This Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for Rejoice! We are halfway through Advent now and the Church invites us to be glad that the Lord is near, even as we continue our preparation for the birth of Jesus. This is a good reminder because perhaps our eyes are already turned toward Christmas. Perhaps we are forgetting that there is more for us to do to prepare our hearts, to make sure they are ready to receive the Lord.

Our Gospel on Sunday is from Luke (3:10-18) and it is a scene that tells us there is more time in Advent for a reason. The voice in the Gospel is John the Baptist. He has been baptizing and crowds have flocked to him both to be baptized and to know how to amend their lives. They want to be ready for the Messiah and so they ask John the Baptist what they should do. His answers are as valid now as they were then: Share your coat with him who has none; the same with food. Don’t cheat other people. Don’t have recourse to violence or false accusations. These are all counsels that we need in our everyday lives and relationships. For example, how often does an argument escalate because something said is inflated or twisted? If we take John’s advice and speak truthfully in our conversations, that doesn’t happen. In little ways like that, we can find ways to be faithful. Small acts of truth, little ways of being generous, an attentiveness to justice — these are all ways we prepare ourselves to receive the Messiah.

John then paints a picture of Jesus’ arrival that is startling. Jesus will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit; He will clear the threshing floor and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. This isn’t the image that we get on Christmas, but Advent includes a double preparation. It is the season that prepares for the feast of Christmas, yes, but it is also meant to prepare us for Jesus’ second coming in glory at the end of time. The imagery of judgment that John uses will also be used by Jesus in His preaching and public ministry later in the Gospel. The judgment that is coming has been announced beforehand, however, so we need not be afraid.

Not only that, we can even rejoice, as Saint Paul exhorts us in the Second Reading (Phil 4:4-7). Because of the friendship we have with God and because of Jesus’ first coming as man, we live in hope and forbearance. Saint Paul even says have no anxiety about anything! There are many things that we worry about, but if we believe that God is who He says He is, then we can take Saint Paul seriously and really be without anxiety.  Faith and hope allow us to live in the peace of God, which passes all understanding.

In the First Reading from the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18a), the image that the prophet offers is one of joy and exultation. Speaking to daughter Zion, meaning the city of Jerusalem, the prophet is jubilant. Notice why … it is the Lord’s presence that causes such rejoicing. His coming inspires celebration, not fear and trembling. The Lord is in the midst of His people and He renews them in his love. God Himself rejoices with the people! This is what Advent is about. The Lord has come and will come again. His presence among us is a cause for joy, not fear. It inspires us to live without anxiety or excessive preoccupation. He is here! He has come to save us!