December can be a tricky time of the year. Despite all the festivity associated with Christmas there are many people who get anxious and even depressed this time of the year. Some say it’s the commercialization of the feast that overwhelms people with unwanted expectations and pressures. Some say it’s sad or trying memories of past experiences that surface.
Whatever the cause may be, there are many among us who get overwhelmed this time of the year.
At Christmas we celebrate the light that comes to dispel the darkness. In a real sense we celebrate that all the time. Traditionally the Third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice.” The title comes from the opening antiphon for the liturgy: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice!” (cf. Phillipians 4:4) So we might ask: what is the reason for rejoicing?
The readings for Sunday’s liturgy give us the answer. Isaiah prophecies that the day of vindication is coming when the Lord will save his people from all that oppresses them. The images he uses to describe this are grand and magnificent. “The desert and parched land will exult” blooming with abundant flowers. The “feeble hands” will be strengthened. The wobbling knees will be made firm. The eyes of the blind will be opened. The deaf will hear. The lame will not only walk but “leap like a stag.” The mute will not only talk but “sing.”
Sadness and mourning will be replaced by joy and gladness. And those who are in fear will hear the words: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God … he comes to save you.”
John the Baptist longed for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He came to prepare the way of the Lord. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan at the inauguration of his public ministry. Now, some time later, John has been arrested and imprisoned.
Hearing the works of Jesus prompts him to send the question: “Are you ‘He who is to come,’ or should we look for another?” Jesus replies with this answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation.
Jesus comes into the world to save us. He leads us out of darkness into His light. As the Gospel passage continues Jesus speaks to his disciples about John and his importance in the mission. He then draws a comparison to emphasize the importance of faith and following him: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
“Being born in the kingdom of heaven” requires faith in Jesus. Following Jesus and his Way leads to salvation.
The Letter of St. James reminds us that as we long for the Lord’s coming we should do so patiently by making our “hearts firm.” In these words we hear the call for an ever-deepening
faith in Christ Jesus. Through faith we can see that the “coming of the Lord is near at hand.” One particular way of exercising patience, the passage points out, is by not complaining about each other in the communion of faith.
While the pressures and expectations of the season can be overwhelming at times, keeping our focus on Jesus will help the joy of season to be real and deep. During our observance of Advent where we long for the Lord’s coming and we prepare for the celebration of Christmas we also remember Jesus’ abiding presence among us.
Jesus is with us now as he promised to abide with us through his Spirit. He continues to come into our hearts, so long as they are open to him. He brings with him the same healing presence, the same saving grace, that was active in the public ministry. He continues to strengthen us and fill us with hope. He continues to lift us up in His love. He continues to be the light that shines in the darkness (cf. John 1:5).
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.