Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, we refer to as Gaudete Sunday. We call it this because the entrance antiphon is taken from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” The Latin word for “rejoice” is “gaudete.” Sometimes, the priest wears a rose colored vestment on this day, (as I am doing now. It is not called pink, and it is not, as worthy as the cause may be, a sign of solidarity with the efforts to cure breast cancer.) I wear rose today because it is extraordinary. It is supposed to make everyone realize that something special is going on.
And what is that something special? God is telling us in a special way that he rejoices in us his people. As we read in the first reading:
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
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 at festivals.
It is interesting, because the only cause for God’s rejoicing in his people seems to be that he is in their midst. They have done nothing to merit his presence, and yet there he is, and he rejoices. It reminds me of the story of the Garden of Eden, when God walked with Adam; when he looked at all that he had made, and found it very good.
It’s a curious thing how we rejoice simply to be in the presence of those whom we love. I’m guessing your own experience confirms this for you. I know it is true for me. I love being in the presence of those who I know love me. It’s part of what makes the holidays so wonderful. I was just speaking with someone whose family custom for Christmas is to gather with his brothers and sisters and their kids, so that the twenty or so cousins are all together. The children cherish the time as one of their favorites of the year. This year, however, he is taking his family on a spectacular trip, and yet his kids would rather just be with their cousins. There’s just something wonderful about being among those we love. Our physical presence matters. We need our loved ones and they need us. The mere presence somehow reminds us of the nearness of that greater and immortal love that God pours upon us.
This is what the Lord is doing with his people. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, and – what we often forget – to prepare for Christ’s second coming. Humanity was hardly ready for him the first time, and the way things are going, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be very ready for the second time. And yet he says that he will rejoice. We also are called upon to rejoice, as both the prophet Zechariah and the apostle Paul tell us:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
One of the fundamental parts of our vocation as followers of Christ is to rejoice.
Why? Because, as St Paul explains, “The Lord is near.” Or in the words of the prophet,
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
And again from the Psalm:
Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel…
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!
So, the cause for our joy is that the Lord is great in our midst, that he has removed the judgment against us and is our savior. He has done and is doing something wonderful in us. We need to take time and make the effort to let this sink in. We need to pause in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season and let the real meaning take root in our hearts. We are being forgiven. The Lord is in our midst as our savior. Does it matter to me? Is it my priority?
I urge you to make the experience of the Lord’s forgiveness a reality in your lives by making a good confession during this Advent Season. The sacrament of confession helps more than anything else to help us know that our judgment has been removed and that we truly have cause for rejoicing.
The Psalm says that we are to make known the Lord’s glorious achievement. What is this glorious achievement? It is the forgiveness of our sins. Your sin and my sin.
This is where today’s Gospel comes in. The people who had gathered at the Jordan to hear John the Baptist and receive baptism were repenting of their sins, and John urges them to show fruits of their repentance. When they ask him what to do, he gives them very simple and straightforward advice: give to those needier than yourself and treat your fellow man with respect and fairness. They have already been forgiven, now they are to share the joy of that forgiveness.
But he adds that someone greater than himself is coming – the Messiah – and he has a greater gift. He brings the Holy Spirit and fire, which will transform them from within.
My brothers and sisters, we have the Holy Spirit and fire. We have the Lord in our midst. Does it move our hearts? Do we know how to rejoice in the great things the Lord has done in us?
Let’s ask ourselves today, on this Third Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas and look forward to Christ’s coming again:
What is it that causes me to rejoice?
Am I aware of the Lord’s presence in my own life, of how he wants to forgive me?
How can I show this joy to others?
How will I be present to those who need me during this holiday season?
I leave you with Saint Paul’s advice:
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The peace of God…. That’s what I desire this Christmas.
Fr. Daniel Hennessy is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, currently serving in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He is the director for the Regnum Christi Men’s Section and his ministry is centered on spiritual direction, preaching retreats and launching and guiding small groups for the New Evangelization.