“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”
St. Paul writes these words to the Philippians encouraging them on their journey of faith to be filled with joyful hope. Hope is needed for the anxieties, worries and fears that come upon the people can seek to rob them of the joy they have in the Risen Lord. Faith in him and his love are like roots that hold the tree steady amidst the winds of a storm and like the foundation of a house built on stone.
The Third Sunday of Advent is sometimes called “Gaudete Sunday” because those words of Saint Paul are used for the entrance antiphon for the celebration of Mass. The color of the day is rose. The bright color contrasted with the dark purple – most often seen in the four candle advent wreath – reminds us of the joy we have in Christ Jesus even now as we await his return and as we also await the celebration of Christmas.
In our part of the world, nature itself can echo the theme. The daylight continues to lessen for almost a week. The darkness seems to be overtaking the light. It’s in that darkness that we keep the vigil of Advent, waiting for the dawn of the Lord’s coming. The celebration today reminds us that he has come, that he continues to abide with us and that he will come again.
The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy recalls the proclamation of John and the hope that he enkindled among his hearers of the coming Messiah: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The Messiah has come and invites us to life through faith in him.
The preparations for the coming of the Messiah entail repentance and conversion of heart. The crowds that had gathered to hear John in the desert asked, “What should we do?” John’s replies remain good ways to keep vigil, to live in the hope of the Lord’s coming: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” When the tax collectors ask him the same question, he says, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” To the soldiers, he says, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Lives lived in charity, honesty, truth and kindness are lives prepared to welcome the Lord.
Living a good life rooted in faith, lived in hope and expressed in joy are not only ways in which we are prepared to greet the Lord on his return — they also become an invitation to others to share in this life. The lives of the faithful share in that light, reflecting the Messiah who has come and who remains. These lives become a chorus of voices, as we do at Mass today in our responsorial psalm: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”
Another type of darkness settles in at this time of year for many people – holiday stress and anxiety. During a recent Google search, I was overwhelmed by the number of hits – twenty-one million – for the topic. As we gather today, we are reminded of the light that dispels the darkness. For so many people, the “reason for the season” gets lost in so many other things — not bad things, but other things. The focus on the light who is Christ can be lost with so many competing responsibilities, values and obligations. Today we are reminded that everything else, good as they may be, are second to that one light. Finding and following that light will dispel the darkness and lead us to joy.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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