“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).
We proclaim these words in the entrance antiphon for Sunday’s liturgy. The Third Sunday of Advent is sometimes referred to as Gaudete Sunday, gaudete being the Latin word for “rejoice.” The color for today switches from the deep purple to bright rose. The third candle of Advent wreaths reflect this as well. The words and images for today all carry the message of rejoicing.
What is the source of our joy? Jesus gives us the answer when he says, “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.” Perhaps even more to the point, Jesus is the source for our joy. He was born among us as one of us to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. The love and mercy of God break through the darkness with a piercing light that heals, comforts, strengthens and even elates.
The hope of Israel and indeed humanity is once again expressed by the prophet Isaiah. The passage for this Sunday speaks of a great transformation that will occur at the coming of the Lord. Creation itself will rejoice. Isaiah says: “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
When he arrives, “they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” Healing will be abundant: “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then the lame will leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” These hopes are fulfilled in Jesus.
John came to prepare the way of the Lord. When he sends a messenger from prison to ask Jesus if he is the “one who is to come,” Jesus responds saying: “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 all hope. In him the healing love of the Father is poured forth on His people. Jesus becomes the remedy for all that ills humanity.
In Jesus, the Father breaks through the barriers of disease, infirmity, isolation, sorrow and distress and deposits hope. Our hope lies in Him who has come and who will come again. The second reading from the Letter of St. James encourages us as we await his arrival saying: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord… Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We are invited to look to the prophets of old who responded to hardships with patience as they waited in hope.
As we celebrate this Third Sunday of Advent we are invited to rejoice. As we long for his return and as we prepare to celebrate his Nativity at Christmas we are reminded today that he is already here. He is the light that dispels the darkness – whatever that darkness may be. He is present when we open our hearts to receive him.
We have been born into the Kingdom of God which he established. This Kingdom promises life in the face of death; healing in the face of sickness, deliverance in the face of trial, solace in the face of distress and joy in the face of sadness. And so we are invited to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).
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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