Can you believe it, Advent is already in its third week!? Today is known as "Gaudéte Sunday," or, "Rejoice Sunday" (i.e., the Sunday we light the pink, umm...errmm, the rose, candle). The word "Gaudéte" is taken from the introit for today's Mass. It seems to me that beginning with the Third Sunday of Advent we experience what I usually describe as a a turn.
Judging by the content of the liturgies for Advent, it appears that the first two weeks are penitential in nature. On the Third Sunday we move to what is best described as joyful expectation, even excited anticipation.
Our reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is part of a lengthy vision of Zion and is taken from the portion of the book known as Proto-Isaiah. This first part of the book was written in the eighth century B.C., by Isaiah son of Amoz. It is of interest to note that the book of the Prophet Isaiah is comprised of three parts "proto," "deutero" (second), and "trito" (third). While the vast majority of the first section was likely written in the eighth century, the last two parts were written before and after Israel's sixth century B.C. Babylonian captivity. It is believed by many scholars that the part of Isaiah from which today's reading is taken, which consists of chapters 34-35, is a later insertion, dating to the sixth century B.C. instead of the eighth.
But today these divinely inspired words are spoken to us, to our hearts, to our longing for the fullness of God's kingdom: "Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee" (Is 35:10).
St. James' letter also speaks to us, telling us, "You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8).
In one of his daily homilies this week, Pope Francis said, "Normally, Christmas seems to be a very noisy holiday: it would do us good to have a little silence and to hear these words of love, these words of such nearness, these words of tenderness." He was speaking, of course, about the readings for that day, but I think, too, the words we hear proclaimed from the Sacred Scriptures today are words of love and tenderness.
In our Gospel today Jesus affirms that He is the One whose advent St. John the Baptist proclaimed when He answers the Baptist's question, posed by John's disciples, due to his imprisonment:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.(Matt 11:4b-6)