This third Sunday of the Advent season has long been known as Gaudete Sunday, from the opening words of the entrance antiphon for mass: Gaudete in Domino semper — “Rejoice in the Lord always!” We truly have great reason to rejoice, for our celebration of Jesus’ birth is drawing close.
Animating and guiding our rejoicing in these days of expectation is the Spirit of the Lord, who is said in the first reading to anoint and commission the prophet Isaiah, whose central role in the Christian Church is underlined by Paul in the New Testament epistle, and who is acclaimed and glorified by Mary in her prayer (the Magnificat) which we sing as our responsorial today. In the gospel as well the Spirit is present, though in a veiled way, through the fascinating character of John the Baptist.
The Baptist is a key figure in the fourth gospel, and his discussion with the priests and Levites from Jerusalem in the reading today is followed the very next day in the gospel record (John 1:29-34) by an encounter between John and Jesus himself. In that passage John brings to completion the announcement he begins in today’s passage when he states that he baptizes with water: he adds that Jesus is the one who will baptize “with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).
The Baptist thus prepares the way for Christ, whose birth at Bethlehem is what we await during Advent. Later in the course of his ministry Christ prepares the way for his disciples by promising and later sending them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit in turn sends us forth strengthened in faith and fortified in wisdom (see John 14:15-26) in order to incorporate into our lives that which we ultimately long for during Advent—the coming and the continued presence of God in our midst in the person of Jesus Christ.
That presence would be interrupted, at least physically, by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and so he sends us the Spirit to sustain us in his absence. The Holy Spirit strengthens us in our faith so that we may truly rejoice from the depths of our being over having been initiated into the life and risen presence of Christ. Similarly the Spirit pours forth wisdom upon us that we may understand just why we rejoice—on account of the humility of the Word who was born in time for the sake of our salvation, and on account of the manner in which his incarnation brings dignity and meaning to all human life.
At Christmas we are delighted that God comes near to us and in fact becomes one of us in Jesus Christ. As we rejoice over the birth of the Christ child in the crèche at Bethlehem we ought to allow the Spirit which motivates our joy in the first place to illumine our hearts and minds so that we can enter ever more fully into the mystery of the God who humbly embraces our humanity in order that we may someday take on his divinity (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The Spirit of the Lord God was indeed upon Isaiah the prophet, it inspired the life and ministry of John the Baptist, and it abides in us through our baptismal union with Christ; as the days of Advent quickly pass by let us follow their good example and resist any temptation to stifle the Spirit so that we may welcome the Christ child joyfully on the day of his birth!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.