The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice,” reflecting the first word of the entrance antiphon for today which says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”  On this Sunday, we take a break from the somber tones of purple and put on the more festive color rose to symbolize that in the bleak winter days of Advent, we have reason for joy, and that joy is the hope of our coming Savior.  The Lord is near!  Rejoice!

The prophet Isaiah gets in on the rejoicing in today’s first reading.  He rejoices that the Lord, having anointed him for service, is using him to work out salvation and justice.  Clothed in a robe of justice and wrapped in a mantle of salvation, God has sent him forth “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.”  To a people as long oppressed as Isaiah’s hearers were, this message would indeed be welcome and cause for great rejoicing.

In the second reading, Saint Paul gives the Thessalonians very specific instructions about how they are to conduct themselves.  And the first instruction is that they should rejoice.  Rejoicing is the natural way for Christians to behave because they have in their presence the cause of all joy, Jesus Christ our Lord.  The French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin once wrote that “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  So with God present among us, we should rejoice, and that joy ought to lead to gratitude, seeking what is good and turning away from all evil.

In our Gospel this morning, Saint John the Baptist clearly points out the source of his joy: “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”  John’s job, just like Isaiah’s and Saint Paul’s, was to point to Christ as the source of joy in the world.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the mighty one who comes in power to take away our sins.  That’s the reality that we celebrate in these Advent days.  We might sing of a sweet little child sleeping in his mother’s arms, but we know he is the God of our life and the King of the universe and the bringer of salvation who will suffer and die for our sins, ultimately rising victorious on the Third Day.  We know that the Incarnation of Christ, which we are preparing to celebrate, changes everything, and we joyously await that game-changing moment!

But so what?  What difference does any of this make, really?  In the face of all that is happening in our world, these are significant questions.  How do we live as people filled with joy when the daily news gives us bickering in politics, sexual abuse scandals in the political and entertainment worlds, and raging wildfires and other natural disasters?  How do we seriously talk about peace on earth when there are wars raging in the middle east, Africa, and so many other places in the world?  Is there really liberty for captives when many are stuck in patterns of sin and addiction that hold them and their families hostage in so many disheartening ways?  We’re really supposed to be joyful in the face of all of that?

A cynical and watching world wants answers to these questions.  Quite frankly, most of them won’t be answered to any degree of satisfaction in this life.  Only faith can help us with them.  But for a world without faith, they need to understand the source of our joy.  And so when they point to all of these things, we need to point to people doing the right thing for people mired in the wake of all of this.  We need to show them we care by helping the food pantry, feeding others at a soup kitchen, and making every effort to welcome the stranger in our midst. And when they point to the unrest and war all around us, we need to point out Christ by putting an end to the conflicts in our own lives.  We have to be people who forgive and love first of all, even if the other doesn’t forgive and love us back.  And when they point out all the sin and addiction in our world, we need to point out that Christ is always there for us, ready to forgive us and give us grace in the Sacrament of Penance.

We have to be the joy that our world needs right now.  We have to be witnesses to his love and presence all around us.  We have to show that our God is great and mighty and faithful and loving and glorious and forgiving and healing and more awesome than anything we can possibly imagine – and we have to do that by the way that we live our lives, by the words we say, by the things we do.  If we want the world to find the joy that Christ is in our lives, then we have to live that joy – choose to live that joy – right here and right now.

Brothers and sisters, we are witnesses to joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”

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