December 16, 2012 – Third Sunday of Advent
“Shout for joy… Rejoice, exult with all your heart…!” Those words, proclaimed in our first reading from Zephaniah, completely capture the essence of this Third Sunday of Lent — Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice,” and each of our readings on this joyous day reflect that attitude.
Advent, like Lent, is a penitential time for us. Traditionally, it was a time of fasting and prayer, also similar to Lent. However, it has changed from that somewhat in recent centuries. Just as we insert Laetare Sunday during the Lenten season, Advent includes Gaudete Sunday, a time symbolized by more color and more celebration. Clergy can, if they wish, wear rose colored vestments, rather than the Advent norm of purple. This is the weekend when we light the third candle on our Advent wreath, normally a rose colored candle. The thought is that this change to a more vivid color will offer us encouragement to continue with our spiritual preparation for Christmas.
Often people who practice stewardship as a way of life are called a “joyous people.” That is a natural reflection and a natural phrase to use with people of stewardship because, based upon living their lives as grateful people, they focus on their blessings, not their Crosses and burdens. When one sees the good sides of life and living, it is difficult not to be happy.
Today’s readings consistently emphasize JOY and EXPECTATION. Zephaniah later tells us, speaking of Yahweh, “He will rejoice over you with happy song, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you…” Zephaniah is literally saying, “God is with you; He sings and dances with you.”
Paul continues that feeling in his letter to the Philippians: “Always be joyful, then, in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful.”
Luke’s Gospel takes a different track, as he speaks of John the Baptist, one whom people thought might be the Messiah. Nevertheless, John clarifies to those with him, and to us, by saying, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming, who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Joy and expectation — look around you; see the trappings of Christmas. In spite of the secular nature of Christmas all around us — the colors, the lights, the music, the traditions — this is a time of joy and expectation. That is a feeling we can share.
Our task as Catholics is to focus much of the energy and excitement into what we are really celebrating — the arrival of Christ. Advent is about hope. It is not just hope that things will get better or hope that our burdens will disappear. It is hope that there is meaning to our lives. It is the hope and understanding that there is an incredible existence beyond our human state. It is the hope that our lives are not as limited as they may seem to be. We must never forget what we heard in a Gospel passage of a few weeks ago: “All things are possible with God.”