|Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
|December 13-14, 2014, Third Sunday in Advent, Cycle B|
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.
Today we gather to celebrate on what has long been known as Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice and so today's celebration takes its name from those words from the letter to the Philippians that make up the opening hymn called the Introit
Today's readings remind us that we have an overwhelming reason to rejoice even in the midst of this holiday crush. The Gospel is the same story that we heard from Mark's Gospel last week but today we hear the version from John's Gospel. We tend to have a picture of John the Baptist as this fairly fierce, fiery preacher but today's picture is quite different. We are presented with a truly humble man whose whole focus is serving God and God's plan for salvation. John is a great man, according to Jesus the greatest ever born of woman. That's pretty high praise. But unlike some in our culture, he does not proclaim that he is the greatest, even though many are willing to believe that. Instead John tells it like it is: he is not the Messiah; he is the voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. Just as he leapt with joy in the womb when Jesus came near to him, he is full of joy at the prospect of making the pathway to the Lord straight and level and easy for all to approach God.
As Pope Francis has pointed out in word but more emphatically in deed, we need to be joyous if we are to be good evangelizers. Who wants to join a bunch of sourpusses? No we are called to the very same ministry that John the Baptist was. We are to make the path ways straight, the highways run smooth not so God's approach will be easier for God, but so that people's approach to God will be easier. If we really have experienced this God who is with us, Emmanuel, who comes to give sight to the blind, to make the deaf hear and the mute speak, who heals the sick so that those who are lame will then leap for joy, we would be joyous indeed. But it would be hard indeed to pick Catholics out of a crowd by their joyfulness.
The story is told of the homiletics professor who was teaching his students to make their facial expressions illustrate what they were preaching about. He said to them, "When you are preaching about heaven, let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell – well, then, your ordinary face will do." How often that story hits home as true.
So how do we recapture or capture the joy that Isaiah sings about in the first reading, the joy we should feel as we sang that Responsorial Psalm lifting up our souls to the God who is with us? Paul says it simply in his letter to the Thessalonians. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. That's it. And if we only have time to do one of these things, start with the giving thanks one. The other two will naturally follow. Paul goes on to advise us to pay attention to what we are doing. Test it and refrain from anything that is evil. I hate to correct Billy Joel but it is the saints who laugh and are joyous, and the sinners who cry. We all know this from our own experience, don't we.
The coming of our God is reason to rejoice but it also challenges us, doesn't it? Jesus used this very section of Isaiah to describe what he came to be, and by extension what we are called to be by our baptism.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me and upon you, because the LORD has anointed us; he has sent us to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. Today this reading is fulfilled in our hearing as we gather here in the presence of Christ made present by our gathering. The kingdom of God is not a thing; it is a person, Christ our Lord. God has come to dwell among us in the flesh, and my dear people, we are that flesh.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice. Indeed Christ the Lord is near. So when we are sent forth at the end of our Eucharist, let us go forth rejoicing to let everyone know that the Kingdom of God is at hand so they too can share in our joy!