December 10, 2020
The Advent Liturgical Readings are a veritable feast of rich sustenance for us! The readings for Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) certainly do not disappoint and they invite us to have that joy, joy down in our hearts!
Our first reading comes from the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-2a, 10-11) and is familiar to us because it is the Scripture that Jesus chooses to read when the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah is handed to him in his home synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is baptised, then spends 40 days and nights in the wilderness to reflect upon and unpack for himself the meaning of his baptism. Then and only then does he go to the synagogue in Nazareth and he reads this passage from Isaiah as his mission statement. It is the fruit of his reflection upon what it means to him that he was baptised, he saw the Spirit descend upon him in bodily form and he heard a voice from heaven saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
I would like to invite us to consider praying the first part of the reading as if we were Jesus in the synagogue:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,”
Perhaps after we have done so we too can REJOICE and say: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
The Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24) has one of the shortest verses of the Scriptures number 16: REJOICE Always! The reading goes on to exhort us to pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us. We are told not to quench the Spirit and not to despise the words of prophets but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. Paul asks the God of peace to sanctify us entirely; and that our spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He assures us that the one who calls us is faithful, and will do this! Paul certainly provides us with much to truly make us joyful!
The Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) introduces to us John the Baptist and makes great efforts to say that he is only the precursor to the ONE and that he is not ONE! John testifies to the light but is not the light. His identity becomes the fodder for much of the passage. He is asked by some priests and Levites: “Who are you?” John is adamant that he is not the Messiah. They ask him if he is Elijah. John denies it. They ask him if he is a prophet. He answered: No. Finally they ask him again: “Who are you?” His response is that he is: “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Then they asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John challenges us to be humble and to acknowledge that we are not the Messiah! This ought to make us REJOICE because we deceive ourselves when we think we can do a better job than Jesus. We ought also to REJOICE because unlike those to whom John is speaking we do recognize Jesus and we do know him. Again, great cause to REJOICE!
In Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate, he reminds us that our faith should arouse in us great joy and deep compassion. Without these virtues we will fall into the traps of focusing too much on the things we know and the things we do. Gratitude is lost when we focus too much on ourselves. The exhortation offers us several ways to help ensure our faith stays fresh and joyful. The first is to REJOICE! When we rejoice we are focusing on the love and compassion of God. We are taken out of our obsession with our own limitations and achievements. To REJOICE means to put down all the anxiety we have accumulated and focus on the love God has for us. Second, we don’t have to be afraid of being holy. To be holy is to be truly our self. We don’t have to look, sound or behave like someone who appears religious. Our holiness is to become the person we were created to be from the beginning of time. Lastly, our lives are already holy. When we look at our lives this way, our daily routines become imbibed in God’s presence and new significance opens-up for us. Holiness is not confined to the sanctuary or to theology courses, but extends outwards into the kitchens, waiting rooms, and rush hour traffic of our messy lives. The trick is to see our daily routines as an encounter with God. So let us not look like “Christians who are sucking lemons” and let us REJOICE that Jesus is Lord, he has come, he is Emmanuel and he will come again!