For two weeks of Advent we have been preparing the way of the Lord, striving to level the mountains of our pride and fill in the valleys of our sloth. With Christmas Eve only a week away, the destination of our Advent journey is in sight, and we rejoice that the Lord is coming. The Third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called “Gaudete Sunday,” from the Latin word for “Rejoice,” which is the very first word of today’s Mass. The entrance antiphon is “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (cf. Phil 4:4-5). We take a moment in our Advent journey to rejoice that the time is approaching. Mass celebrants have the option to wear rose-colored vestments on this one day in Advent, a break from the usual more penitential violet.
We can compare the spirit of Advent with our approach to other situations of waiting and preparing. Families expecting a baby, for example, have about eight months to prepare for the new arrival. The preparations for such a big change in the family have physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional aspects. The home itself may need some alteration; the family arranges rooms and beds to accommodate the new one. Parents look differently at the year ahead. “When we are on our annual summer trip next year, there will be a baby with us!” They pray together for a healthy pregnancy and safe birth. Often there is a party or a baby shower for the family and friends to celebrate the baby even before he or she is born. There is an atmosphere of rejoicing!
In a similar way, our preparation for Christmas has many aspects. Physically, we prepare our home by cleaning, decorating and planning special meals. Spiritually, we follow the Advent liturgy, with its special prayers and Mass readings, to prepare the way of the Lord. Today, seeing that the time is close at hand and the baby is almost here, we take a break from our work of preparation to celebrate what is to come – to rejoice!
We can take note of how often the word “rejoice” appears in the readings. Families with children may alert them before Mass to listen for this word, and count how many times they hear it. The first reading starts with a joyful message of hope for Jews. Isaiah prophesies that the one who is to come will heal, release and bring glad tidings. In his prophecy we hear “rejoice” for the first time: “I rejoice heartily in the LORD; in my God is the joy of my soul.” These words will inspire Mary’s Magnificat, which we pray in place of the responsorial psalm. When Mary proclaimed, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she had travelled a long way, perhaps 130 kilometers or more, to see her cousin Elizabeth and to help her. Elizabeth, prompted by the Holy Spirit and the “leaping” of the child in her womb, praises and honors Mary. Mary’s response, ever humble, is to acknowledge that she truly is blessed, and to direct all the praise to God. On this Gaudete Sunday, the Church invites us to make Mary’s joy in the Lord our own! We proclaim, aloud and together – four times! – that “My soul rejoices in my God.”
The very first words of today’s second reading are “Rejoice always.” St. Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica, in Greece. He is not telling them to rejoice in hope for the coming of the Messiah, for Jesus had already come. Paul is reminding us all of the joy that is an essential part of the Christian life. We are to rejoice always because we know the Lord; we are to live in the joy of knowing that our Redeemer has come to save us and will come again. Joy, then, is part of being entirely ready, “spirit, soul, and body… preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel takes us back to John the Baptist, our Advent hero, sent to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It is striking that the word “rejoice” does not appear in this reading, as if to alert us that our joy is not in John but in Jesus. John certainly knows the joy of the coming of the Lord. He leapt for joy in the womb when Mary first rushed into the hill country of Judea, carrying the unborn Jesus. John’s own birth was an occasion for great rejoicing throughout the region. His name is very significant, having been chosen for him before he was even conceived (cf. Lk 1:13). But when John is asked repeatedly, “Who are you?”, he does not give his name – which is the usual reply to such a question. No, John refuses all efforts to focus on him, deflecting every question to turn everyone’s attention to Jesus. He does not want anyone to confuse him with the One who is to come after him, the One who is the real Source of all our joy. We learn from John that joy does not come from self-absorption or self-glorification, but always and only from the Lord.
How can I rejoice in the Lord each day? Do I focus on my own glorification or the glory of Jesus? In what ways can I prepare for the joy of Christmas?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.