“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” The readings for this 3rd Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, Gaudete being the Latin word for Rejoice, prompts us to consider what I think are some very important questions.
First, if we take a look at the world around us the following question immediately comes to mind: what do we have to rejoice about this Advent? First, our world is afflicted by a culture of death…terrorism, abortion, euthanasia; over 14,000 people die every day as a result of the lack of clean drinking water. Second, our Church has been plagued by scandal and attacked by the new atheists; our Archdiocese is facing serious financial difficulties and has had to close numerous parishes. Some of you are here because your parish has been closed. Finally, our families suffer from the effects of divorce and substance abuse, economic difficulties, mental illness, and the death of loved ones. What do we have to rejoice about?
In today’s first reading and in the Psalm, Zephaniah and Isaiah speak in the context of the fall of the Jerusalem temple in 587 BC and the subsequent exile to Babylon. Why should we listen to these prophets who lived over 2,500 years ago? Regarding the skepticism about the relevance of what the ancient prophets have to say to us in the modern world, a religious scholar make the following comparison. The Israelites experience of the fall of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile of Babylon was like our experience of 9/11 multiplied by 1,000! The point is that although these prophets spoke over 2,500 years ago, they experienced terrorism, religious persecution and domestic problems, just as we do today. But more importantly, we listen to the prophets because they speak God’s Word to us. Their words are not their own opinions or theories or predictions about the future. Their words are inspired by God Himself. Their words re God’s words.
What is the message of the prophets during Advent? Facing destruction and exile, the prophets urged the people not to be overcome with fear and anxiety, but to rejoice for the Lord was in their midst as a mighty savior and would not abandon them! Even though they faced devastation and captivity in a foreign land, God would be merciful and faithful to his covenant promise and would eventually gather them together. Moreover, God Himself rejoiced over His people with gladness. The same message applies to us today because the prophet’s words are God’s timeless truths. During Advent we celebrate and look forward to God sending His Son to be with us and to save us from sin and death. Though we face judgement, God will be merciful and faithful to His promise of salvation. Only a God of infinite love and mercy would become a man and dwell among His people, and for that we rejoice! Moreover, as we heard from Zephaniah, God rejoices over us! God finds favor and joy in you and in me! That by itself is reason for us to rejoice!
In today’s Gospel we again encounter John the Baptist, known as the “last of the Old Testament prophets”. What is John’s message for us during Advent? It began last week when we heard that John traveled throughout the region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Today, John the Baptist announces the coming of the Messiah whom Israel had be waiting for nearly a thousand years. When the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?” his response was clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Treat others how you would like to be treated. In short, be merciful to one another, just as the Lord who is coming is merciful to us! What a timely message as we celebrate the first Sunday in this Jubilee Year of Mercy!
What is the Jubilee Year of Mercy? It is a year that Pope Francis has dedicated to experiencing the mercy of God. At the back of the Church are confessionals or the gateways to God’s mercy. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation God forgives and blots out our sins. If you haven’t been to confession in a while and are hesitant because of the anxiety that can accompany this sacrament, let me assure you that the priests in our parish, Father Cioppi and Monsignor Murray, are as gentle and compassionate as any priests you will encounter in the confessional. The Jubilee Year of Mercy is also dedicated to extending God’s mercy to others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We can do this by donating to the Giving Tree or Santa Sacks, baking a casserole for Saint John’s Hospice, visiting the sick, or praying for the living and the dead. Most importantly, we can forgive those who have offended us.
The Lord our God is near, He is in our midst, and He rejoices over us! He offers us the gift of His mercy and He invites us as the Bod of Christ to be minister of His Mercy to others! My brothers and sisters, this is the Good News of the Gospel! And this is what gives us reason to rejoice the Advent!