December 11, 2011 – Third Sunday of Advent
Joy is clearly the theme of today’s readings, more specifically, the joy of anticipation. In all three of the readings, the writers are rejoicing in the Lord, in His goodness, and in what He has done for them. In addition, they all proclaim the joy of what is to come.
That is the focus for us today as we await the celebration of the Christmas season, the celebration of the Lord becoming human. We rejoice for what is to come is glorious. It is wonderful. It is worthy of rejoicing!
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah not only rejoices but he “rejoices heartily.” His is a rejoicing that reaches to the depth of his soul. He says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” And he follows that statement up with a proclamation of the many good things God has done for Him. “He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”
The prophet knows that the Lord has set into motion the coming of the Messiah, the day of salvation, and though He does not know when that Messiah will come, he rejoices in the salvation that God promises.
“As the earth brings forth it’s plants and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
He doesn’t know when it is coming, but He knows the Lord will send a Messiah, and so, he rejoices as he anticipates the coming.
Likewise, in today’s Gospel reading, John joyfully proclaims the coming of the Messiah. He knows the Lord’s coming is imminent, and he is preparing the people, making sure that, through his ministry it is not he who is glorified, but the Messiah, the one who is to come.
“I am not the Christ,” he assures his hearers. “I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”
John’s statement here echoes the reading from Isaiah that we heard just last week, in Isaiah 40:3. The prophet proclaims, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland, a highway for our God”
John is connecting himself to the prophets of old. He is continuing their ministry and readying the world to greet the Messiah, and he is doing so joyfully, boldly proclaiming His coming and naming himself as the Messiah’s mere servant.
“I baptize with water, but 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.”
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we see this theme of rejoicing continued, but Paul’s joy is different than that of the prophet Isaiah or John the Baptist. For, he knows the Messiah. The Messiah has come and he is preaching to the Christian Church. He tells them, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
In our Advent preparations, particularly today as it is Gaudete Sunday, our joy ought to mimic both the joy expressed by Isaiah and John, awaiting the coming of the Savior, and the joy expressed by Paul, knowing the Savior has come. We rejoice always, for, as the responsorial psalm for today reminds us, “The Lord has done great things for me and holy is His name.”
We rejoice because the Messiah has come. The one whom the Jews long-awaited has come into the world, and we are excited to celebrate that mystery once again this Christmas season. We rejoice because, in coming to Earth, Jesus offers us salvation in an even deeper way than the Jews who anticipated the Messiah could have fathomed, truly in a deeper way than we can fathom ourselves. He took on the form of a man, literally becoming a man himself (who would have ever thought?) and He offers us life with Him, united to Him forever. It is an astounding mystery, one in which we rejoice whole-heartedly.
And as we await His triumphant return, the day on which He will bring all men to the Father, we eagerly anticipate His coming.
In the meantime, as Paul says in today’s second reading, “May the God of Peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
May we all follow the example set forth for us in these three readings, joyfully anticipating the coming of our King, and using all the many gifts He has given us to proclaim Him boldly to all nations as we wait!