Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11Luke 1:46-50, 53-54Thessalonians 5:16-24John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Introit for today’s Mass begins with the word “Rejoice,” “Gaudete,” which is always why the priest wears rose vestments on this third Sunday of Advent. It’s meant to be a reminder that we are halfway through the Advent Season, and we should not lose our focus on what it is that we are preparing for at the end of Advent time. The coming of God’s Son into our often paltry and confused world, becoming one of us by taking on human flesh, is what we look forward to celebrating on Christmas Day, a day that began the transformation of our world into the “Kingdom of God.” Hard as Jesus tried, I think it is safe to say, at the risk of sounding blasphemous, that Jesus was not completely successful. Overcoming the sinful part of our human personalities has been a challenge ever since Eden, and almost imperceptibly, that darkness of sin can take over the best intentioned of people. It is precisely why a reminder to be joyful on this Sunday is not only appropriate, but sadly badly needed! The entrance antiphon for this day (from Philippians) clearly tells us what to do: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”

In the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah is offering hope to a Jewish world badly in need of hope. The people had been in exile, they had begun to adopt the religious practices of their captors, and it seemed as if they just couldn’t catch a break. Although they were heading back to their homeland, a lot had changed. In this year of pandemic and tumultuous politics, perhaps we are a little like the people Isaiah was speaking to, men and women who feel a little beat up, a little afraid, and feeling lonely and depressed. As we continue to prepare for the birth of our Savior, we need to have the words of Isaiah on our lips: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice [no matter how far away worldly justice seems].” Isaiah, like all the prophets, and like us, was sent to “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, 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.” That news proclaimed by Isaiah was not immediate! Indeed, decades upon decades would pass, before God’s definitive “good news” would arrive in the form of an unassuming baby born in Bethlehem. But as the people of Isaiah’s day needed “good news,” needed something to hope for, so we too are ever in need to good news and something to hope for, and it is up to us to insure that ours, and future generations, are given something to hope for.
Our responsorial psalm breaks precedent by taking the wonderful Magnificat from Luke’s gospel, and not a passage from the psalms, as our response to the first reading. It is the voice of Mary who echoes Isaiah, in spite of whatever confusion accompanied her unexpected pregnancy, whose soul “proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” and her “Spirit rejoices in God [her] Savior.” Perhaps our biggest take-away from Mary’s Magnificat is the humility with which she receives the “great things” done for her. The source of her happiness is not in any overwhelming sense of self-worth, but it is in what God has done for her, and for all generations, by remembering ”His promise of mercy.” That too, in good times and in bad, is the source of our ability to rejoice. Our ability to rejoice is not just there in good times, in times that are free of trial and distress, but it is there in the difficult times, when hope seems so distant and God mistakenly appears to be absent. Mary would come to know, beyond the birth of her Son in a stable, those difficult and trying times as well as any human being who ever lived.

From the oldest book in the Second Testament, the theme of today’s Mass is repeated by Paul: “Rejoice always,” and like Mary, “in all circumstances give thanks.” Paul is clear about what will make us joy-filled: “praying without ceasing,” refusing to “quench the Spirit,” retaining what is “good,” and refraining “from every kind of evil.” It is important to remember, suggests Paul, that the One who calls us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and spread the good news is “faithful,” and He will also accomplish that which might seem impossible. 
Finally, our gospel from John gives us a glimpse of the important precursor whose voice cried out in a wilderness of people reticent to be made ready for the coming of the Lord. John the Baptizer was sent from God to give “testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might come to believe through him.” Like Mary, he truly believed he had been chosen “to make straight the way of the Lord,” and was never confused about whether he was the actual long-awaited Messiah. John the Baptist knew he wasn’t even worthy to be called a prophet, but he knew God had chosen him to play a very special role in the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation for His children. John knew he was just a small, but integral, part in God’s plan, a plan that continues to unfold until that Day of the Lord when Jesus returns in glory to draw all things to Himself.
We too have been chosen by God to be part of that plan, and we humbly acknowledge our limited, but integral, role in paving the way for God, that other’s might come to know His mercy and experience His love. It is only though our acceptance of God’s plan for us that we are able to truly rejoice, in good times and in bad. In the midst of the world’s brokenness, in spite of the challenges facing the poor and homeless, the immigrants and the exiles, the shunned and the imprisoned, we are called to preach the good news, a “news” capable of delivering people from the oppression of sinfulness.
The recently canonized John Henry Cardinal Newman has a beautiful meditation which I share with you in whole. Although it is long, it is worth sharing, and will help you to truly rejoice, and rejoice always.
“God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for his purposes, as necessary in my place as an archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, God can raise another, as he could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, though not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.Therefore I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain. He may prolong my life; he may shorten it. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still he knows what he is about. O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, you who guide Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to you. I trust you wholly. You are wiser than I—more loving to me than I am to myself. Deign to fulfill your high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve you, to be yours, to be your instrument. Let me be your blind instrument. I ask not to see. I ask not to know. I ask simply to be used.”

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