December 14: Third Sunday of Advent Year B
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11; 1 Thes. 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
This Sunday we light the third candle of the Advent Wreath. Its rose color signifies rejoicing. For that reason today is called Gaudete Sunday which means, “Rejoice!” I know some of you are saying, “Well, Father, I don’t feel all that joyful.” But we rejoice because the one who is to come is already with us. The entire liturgy creates an atmosphere of joy and we have reason to be joyful and to smile. The entrance hymn sets the theme. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. The Lord is near". Let me start with a humorous story. There was once a preacher who was trying to teach his students how to harmonize their facial expressions with what they are speaking about. “When you speak of heaven,” he said, “let you face light up, let it spackle with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with God’s glory. But when speak of Hell – well, then, your ordinary face will do.” I hope that my smile will match the joyful theme of this Sunday’s readings. Isaiah says: I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul. Paul in the Second Reading exhorts us to “Rejoice always.” We tend to think that if things are going well, we are happy. The great French novelist, Leon Bloy, said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” The joy in question is not necessarily feeling good when things are going well. It is possible to feel a certain kind of joy even when things are going badly. In the opening prayer for this Sunday, we ask God that, as we look forward to the birth of Christ, we may experience the joy of salvation. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading tells us that he is sent by God to announce the joyful news of salvation to the people of Israel. He proclaims a message of salvation to a people in bondage. The familiar passage of Isaiah 61 is a clear reference to the Messiah, who is already present. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord". In the Responsorial Psalm, we use the beautiful words of Mary in the Magnificat to express our joy as we, like Mary await for the birth of our Saviour. "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour".
This Sunday I complete forty years as a priest. I have made many mistakes (some I am embarrassed to remember!), but God has also given me some seeds that I helped to plant, now bearing fruit in God’s kingdom. My joy in the priesthood is very real for me, and I thank God for that. In the second reading, Paul urges us to “Rejoice always” because we have already discovered God's saving action in Christ. Thus Paul invites us to rejoice at all times and to pray constantly, and for all things to give thanks to God. It might be difficult to find the realisation of this message of hope and joy in the broken world of today, where there is so much suffering. Like Isaiah, John the Baptist prophesies change for the better, because the one who is to come after him, Christ, is already here bringing good news to the poor. The message may be summed up as follows: 1) We are called upon to live as though the Lord was near; radiating the joy of our faith and hope in Christ who is already with us. 2) Our faith and hope in Christ move us to bring about the joy of Christ in our own lives. 3) That joy can be instrumental in transforming the world around us. 4) Christian joy can bring about tremendous change in this world, in the family, at school and in our place of work.
©2008 John M. Mbinda