THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2021)
Readings:Zephaniah 3:14-18aResponse Isaiah 12:2-6Philippians 4:4-7Luke 3:10-18
If you are paying attention, you are able to sense from the readings for today’s liturgy the joyful expectation which marks the readings: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exalt with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!…. Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals (Zeph. 3:14-18a).” If we were more accustomed to hearing the entrance antiphon assigned for every Mass, we would have heard: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5).” It is from this antiphon that this particular Sunday gets its name, Gaudete Sunday, and the reason why most courageous priests wear pink or rose colored vestments on this Sunday.
There are many things unique about this Gaudete Sunday’s liturgy in addition to the rose vestments, for the Responsorial Psalm, which is rightly expected to come from the Book of Psalms, is taken today from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is putting words on the lips of people returning from exile, and who acknowledge that God was appropriately angry with them, but God’s anger has been “turned away,” and the people can be “confident and unafraid.” The people can “shout with exaltation” because “great in [their] midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
John the Baptist is one of the most important figures in the Second Testament, and his brief appearances in all four gospels gives testimony to that fact. The gospel passage today from Luke does two things: it reveals the perfectly practical nature of John’s teaching – if you have an abundance of things or food you should share them! If you collect taxes, don’t gouge people for more! If you are a soldier or an official, don’t extort people, don’t falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with what you are being paid! Secondly, Luke has John make clear, for he will have a following of his own, that he is not the Messiah. Indeed, he is the precursor for “one mightier is coming” who John is unworthy to even untie His sandals.
Whether its the time of Isaiah, or the time of John the Baptist, or our own time, there are challenges and difficulties to be overcome. We need joy-filled Sunday’s to remind us that God is always near to us. The Incarnation we will celebrate on Christmas brought God’s only Son into our world, and He promised to stay with us until the end of time. The Lord is indeed near to those who acknowledge that “God indeed is [our] Savior,” we have nothing to fear and should never be discouraged. We should think of every Eucharist as a time for rejoicing, for what the prophets longed for, what John the Baptist foretold, is made present on altars around the world. We acknowledge the practical wisdom of John the Baptist, and recognize the importance of putting the fundamental love preached by John and by Jesus into practice in our daily lives. What Paul tells us in the second reading should be made real: “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”