The third Sunday of Advent has been traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.” The term comes from the entrance antiphon for the liturgy, which in turn comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (a passage from which serves as today’s second reading): “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4)
The Advent wreath in many of our homes and churches have a rose colored candle to light this Sunday. The bright color contrasted with the normal dark purple of Advent is a visible call to rejoice for “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
The call to joy can be heard in the words of the prophet Zephaniah. He speaks to Israel and he speaks to us reminding us that the Lord’s love and mercy is more powerful than any other force in the world. He speaks of salvation that is at hand. “The Lord has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies, the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” (Zephaniah 3:15)
St. Bernard reminded us that during Advent we celebrate the three comings of the Lord. The first coming happened two thousand years ago. During Advent we prepare to celebrate this event at Christmas. The Second Coming or Parousia, will come “when you least expect.” (cf. Matthew 24:44) The day and time are unknown. During Advent we are reminded of this coming and long for the Lord’s return by doing so we are filled with hope and moved to conversion of life. The third coming is the abiding presence of the Lord. This coming happens every time we open our hearts to accept him. Perhaps on this Third Sunday of Advent this “coming” of the Lord is most pronounced. It is the reason for rejoicing.
In this context the words of Zephaniah encourage us to be confident and unafraid in the midst of darkness. “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty Savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17) How comforting and uplifting to hear these words. Notice the joy of which Zephaniah speaks. In this case it is not us who rejoice but the Lord rejoices in us – so great is his love and mercy. Our response is likewise joy, a joy that stems from thanksgiving and praise.
St. Paul as he writes to the Philippians speaks of this joy. Again we hear those words of the Opening Antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Paul then goes on to encourage us to allow that joy to overflow into the manner of our lives, the way we think and act.
He says that our “kindness should be known to all.” He tells us to have “no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” The fruit of such disposition is peace as Paul writes: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
The gift of peace is desperately needed today. Many people experience “darkness” when confronted with the reality of violence and terror. We were reminding of this a few weeks ago with the Paris killings. We were reminded of this last week with the San Bernardino shootings. The fear these killings generate is coupled with the anxiety of worry. Many feel overcome with distress asking, “When will it end?” The “people in darkness” are looking for a “light.”
Jesus is that “light,” and He is with us. This calls for joy even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of fear. How often have we heard Jesus speak to us the words: “Do not be afraid.” We are reminded on this Third Sunday of Advent that God is with us, He never abandons us, He remains. Surely the evils that exist in the world have an impact on our lives, yet this impact is not as great as the love God has for us and the life He, and He alone, offers. His love can see us through any danger, can remove any fear, can repair our hope and strengthen our love.
The reality of the Lord’s presence invites us to change our outlook on life. St. John the Baptist called for a similar change when he prepared for the Lord’s first coming. In the Gospel account for today’s Mass (Luke 3:10-18), he speaks of changing our ways in preparation. When asked by various groups: “What should we do?” He tells them to be charitable: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.” He says the same about “food.” This is not only a call for charity but also an invitation to rely more on God.
The Baptist also calls for integrity as he says to the tax-collectors, “stop collecting more than what is prescribed” and to soldiers, “do not practice extortion” and “do not falsely accuse anyone.” His final call to conversion is to avoid greed as he says: “Be satisfied with your wages.” The presence of the Lord in our midst invites us to look at life differently; not through “rose colored glasses” but as it is – the reality that fills our lives with meaning and hope is the love and mercy of God which we already possess. Our lives are changed and continue to change for the better when we are imbued with this vision.
The words of St. Paul from his Letter to the Romans speak to us today in profound clarity: “If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?… No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
This is cause for rejoicing, even in the midst of darkness and so we now say with renewed hope: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”