Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice in God’s Promise of Renewal

Today’s readings

candle3Today’s Scripture readings remind me of some kind of street festival with all of God’s faithful people shouting in praise. Just listen to some of the exclamations we hear today:

Gaudete! Rejoice!”

This third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin for the very first word in today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians: Rejoice! On this third Sunday of Advent, more than half way through the season, we pause during our time of repentance to remember that there is indeed reason to rejoice.

And this rejoicing in the midst of repentance is probably the reason that Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. The joyful expectation of this season just speaks to me spiritually. As a person who prays with music, the hymns of Advent just speak to me of the hopeful expectation that we live during this season. I find that the gradual progression of lights on the Advent wreath leads me to open myself more and more to the warmth of God’s presence. The growing numbers of Christmas lights on people’s houses lights up the darkness and reminds me of the light of Christ. The truth is, our world has all sorts of reasons not to hope in anything, but our Church reminds us every year at this time that we have the only reason for hope that we need: the promise of Jesus Christ.

Another exclamation: “The Lord is near!”

That is the greeting we receive from St. Paul in the second reading today, and it is also the Episcopal motto of Bishop Joseph Imesch, whose fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood Fr. Ted and I attended yesterday. And it’s a wonderful motto for God’s people too, because we are decidedly not a people who believe in a God who has set the world in motion and then backed off to watch things happen. No, our God is intimately and immanently involved in his world and in the lives of his people. If that weren’t true, we never would have had our Savior born among us. And that’s not just a promise that was true two thousand years ago and is done. Our God is active among us, leading us to holiness, blessing us with wonder, and giving us the ability to hope for eternal life. The Lord is indeed near, and we have a right to shout about it.

Another exclamation: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!”

Zephaniah the prophet, from whom we don’t hear too much in the Liturgy except during this season of Advent, tells the Church in those days that even in sadness there is time to rejoice. The reason for their rejoicing was that the people had been delivered from their enemies. They had been delivered over to their enemies because of their sinfulness. But now God has taken mercy on them, and has noted that their enemies have gone above and beyond the punishment God had in mind, and he has delivered them. They have indeed no further misfortune to fear. Again, this isn’t just an age-old promise. We have been punished for our own sinfulness. That punishment may have been a kind of feeling of abandonment in our spiritual life or in our life with others. Maybe it has even been an illness caused by the poor choices we have made. Or perhaps it’s just been the guilt that we have suffered because of the sins we have committed. God has allowed those effects to take place in our life to draw us back to him. We now can hear Zephaniah’s words today: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies … he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” God promises to renew us, and we can sing joyfully because of it.

Another exclamation: “Cry out with joy and gladness!”

This one is from the prophet Isaiah, who is serving as the Psalmist today. Isaiah cries out with joy and gladness because he knows for certain the Lord is in the midst of his people. Just as St. Paul reminds us, God is not distant, but very near, right here among his people. We can experience that in our own day if we will open our hearts to him. When we do that, we can then realize his power in our lives and take courage and strength from our Lord. We do that every time we open our hands to receive the Eucharist. With that great gift, we too should give thanks to the Lord and acclaim his name. As we go forth from this holy place into the world made holy by God’s presence, we should make known among the nations his wondrous deeds and proclaim how exalted is God’s name.

I have been teaching the folks who come to daily Mass one of my very favorite Advent hymns. I want to reflect on it a bit today, because it is truly a song that goes along with this wonderful theme of rejoicing. The song is called “O Come, Divine Messiah” and is a French carol that goes all the way back to the sixteenth century.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

To me, this is one of the quintessential Advent hymns. It speaks of the hope that we await. And it also speaks of the joy that we celebrate today: the hope that we have will indeed sing its triumph and all our sadness will flee away. As hope triumphs in our lives, we can truly pray with the early Church “Come, Lord Jesus!”

All of this rejoicing bids us shout one more exclamation from today’s Liturgy of the Word: “What should we do?”

All of this rejoicing demands a response. Shouting it out loud is one response, but there has to be more than that. If the hope that we have is truly going to come to birth, if the renewal that we are promised today is truly going to happen in our lives, then we need to respond to that hope and promise. John the Baptist answers the question in today’s Gospel. What should we do? Stop trampling on the rights of others. Think of other people before ourselves. Do our jobs quietly and joyfully. Don’t step on others on our way to the top. Treat everyone with justice and live lives dedicated to peace. And above all, we must be people who look forward to the reign of Jesus Christ who will baptize us all in the Holy Spirit. The response to the work of God in our midst has to be all about living the Gospel and rejoicing in its promise.

There are so many reasons to shout with joy and gladness on this Gaudete Sunday. We have much to rejoice about, even in our sorrows. We can pray for the nearness of our Lord and Savior:

Come, Lord Jesus and give us true joy.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal our illnesses.
Come, Lord Jesus and deliver us all from the effects of our sinfulness.
Come, Lord Jesus and speak your Word among us.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to take our strength and courage from you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and be near to us.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to proclaim your glorious achievements in all the earth.
Come, Lord Jesus and make us a people of justice and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus and baptize us in your Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord Jesus and renew us.
Come, Lord Jesus!

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