Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 12)

“Expectation” is a good way to describe what children experience this time of year. They are looking forward to Christmas with great anticipation. Filled with hope they look forward to Christmas morning and all that awaits them. Theirs is a hope of the pure and innocent. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles join in their anticipation and a certain joy permeates the waiting.

St. Luke tells us, in the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy, that “the people were filled with expectation.” Their hopes were raised by the preaching of John the Baptist. They began to wonder if maybe he was the longed-for Messiah. He assures him that he is not but that the Messiah is coming. As he describes the coming one, the hopes and expectations of all who hear are raised even higher.

Today we continue our observance of Advent. This Sunday is sometimes called Gaudete Sunday. Most of us are familiar with the rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath that marks the day or the similarly colored vestments the priests and deacons wear at Mass.

The name comes from the entrance antiphon for the liturgy: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again Rejoice! Indeed the Lord is near.” These also happen to be the opening lines of the second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Our rejoicing comes in the midst of our waiting – both for the Lord’s return and the celebration of his birth.

During this period of “waiting” we might reflect on the days in which we live. Many are weighed down by anxiety or fear. The COVID-19 situation still persists. New concerns are now raised by the omicron variant.

Tensions within our society that tear at the fabric of unity, though not as pronounced as they were earlier in the year, still lie under the surface. The world situation seems volatile. These coupled with poverty, anger, employment issues and financial stresses point to a darkness that mirrors the long nights this time of the year.

These and other individual concerns highlight the fragility of life in this world. The Salve Regina or “Hail, Holy Queen” prayer captures this particular aspect of life in these words: “to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” It is into this “valley of tears,” into the fragility of the created world, that Jesus the Messiah came, comes and will come again.

Today the dark purple of Advent gives way to the bright rose. Our eyes are called to sense the difference. We are reminded that Jesus has come. God is not far from our troubles in life but he walks with us on this journey of life and leads us to something better, something more. The source of our hope is God himself.

Our celebration today invites us to be filled with joy, hope and expectation. Joy that we have been delivered from sin and death through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Hope that he will strengthen us on this pilgrimage of life. Expectation that he will come again and take us to our heavenly home.

The second reading gives us some good advice on how to be people of joy, hope and expectation. St. Paul writes: “Your kindness should be known to all.” The call to kindness might seem simple and basic. In one sense it is. We know the power of good that prevails with kindness.

Whether we are the recipient of a kind word, an affirmation or an act of kindness, or we are the bearer of such a word, an encouragement, an expression of sympathy or an act of compassion – we are lifted up in joy. Words might not be present in our mind as it happens, but we know it just the same and it is good.

I think one of the points St. Paul is making here is that our rejoicing overflows and enlivens our interactions with each other. This time of the year can be very stressful for many people. Some experience it in the many added responsibilities of the season. Some experience it through sadness or sorrow at someone dear who is no longer here. Some experience it through the absence of family living far away or prevented from gathering. Some experience it through fear or anxiety.

We have the ability to help. Kindness, fueled by our joy, can do more than most of us will ever know. St. Paul also calls us to prayer, petition and thanksgiving. In these exercises, God meets us in the “valley of tears” shedding light so we can move forward in joy, hope and eager expectation.

Like children, many parents and grandparents eagerly await Christmas morning. While children may be eager to see “what’s under the tree,” the adults long to see their children’s faces as their expectations are fulfilled. It is a moment of great joy.

Today we are invited to live as a people of expectation so that our lives may be marked by joy, hope and kindness as we await the Lord’s arrival.

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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.