FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Third Sunday of Advent (B)
Isaiah 61:1-2A, 10-11 | Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8, 19-28
We are now very close to celebrating Christmas Day! The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin for “rejoice.” This Sunday is so named because today’s Mass begins with the antiphon from Philippians 4:4,5, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” As we light the rose candle on this Third Sunday of Advent, the church once again bids us to be joyful, insisting that we have every reason to rejoice.
Nirmal Raj, an aged Indian, half naked and famished, wandered in West Texas, begging for food to keep him from starving. While eagerly devouring the bread bestowed by the hand of charity, a brightly colored ribbon, from which was suspended a small dirty pouch, was seen around his neck. On being questioned, he said it was a charm given him in his younger days; and opening it, displayed a faded, greasy paper, which he handed to the investigator for inspection. It proved to be a regular discharge from the Federal Army, entitling him to a pension for life and signed by General George Washington himself.
Consider the stirring words of the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading. The passage addresses a people who have become discouraged and heartbroken after their return from the Babylonian exile by the burdens of rebuilding and reestablishing the Jewish nation. God's Temple were in shambles. Jerusalem was without walls and totally vulnerable, the houses were falling apart and the land of their fathers occupied. In life there are so many moments when we do not feel much like rejoicing. It is difficult to continue to believe and hope in the face of such bitter disappointment. Sorrows and burdens can overwhelm us. Isaiah gives us an image of God who empowers, saves, and inspires hope. God is faithful and always keeps His promises. In the prophet’s telling, the One on whom the Spirit of God has descended will bring God’s promises to fruition for those who suffer. The Anointed One has no weapons, no money, and no political power. Instead, He has only the Word; he bears a sure promise to bring about good news, healing, and liberation to all.
Rufino from Makati had to travel to Manila on business. This was years ago when Christians kept Sunday as a very special day. For this man, "keeping the Sabbath," also meant not riding the trains on Sunday. Thus, after he finished up his business late Saturday night, he had to stay over in Manila until Monday morning. On Sunday morning, he left the Manila Hotel looking for a place to worship. The streets were quite deserted, but finally he saw PO1 Reyes and asked him for directions to the nearest Church. PO1 Reyes recommended Rufino to go to Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Niño de Tondo. The stranger thanked the policeman for the information and was about to walk off when he turned and asked the policeman: "Why have you recommended that particular Church? It looks like a Catholic Church. There must be several Churches nearby that you could have recommended." PO1 Reyes smiled and replied: "I'm not a Church man myself, but the people who come out of that Church, though underprivileged, are the happiest looking Church-people in Manila, and they say that they have received Jesus and they are joyfully taking him to their homes. I thought that would be the kind of Church you would like to attend."
If there is a single word that describes what Christmas is all about, it’s the little word “joy.” Several of our favorite carols mention it: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” “Shepherds, why this jubilee, why your joyous strains prolong?” “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with the angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’” In the Second Reading, the apostle Paul reassures the faithful in Thessalonica that Jesus is coming back. He tells them that Jesus may not be back as soon as he had previously believed, but Jesus will come again. In the meantime, Paul urges the Thessalonians not just to “rejoice,” but to “rejoice always” while awaiting Christ’s return. Death, pain, suffering, and turmoil do not get the last word. We await a Savior who has conquered Death. Christians must suppress their fears, their sorrows, forget their burdens and adopt an attitude of joy even in the harshest of conditions because God is faithful. This period of waiting, though, is not a time to be idle. We are called to be active. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we need to remind ourselves that we have also been called to be the means to bring Jesus into other people’s lives. Sometimes the love we share can take the form of Christmas presents and Christmas trees, and all sorts of decorations. But you know, sometimes it can be as simple as sharing a cup of coffee or maybe a beer with a dear friend. Or perhaps it’s just sitting with someone who’s going through a challenging time. When we live a life of joy and bring joy to others, our "spirit and soul and body may be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". This is Paul’s way of showing us how to make straight the way of the Lord.
Iris, a catechist, was concerned that his students might be a little confused about Jesus Christ because of the Christmas season emphasis on His birth. She wanted to make sure they understood that the birth of Jesus occurred a long time ago, that He grew up, etc. So he asked his class, "Where is Jesus today?" Michelle raised his hand and said, "He's in heaven." Ariel was called on and answered, "He's in my heart." Little Abby, waving his hand furiously, blurted out, "I know! I know! He's in our bathroom!" The whole class got very quiet, looked at the catechist, and waited for a response. Iris was completely at a loss for a few very long seconds. She finally gathered her wits and asked Little Abby how she knew this. And Little Abby said, "Well...every morning, my Dad gets up, bangs on the bathroom door, and yells 'Jesus Christ, are you still in there?'!"
The mysterious figure of John the Baptist, introduced in last week’s readings, comes into sharper focus today. Our passage today comes from the Gospel according to John. In the Gospel, messengers from the Jewish priests, the Levites and the Pharisees question John about his identity and the meaning of the baptisms that he is performing. John’s Gospel uses these questions to establish the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. John the Baptist is not the Messiah. In John’s denials, we hear echoes of the kind of messianic expectations that were common in first-century Palestine. The only affirmative response that John the Baptist gives is when he quotes the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice crying out in the desert.” He simply says that he is the “herald,” the one who is to foretell the coming of the Lord., that he is “a voice that says prepare the way of the Lord”. Upon answering the next question, John announces that the savior they seek is already among them, but as yet unrecognized. John’s response highlights for us an important Advent theme: Jesus has already come into the world as our savior and we will only find joy by recognizing Jesus’ presence in our midst. How do you recognize Jesus? What do we do with our joy of recognizing Jesus? Joy isn’t found on your Instagram feed, your Facebook profile, your shopping, your sports, your entertainment, your food. Those things aren’t bad at all, but recognizing Jesus is the only one who can give you satisfying, deep-rooted joy that you so desperately search for. May you find joy in the words you hear today and the joy in the recognition of Jesus, wherever you find him.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum