The Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Psalm 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18
A hallmark of Christian life is joy, and this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is all about joy. The introit for today’s Mass sets the tone: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” In the Collect (Opening Prayer) we pray “to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah encourages a people in exile to “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, [for] the Lord has removed the judgment against you…. [and you] have no further misfortune to fear.” Finally, St. Paul, when speaking to the Philippians, encourages them to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” repeating the statement twice lest the Philippians forget. Yes, it should be clear that this Gaudete Sunday is all about joy.
The discernible evidence for joy in today’s gospel reading, however, is a little more difficult to find. The gospel writer, Luke, tells us that the subject of the gospel passage, John the Baptist, “preached good news to the people,” but the talk of “winnowing fans” and “unquenchable fire” hardly appears uplifting, let alone joyful. Furthermore, the Baptist’s advice to share food and drink, avoid cheating, and be satisfied with our salaries, could be extremely challenging to ordinary poor folk, tax collectors, and soldiers. The gospel passage appears to add very little joy to our Third Sunday of Advent liturgy.
While the need to “rejoice” appears not to be supported by today’s gospel, the message of the liturgy is clearly one of rejoicing. Christians are intended to be inextricably linked to joy, because the joy of today’s liturgy is not diminished by worldly circumstance, or threatened by the hardships and difficulties that are part and parcel of living. “Joy and gladness” are present in the lives of all Christians because among us, as the psalm response states, “is the great and Holy One of Israel,” who has achieved great things by entering our world and assuring us of our salvation. We are reminded today, as we were last Sunday, that the appearance of John the Baptist is to be seen as the fulfillment of what the prophets foretold. He is the precursor who points a finger at the “mightier one” who is coming, and he encourages us to show our readiness for receiving the Lord by producing “good works as evidence of our repentance” (Lk. 3:8).
The strength of our conviction that the child born in a stable in Bethlehem is the long-awaited Messiah can be measured by our ability to be joyful in the midst of hardship and difficulty. Our joy stems from believing that we have been redeemed, and knowing that God so loved us and our world that He sent us “His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). It’s a joy that cannot be taken from us. It’s a joy that is not dependent on the things of this world.
Although the message of John the Baptist in today’s gospel does not specifically mention joy, John tells us what is needed if we are to preserve a genuine Christian joy. John suggests that you could go through life not sharing your clothes and food with those less fortunate, but if you choose that path, you will never be joyful. If you are a tax collector or a businessman you could pad your collections with a little something extra for yourself, but you will never be joyful doing that. You cannot extort people or falsely accuse people and ever expect to be truly happy. John the Baptist’s message is not unlike that of Paul in our second reading who encouraged people to be so kind to others that all people would recognize that kindness. The baptism of repentance brought by John involves a metanoia, a genuine conversion or reorientation of our lives. “It is an attitude,” says Sr. Mary McGlone, “that turns the world’s values inside out. Metanoia is an approach to life that both hopes and works for the time when things will be as God created them to be. John was pointing out what that looks like in action.”
Today’s liturgy offers us multiple reasons to rejoice, all of which come down to two basic themes: God loves and saves us, and we are capable of loving one another with the freedom God’s love engenders in us. On this Gaudete Sunday may we be filled with joy for the “glorious achievement” of Christ’s birth. May our commitment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus lead us to do good, and thus prepare our world for the coming of Jesus at the end of time.


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