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Third Sunday of Advent — “Gaudete” or “Rejoice” Sunday — December 14, 2014

Advent3rdSundayThis Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally referred to as “Gaudete” Sunday, because GAUDETE is the Latin word for REJOICE! And “GAUDETE” — “REJOICE” — is the first word of today’s Entrance Antiphon (which is recited when a processional hymn is not sung. That one word — “REJOICE” — sets the theme of today’s Liturgy, as this celebration marks the half-way point in our observance of Advent. And so we REJOICE this morning, because Christmas is now less than two weeks away. And we light the pink candle in our Advent wreath as a reminder that this is a time for us to REJOICE.

As we listen to the Liturgy of the Word today, we hear St. Paul giving us some very clear DO’s and DON’T’s (in what is the conclusion of his First Letter to the Thessalonians). First, the DO’s: “REJOICE always. PRAY without ceasing. In all circumstances GIVE THANKS.” And now, the DON’T’s: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances.”

Our Liturgy and the Scriptures today are all about REJOICING — and how we find reason for rejoicing in PROPHECY – both in the message of the Prophet Isaiah (which is our first reading) and in the message of St. John the Baptist (who in today’s Gospel denies that he is THE prophet, yet who us the greatest of he prophets who prepared the world for the arrival of Jesus as Savior).

Frankly, I’m afraid that we might still be tempted to DESPISE prophecy, as evidently the Thessalonians were (or St. Paul would not have told them NOT to despise prophetic utterances). Prophecy has been given something of a bad name in recent years by people who claim to have an ability to predict the future. These modern false prophets try to predict everything from who will be elected pope or president, to who will win the Super Bowl or the California Lottery. Some false prophets base terrifying predictions on their interpretation of the Book of Revelation, telling us when and where the Anti-Christ was or will be born, or when and how the world will come to an end.

Predicting the future is only a minor part of what prophecy is really all about. The first Old Testament prophets were called in Hebrew “NABÍ, “a term which more or less translates as “crazy people,” people who acted “beside themselves, “because they said and did things that they would not have said and done on their own. But whatever they said and did, they were inspired to do by God. So a prophet is not a prophet because he or she can foretell the future. A prophet is first and foremost one who speaks and acts on God’s behalf.

That’s what made Isaiah a prophet, the fact which Isaiah announces at the very beginning of today’s first reading: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” Isaiah foretold the return of the Chosen People from their captivity in Babylon, back into the Promised Land of Israel, not to impress people with his uncanny foreknowledge of future events, but to comfort the Chosen People in the midst of their suffering, to give them new hope, and to prepare them for what God had in store for them. God chose Isaiah as a prophet to speak on God’s behalf and to communicate a sense of hope and joy to a people who were living in exile. And the Chosen People’s response was to rejoice heartily in the Lord. “They found the joy of their soul in God! …in God who will make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”

In the Gospel reading today, St. John the Baptist comes across as a different sort of a prophet, with a much different message from Isaiah’s comforting message of the Chosen People’s return to the Promised Land. John had evidently won quite a reputation for himself as a prophet, preaching out in the desert and baptizing there in Bethany across the Jordan River, so some priests and Levites went to see for themselves just what was going on there: who John was, and why he was carrying on like he was. “Who are you? Who sent you? What’s going on here?” They wanted to know. And in reply to all of their questions, after denying that he was the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet, John the Baptist quoted another section of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert: “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Here, John’s message is not so much a prediction, not a promise of what God will do for his people. It is more a challenge for people to open their eyes and see the light. Listen again to what John told them: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

I don’t think that we really need this Liturgy and words of the prophets to tell us to rejoice during this holiday season. Rejoicing seems to come quite quickly and easily. But I do think we might need this Liturgy and the words of the prophets to remind us about what it is that truly gives us cause for rejoicing. We need the prophetic message of Isaiah, and of St. John the Baptist, and of St. Paul to remind us of the presence among us of the one who is the true source of all of our joy: Jesus Christ!

In fact, we might find it difficult sometimes to recognize the presence of Jesus in the midst of all of our Christmas preparations and celebrations. So we have this Third Sunday of Advent to invite us: “…. to REJOICE always. …to PRAY without ceasing. And in all circumstances to GIVE THANKS.” WHY? Because we have SEEN THE LIGHT… Because we can truly recognize Christ’s presence among us:.

• NOT just as the Baby Jesus born of Mary in Bethlehem;

• NOT just as the Crucified Christ nailed to the cross at Calvary and dying there for our sins;

• NOT just the Risen Christ outside the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning, or with the apostles in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday night.

•BUT the Risen Lord Jesus, really and truly present among us right here and now, speaking to us through the Scriptures, and giving himself to us in the Eucharist that we share in Holy Communion.

As we do, may we truly REJOICE! And may St. Paul’s words of blessing (in today’s second reading)be a blessing for each and every one of us, as we continue our Advent preparations for Christmas: “May the God of peace make us perfectly holy; and may we entirely — spirit, soul, and body — be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I conclude this reflection with a timely reminder about the Advent Penance Service which we will celebrate in the Mission Church on Monday, December 22nd, at 7:30pm.

If, as I just quoted St. Paul’s beautiful words of blessing, we are not yet feeling perfectly holy and entirely blameless for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we do have an opportunity to do something about it. We can gather together with all of our fellow parishioners who are not yet perfectly holy and entirely blameless, and we can celebrate as a parish family God’s wonderful gift of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Please plan to join us for our Advent Penance Service on Monday, December 22nd, at 7:30pm.