“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! [Your kindness should be known to all.] The Lord is near,” (Philippians 4:4-5) reads the Entrance Antiphon for today’s liturgy. Christian joy fills our hearts in anticipation for the Lord’s return. Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, sometimes referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” after the first word of the antiphon “rejoice,” urges us to be joyful at the expectation of His coming.
The gospel passage from last week featured John the Baptist ‘preparing’ the “way of the Lord” with a call to repentance. All the while he points to the advent of the Messiah who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This week we learn that the Baptist has been arrested but he hears of Jesus’ public ministry and sends his disciples to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus answers the question, by telling those disciples: “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 words here in The Gospel According to Matthew reverberate with the opening of the public ministry in The Gospel According to Luke.
In that account, Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth, opens the Isaiah scroll to the passage that reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
After the reading, He proclaims: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) The time of salvation is among us.
Isaiah, in today’s passage for the first reading, points to the transformation that will come with the Lord’s vindication. “Then will the eyes of the blinds be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” The earth itself will be transformed: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. The will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice in joyful song.”
The living memory of Jesus’ ministry and all that he said and did fills us with joy for after praising John and his ministry 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.”
In Jesus, we encounter the fullness of divine love and mercy.
In Him we know that we are loved.
In Him we know that we are forgiven.
Through Him we know that we have immeasurable value for our Heavenly Father.
With Him we will share in the final victory. No force in this world can separate us from His great love.
Saint Paul, in writing to the Romans, says it this way:
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 8:35, 37-39
Our observance of Advent fills us with joyful hope and expectation. This entails a renewal of our preparations and living. Joy overflows in transformation. We choose to live lives of love and mercy, proclamation and service.
The Letter of James urges us to be patient endurance was we await the Lord’s return. Christian life can be challenging at times. When we are called to love those who do not love us. When we are called to serve – even the difficult people. When we are called to forgive – even seven times seven times. When we have to deal with injustice, bigotry, hate, despair, oppression and poverty. These will be lifted when the Lord returns but while we wait we are urged and encouraged to live the life of love – and to “Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!”
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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