejoice as he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” These themes are also reflected in the prayers and vesture for today’s liturgy. Traditionally today is known as Gaudete Sunday (“gaudete” being the Latin for “rejoice”). Bright rose colored vestments are worn as a reminder of the joy we experience in celebrating the Lord’s birth and the expectation of His second coming.
While our minds and hearts turn toward the Lord in preparation for His coming, our rejoicing pours out in concern for the poor and needy in our midst. It is uplifting to see so many individuals, families and parishes preparing for Christmas through their concern for the poor.
Giving trees, clothing drives, collections of food for the poor, donations to Catholic Social Services, St. Vincent de Paul Societies and other charitable associations are just some examples of this compassionate care.
The activity calls to mind St. John the Baptist’s proclamation in today’s Gospel. The preparation for the coming of Christ includes acts of charity for those in need. The Baptist says: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
St. John further specifies our preparation for Christ’s coming in terms of personal conversion of heart. Care for the poor certainly reflects the call for compassion. He also calls for honesty and integrity as he says to the tax-collectors, “stop collecting more than what is prescribed;” and to the soldiers, “do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
His exhortation is a call to holiness and virtuous living. Self-reflection on the gifts we receive through the Lord and His presence in our lives impels us to grow in living good lives; lives worthy of the gift He has given.
As these weeks of Advent swiftly run toward Christmas we pray that through our change of heart we may experience a deepening of joy when we celebrate the birth of our savior.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.