Isaiah 61: 1 – 2A, 10 – 11, I Thes 5:16-24, Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28
The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudate Sunday. Gaudate is the Latin word for rejoice and is the message of the readings and the prayers for the Mass of today. In Isaiah we hear the prophet say; “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians; “Rejoice always.” Let us rejoice as we continue our preparation for the birthday of Jesus, and his Second Coming.
While it is nice to hear someone tell us to “rejoice” the reality is that in the world and in our lives there are times when it is difficult to find joy. On the news we hear of wars, terrorist attacks and senseless massacres as happened not long ago in Las Vegas. We hear about hurricanes, earthquakes and fires that result in so much death and suffering. Where is the joy in all of this? In our own lives we might be facing various trial of health, family tragedies, and relationships that are suffering. How can we be joyful with all these things going on around us and in our lives?
When Saint Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians and tells them to rejoice, he is not being entertained in the house of some wealthy member of the community and being waited on hand and foot. It’s easy to rejoice when everything is going right. Everything is not going well for Paul, and he wrote this letter as he was being persecuted and fleeing from town to town. Throughout his ministry Paul suffered multiple times including stoning and imprisonment, too many to list here. Yet Paul never stopped calling upon the various Christian Communities to rejoice, and in his letter to the Philippians he wrote; “Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again, rejoice!”
When Paul speaks of joy he is not referring to a nice, fleeting feeling that makes one feel good, it is the rich long-lasting joy that comes from the Holy Spirit that goes to the very core of our being. This is deep inner joy that comes from knowing Jesus. Paul believed and experienced that God was always with him, the Joy of the Lord was his strength, and he knew that even in the darkest and most difficult situations God would provide for him. When have a deep personal relationship with him we experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These are; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal 5:22-23 The joy of the Lord is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We bear fruit when we welcome and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These are what gave Paul the ability to shout out for joy even during the most difficult times.
This joy can be with us at all times, even the most trying times. It doesn’t take away the problems pain we might experience, but it lifts us up to accept them, bear them, and trust the Immanuel – God is with us. Today the church calls us to rejoice and to walk in faith, for God is with us. We walk believing in the truth and beauty revealed to us by Jesus and share with Christians throughout the world the importance of his birth, and faith in his second coming. This is what opens us up to being filled with that deep joy that can be inexpressible but always present in our lives. Advent is a time that helps us to be more appreciative of the gift of Jesus, more open to his presence, and more receptive of the joy that comes from him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.