Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rejoice, the Lord is near

Reading: Zeph 3:14-18a; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

This week the Church observes the Third Sunday of Advent, or, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice." While the introit for Sunday Mass is not sung or even recited in most parishes, the name "Gaudete Sunday" is taken from the first word of today's introit: Gaudete: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near." Perhaps more recognizably, this is the Sunday of Advent we light the rose, or pink, candle.

Today's introit is taken from the passage that the Church chose to be the New Testament epistle reading for the Third Sunday of Advent in Year B: Philippians 4:4-7. In this reading St Paul delivers a prescription for anxiety: "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 your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

One who is possessed of a heart and mind guarded by Christ Jesus is one who heeds what St John the Baptist bids be done when he was asked by his hearers, "What should we do?" The essence of the Baptist's answer is, "Don't be greedy, or stingy." Summed up even more concisely, "Act justly and mercifully." He then proceeds to dispel any thoughts that he was the Messiah. Nonetheless, he continued to preach the good news, the evangelion, the Gospel. Only recipients of this good news can truly rejoice.

Our reading from the book of the prophet Zephaniah also tells us why we should rejoice: "Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies" (Zeph 3:14b-15a). This is why knowing the Lord is the remedy for anxiety, stress, worry, fear, etc. It is helpful to keep in mind that Zephaniah, a contemporary of the the prophet Jeremiah, wrote in the midst of a Jerusalem in the thrall of idol of worship and moving rapidly towards being destroyed, Paul wrote the Philippians while he was a prisoner in chains, and John the Baptist proclaimed his message in a Judea occupied by the Romans. It was from the darkness that each of these men sought to lead others to the Light. As Christians we rejoice because in Christ we are already victorious, no matter what circumstances we may be facing.



Rather than being a Psalm, our responsorial for this Sunday is taken from Isaiah. Our response from Isaiah strikes a harmonious chord with this Sunday's theme of rejoicing in what God has done for us in Christ: "Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth. Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!"

On this Third Sunday of Advent, when the season makes a pivot, changes in character from a focus on penance in light of the Lord's return to usher in the end of time, to a recognition that Lord is not only near, but by His Nativity, which made possible His passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Spirit, He is already here in our midst. This is why we're frequently exhorted to live the tension between the already and the not-yet. We call living this tension, this mystery, which unfolds only through experience, only through our lives, made up as they are of the circumstances we face each day, faith. So today let's rejoice that we have faith in Him who is, who was, and who is to come. Let's not waste time, but redeem it, using it to live our faith, which is a precious gift. Without faith there is no hope. Without hope there is no charity. Hope is the flower of faith and charity is its fruit.

Let's not forget the Baptist's exhortation by remembering that there are three divinely given spiritual disciplines that correspond to the three theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope, and love): prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. While what the Baptist exhorts us to do in our Gospel focuses on alms-giving, he does not do so to the exclusion of prayer and fasting. By God's grace, let's persist as we resolve to run forth to meet Christ.

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