Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Advent


The third Sunday of Advent, has long been known as Gaudete Sunday. It is a day of rejoicing in the midst of our Advent penance and busy preparations for Christmas. In fact, the word “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” It's an imperative word, a command, that comes from Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I shall say it again: rejoice!” 

Our readings for today emphasize the joy of Gaudete Sunday. 

Joy permeates our First Reading, Zephaniah 3:14-18. 

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel! 
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem! 

Why should you rejoice, O Israel? God is in your midst. He will not judge you; in fact, He has turned away all your enemies. You need not fear misfortune or be discouraged. God, Your Savior, is with you. 

What's more, God is rejoicing over you! He is singing over you as one sings at festivals. He is renewing you in His love with great gladness. 

These words apply to us today as much as they did to Israel when Zephaniah wrote them some time in the 600s B.C. Think about this for a moment. God loves you. He rejoices over you. He wants you to rejoice in Him in response. 

The psalm invites us to exclaim our joyful response to God as we hear and say: Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel. The psalmist emphasizes once again that we rejoice because God is in our midst and has done wonderful things for us. He is our Savior, in Whom we find our strength and courage. We therefore sing His praises, shouting with exaltation and proclaiming His great deeds through all the world. 

St. Paul, in our Second Reading, Philippians 4:4-7, again calls us to rejoice (Gaudete!) always, for God is near. Why should we be anxious and fearful about the past, present, or future when we can pray to our loving Father and entrust to Him all our needs and desires? Why should we be gloomy and dejected when we have so much to be thankful for? God longs to give us His peace through Jesus Christ, a peace that will guard our hearts and our minds. Why should we not rejoice? 

At first glance, today's Gospel, Luke 3:10-18, doesn't seem particularly joyful. John the Baptist was merely responding to questions from the crowd as to what they must do now that they have received a baptism of repentance. John's answers were simple: share your food and clothing, don't cheat people, don't exert unfair power over others, and be satisfied with what you have. John's listeners were excited. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The One we've been expecting for so long?” they whispered amongst themselves. John solemnly assured them that he was not. One much greater was coming, One Who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit, One Who would bring judgment.” 

Yet John's words should be a reason for us to rejoice. We know what we must do to please God, and it isn't difficult. We must open ourselves up to others in a loving way, providing for their needs and treating them with kindness and respect. We also know that we have access to a greater baptism than John's listeners could ever imagine. When we are baptized, God comes to dwell in our souls, filling us with His Holy Spirit and the fire of His love. Even God's judgment is joyful for those who believe in Him and follow His commands, for it means that we will be gathered to Him to live in His presence forever. 

Indeed, there is much to be joyful about on this Gaudete Sunday, for God is in our midst no matter what happens in our lives, in this nation, or in the world. We can and should rejoice. God is with us!

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