FROM A READING FOR DEC. 16, THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
‘And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’ — Luke 3:10-11

Our continuing journey of Advent can seem so brief, and it is hard to imagine that in just over a week we will be celebrating the great feast of Christmas together. As we have seen over the first two weeks of Advent, our Scripture readings give us markers or signs to guide us through this season and so to help us prepare for the coming of Jesus. So far we have had the two spiritual guides, first of “watching and waiting” and then of being God’s co-workers by “preparing a way for the Lord.” 

Our sign post or guide for this third week is a simple and yet potentially quite difficult message: Rejoice, for the Lord is near! Today we celebrate what is sometimes called “Gaudete” or “rejoicing” Sunday, echoing the first words of the entrance antiphon for the Mass. We are asked to rejoice because the coming of our Lord and Savior is near. This theme of rejoicing is marked in our readings, as well as the prayers at Mass and in the option of having rose-colored vestments and Advent-wreath candle (rose being a mix of the purple of Advent and the white of Christmas). 

The word “joy” occurs so many times in the sacred Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments and yet it is not always an easy word to understand, let alone to live. It can be hard to be joyful if we are experiencing loss, or hurt, or a crisis in our lives. We can think of all the recent natural disasters, or of acts of violence and of terrorism here in the United States (and in so many other places too), or of the ongoing abuse scandal. Joy can also seem to be something fleeting or even superficial, or frustratingly elusive. With Christmas fast approaching, perhaps we are not feeling the joy of the coming season! So, when as Christians we speak of joy (rather like other everyday words such as “love” or “peace” or “freedom”) we need to recall that the word has a very particular meaning. As always, our Sunday Scripture readings help us…

The First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-18. As with the prophet Baruch last week, we rarely hear words from the prophet Zephaniah. Like Baruch, he was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah and so he was writing at a time of great tribulation for Israel. Despite this, his message is one of hope and joy, for the Lord comes to his people. Perhaps the greatest temptation we face is to be discouraged and so his message is as good for us as it was more than 2,500 years ago.

Unusually, our psalm response is not a psalm at all, but rather a song from the prophet Isaiah (12:2-3, 4, 5-6). It picks up this theme of joyful confidence and trust, rather than fear and despondency. Why? Because God is our courage and strength, especially in adversity, and because He is with us and walks with us (or even carries us!). 

We continue our reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:4-7). There can be no doubt about his message: rejoice! We should remember that St. Paul did not write this glibly or superficially. He had suffered much and is now imprisoned. Despite all this, he exhorts his readers to rejoice. Note that we rejoice not in ourselves, but rather “in the Lord.” Furthermore, practical as ever, he gives us attitudes and actions that can help this spirit of rejoicing: being thankful, praying and acts of kindness. 

Once again, we meet that great Advent figure of St. John the Baptist in our Gospel (Luke 3:10-18). There is an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement that the time of the Messiah is coming. Notice that a key and very practical question is therefore asked by various groups or characters: “what must we do?” Their questions could well be ours. To the crowds, the answer is act with love. To the tax collectors the answer is be just and honest in your dealings with people. To the soldiers (who we should remember were probably mercenaries) the answer is, do not abuse your power or position. 

We all probably have our Christmas “to do” list (or “honey do” list, or both!). Hopefully, many of the things on that list have a tick or “done” by them.

What about the spiritual preparation list of things to do? Perhaps we could spend a little more time in prayer even though, or perhaps because, we are so busy. Perhaps we can visit someone who is lonely, or perhaps respond to an appeal for help. Whatever we do in the busy week ahead, let it be done for the Lord who is coming soon.