Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent. It is also known as “Gaudete Sunday,” a name taken from the entrance antiphon of the Mass, which is: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” “Gaudete” is Latin for ‘rejoice.”
There is a reason for such rejoicing.
In the Gospel Reading tomorrow, for the second week in a row we find ourselves in the company of John the Baptist baptizing beside the river Jordan. He was preaching to all who care to listen to prepare a way for the coming of the God’s anointed one, the Messiah. And the people were filled with expectation, asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John was clear about this, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
With his forceful message, people began to notice. To the tax collectors, he said “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” And to the soldiers, he counseled them “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
John the Baptist was a fearless preacher. He advocated social justice when the concept was not even invented yet. He was willing to earn the ire of the Pharisees, the soldiers, tax collectors and all other public sinners to bring the good news of Christ. In the end the Gospel tells us that he had to pay for his boldness with his life.
The contemporaneity of John’s message is remarkable. Two thousand years ago, he exhorted conversion and encouraged people to mend their crooked ways. Today, his message rings true and takes urgency more than ever. When society is bedeviled by corruption in all echelons of government and authorities run roughshod of the law and the rights and moral sensibilities of the people, a John the Baptist would, in a forceful, bold and candid manner, rebuke and admonish in a way that people would notice, take stock and seriously consider his message of conversion.
When the Pharisees asked John who he was, he answered then: “Then why are you baptizing if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?” John answered, “I baptize you with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know; although he comes after me, I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.”
John’s answer reveals his missions that is, that he came as a witness to testify to the Light, i.e., Jesus. The overall purpose of John’s message is to highlight the historical and theological significance of Jesus’ origins as “Word,” “true Light” and the “only Son.” Jesus is the cause for rejoicing as he removes darkness from the world. Life may not be easy, but we should all be glad and rejoice because Christ Jesus has come to cast the Light of the world and overpower darkness.
As we share in Jesus’ light, we must radiate it and illuminate the dark lives of others around us. Christmas is a joyous season. The darkness that envelops our society at times need not prevail over the light of Christ, the king of peace. His coming is a continual reminder to heed his call for hope, forgiveness, compassion and love. Many may refuse to even acknowledge his presence and invitation, but in the end His message of love and peace will prevail no matter what.
Pope Francis says of Gaudate Sunday: “In the liturgy, the invitation to rejoice, to arise, resounds repeatedly, because the Lord is near, Christmas is near. Like a mother, the Church encourages us to follow faithfully the spiritual path in order to celebrate the feast of Christmas with renewed exaltation.”
“The joy of the gospel is not just any joy,” the Pope pointed out. “It is the joy that comes from knowing you are welcomed and loved by God.” And because of its divine origin, “this joy truly remains even in suffering, because it is not superficial, but goes down to the depths of the person who commits himself to God and trusts in Him. Our joy is Jesus, his faithful love is inexhaustible!”
“Joy is the fruit of this intervention of salvation and of the love of God,” the Pope continued, adding: “A Christian who is not joyful—something is missing in this Christian, or he is not a Christian. The joy of the heart, the joy within that brings us forward and gives us courage. The Lord comes, he comes to our lives as the liberator, he comes to free us from all interior and exterior slaveries. He is the one who indicates to us the path of fidelity, of patience and of perseverance, because, at his arrival, our joy shall be complete.”
So rejoice! The Lord is near!
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