Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
Well, here we are, already celebrating the Third Sunday of Advent. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Can it be that only 13 days remain until Christmas?
As the season of Advent rushes by, what does the Church urge us to do? Only one thing: “Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always!” This is, after all, Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word that means, “rejoice!” So let us set about rejoicing.
The beautiful thing about Advent joy is that we do not have to manufacture it. When the Church bids us rejoice, she is not asking us to deny our feelings, or to pretend that things are going well, when, in fact, they aren’t, or to act as if we are happy when we are sad or conflicted, whether in our personal life or in our life of faith.
Gaudete Sunday has nothing to do with “forced fun,” mandated by management!
In fact, the joy the Church celebrates in the midst of Advent is no mere human joy. It is not that fleeting, ephemeral joy, with which you and I are all too familiar. No, what we celebrate today is the joy, the delight that God takes in us.
We heard about it in today’s first reading from the prophet Zephaniah. Addressing the downtrodden Israelites, the prophet offered a message of joy and hope: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst [he said], a mighty Savior. He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings as festivals.”
It turns out that, in the heavenly liturgy, God is rejoicing over us.
God Rejoicing Over Us?
A God who rejoices over us is not everyone’s image of God. Many think that if God exists at all, he either harsh or indifferent to our plight. As believers, we acknowledge God’s mercy and goodness, but can it be true that God actually rejoices over us?
It is true. And both Scripture and Liturgy attest to the joy God takes in us, for example…
A refrain in the Church’s liturgy reminds us that ‘God takes delight in his people.’ In Genesis, we read how God delighted in his creation, including our first parents. Even when they sinned, God did not give up on humanity. Rather, as one of the Psalms says, ‘his love is everlasting.’
Elsewhere, the New Testament assures that, in heaven, there is more joy over one repentant sinner than over the ninety-nine who have no need to repent.
John the Baptist and Jesus enable us to understand something of the Father’s joy. When John stood before the people proclaiming a message repentance, the people asked him, “What should we do?”
In response, John the Baptist exhorted tax collectors to do their jobs honestly, to stop collecting more money than they were supposed to collect.
Later in the Gospels, don’t we read that Jesus chose a tax collector named Matthew to be an apostle? We also read about Zacchaeus, a repentant tax collector, who welcomed Jesus into his heart and into his home, to the everlasting delight of God our Father!
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist addressed the soldiers in the crowd. He urged them not to engage in extortion, that is, to threaten the populace with violence so as to extract bribes from them. The Baptist further urged soldiers not to make false accusations and to be satisfied with their wages.
In his public ministry, Jesus was amazed at the faith of a centurion and cured his son. Another centurion who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, declared him innocent. In the Acts of the Apostles we read how the centurion Cornelius and his household were converted.
Today’s liturgy invites you and me to reflect on the joy that God the Father experienced over these marvelous conversions.
What about us? The Father loves us so much that, in the Sacrament of Baptism, he made us his beloved sons and daughters; he adopted us as his own.
Indeed, God made us in his own image and recreated us when we sinned because he takes delight in sharing with us the gift of his splendid love.
And how the Lord rejoices when we invite him into our lives. Even if we open the door of our souls to him ever so slightly, God rejoices. And how great is God’s joy when we open that door widely and accept the gift of salvation which he offers us in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Our merciful Father takes special delight in healing our wounds – wounds of sin and division, the wounds we inflict on ourselves and on others, those wounds that cut deep and often surface at this time of year. Our merciful Father rejoices when we come to him in our neediness and, with loving trust confide in him whatever troubles us and our loved ones. Every time we turn to him with all our hearts, our God rejoices in us.
Even If We Hesitate . . .
Well and good, you may be thinking.
Of course, God rejoices when someone falls in love with him head over heels. But what about those of us who hesitate, those of us who are conflicted or confused, those of us who sincerely find certain Church teachings or decisions to be off-putting.
Does God take delight in us when we find ourselves in such situations? The answer has to be “yes,” for the Lord Jesus is in our midst, as Zephaniah foretold, to walk with us, to accompany us, to help us sort out our questions and dilemmas.
Didn’t Jesus delight in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well? Think of the extended conversations Jesus had with Nicodemus far into the night. The Lord does not turn a cold shoulder when we have questions or conflicted feelings, but we must be careful not to give the Lord a cold shoulder by ignoring his Word or by refusing the many graces he sends to us.
Taking Delight in One Another
If God takes delight in us while we are still very much a work-in-progress, what, then, should be our attitude towards one another?
Do we take the same delight in others as God takes in us? In our relationships with others, do we even try to approximate the love with which God loves us? Do we look for the good in other people, even those with whom we disagree? Or do we find ourselves engaging in the hyperbolic sniping which is very much in vogue these days?
If we want to experience the true joy of this Advent season, then let us joyfully open our hearts to the God who rejoices over us, and allow his delight in us to spill over in our relationships with others.
Our heavenly Father does not regard any one of us as “a problem,” nor should we regard one another that way, whether it be an abrasive colleague, or a homeless person, or a person who is chronically ill or an unborn baby.
As Christmas, the feast of God’s unbounded generosity draws near, let us find authentic joy in giving God thanks and praise for loving us so much, and let us show that our thanks and praise is real by reaching out to others, by mending fences and serving the poor, by entrusting to God our own wounds, by listening to one another attentively and by giving of ourselves, even when it hurts.
Then we can say with St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it rejoice!”