3rd Sunday of Advent [B] 2014
Is.61:1-2, 10-11; 1 Thess.5:16-24; Jn.1:6-8, 19-28
There is a story told about a man who had to travel to St. Louis on business. This was years ago when Christians kept Sunday as a very special day. For this man, “keeping the Sabbath,” also meant not riding the trains on Sunday. Thus, after he finished up his business late Saturday night, he had to stay over in St. Louis until the following Monday morning. On Sunday morning, he left the hotel looking for a place to worship.
The streets were quite deserted, but finally he saw a policeman and asked him for directions to the nearest church. The stranger thanked the policeman for the information and was about to walk off when he turned and asked the policeman: “Why have you recommended that particular church? It looks like a Catholic church.
There must be several churches nearby that you could have recommended.” The policeman smiled and replied: “I’m not a church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking church-people in St. Louis and they claim that they have received Jesus and they are happily taking him to their homes. I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend.”
The Scripture for today reminds us that every Sunday in every Christian church must be a Gaudete Sunday or “Rejoice Sunday.” Today is “Rejoice Sunday” because today’s Mass (in its Latin, pre-Vatican II form), began with the opening antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” In the past, when Advent was a season of penance, the celebrant of the liturgy used to wear vestments with the penitential color of purple or violet.
In order to remind the people that they were preparing for the very joyful occasion of the birth of Jesus, the celebrant wore rose-colored vestments on the third Sunday. Today we light the rose candle, and the priest may wear rose vestments, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus, our Savior. The primary common theme running through today’s readings is that of encouraging joy.
The second common theme is that of bearing witness. The prophet Isaiah, Mary and John the Baptist all bear joyful witness to what God has done and will do for his people. The readings for the third Sunday of Advent remind us that the coming of Jesus, past, present and future, is the reason for our rejoicing.
The first reading tells us that we should rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming as our Savior and liberator, saving us by liberating us from our bondages. The Responsorial Psalm of the day is taken from Mary’s Magnificat, in which she exclaims: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior.” Paul, in the second reading, advises us to “rejoice always” by leading blameless, holy and thankful lives guided by the Holy Spirit. Today’s Gospel tells us that John the Baptist came as a witness to testify to the Light and that light is Jesus.
The coming of Jesus, the Light, into the world is cause for rejoicing. He removes darkness from the world. We should be glad and rejoice also because, like John the Baptist, we, too, are chosen to bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. We are to reflect Jesus’ Light in our lives so that we may radiate it and illuminate the dark lives of others around us. The joyful message of today’s liturgy is very clear. The salvation we await with rejoicing will liberate both the individual and the community.
“Rejoice Sunday” is taken directly from St Paul. It is a command taken directly from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, as in today’s second reading: “Rejoice always” (1Thess.5:16). It is a positive command, one that we are supposed to keep at all times and in all circumstances. It is not a conditional command that we keep only when things are going well with us. The command to rejoice, like every other command, is demanding one.
Paul begins by telling us what we must do at all times. (16) “Rejoice always, (17) pray without ceasing, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” At all times and in all circumstances we must rejoice, pray and give thanks. He adds that this command reflects the will of God for those who come to Him through Jesus Christ.
As followers of Christ we know that life on earth is not always rosy, but life after death is bliss. Our hope is not in this life only. That is why we are able to rejoice in good times and in bad, as Jesus himself did. Next, Paul tells us what we must never do, what we have to avoid at all costs.
(19) “Do not quench the Spirit” (20) Do not despise the words of prophets, (21) but test everything; hold fast to what is good; (22) abstain from every form of evil.” We must not stifle the Spirit, despise the word of prophets or indulge in any form of evil. Paul is asking us to activate and nourish the spiritual part of our lives.
As humans we have a material and a spiritual life. Some of us pay all attention to the material, neglecting the spiritual dimension. You can see it in the way we prepare for Christmas. We take more care to decorate our homes more than we do to clean up our souls. We are more concerned with the gifts we give to family and friends than the gift of self that we should make to God. Advent is a time to prepare not only materially but also spiritually for the coming of the Lord.
Finally, Paul tells us how to achieve the ideal life of God’s children to which he calls us. It is not something we achieve by dint of will power or human effort alone. It is something that God Himself accomplishes in us. “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1Thess.5:23-24).
The life of holiness to which Paul invites us this Advent is the life of God in us. It is God in us who makes it happen. Our part is mainly to say yes to God, to surrender totally to Him. It is hard for us to live a life of rejoicing always, but the One who calls us to this life is one who always gives us what He commands. He is faithful, and He will do it in our lives.
So what should we do in preparation for Christmas? The Jews asked the same question of John. His answer was: “Repent and reform your lives, and prayerfully wait for the Messiah.”This means that we have to pray from the heart and pray more often. Our Blessed Mother, in her many apparitions, has urgently reminded us of the need for more fervent and more frequent prayer.
Let us remember that the Holy Mass is the most powerful of prayers. We must become a Eucharistic people, receiving the living presence of Jesus in our hearts so that we may be transformed into His image and likeness. We encounter Jesus in all the Sacraments. Regular monthly Confession makes us strong and enables us to receive more grace in the Eucharist.
After the Baptism of his baby brother in Church one Sunday, little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His Dad asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys!” His Dad got the message and they began to go to Church regularly… Needless to say the family had a bit of catching up to do.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the coming of God into our lives we need also to remind ourselves that we have been called to be the means of bringing Jesus into other people’s lives. Amen.