By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
THE SECOND READING from St. Paul to the Philippians begins with the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
These words are also the entrance antiphon for Mass today and give this day the name, “Gaudete Sunday” (The verse in Latin is “Gaudete in Domino semper”). This may seem like an interesting bit of trivia but in fact, it gives this Sunday its special character.
Traditionally Advent, like Lent, is a time of preparation, a time of penance before the celebration of a major truth of our faith (obviously Advent prepares us for Christmas as Lent prepares us for Easter). Much of the penitential aspect of this season is lost amid all the hustle and bustle and joy of Christmas preparations. It is hard to think about penance while writing out Christmas cards and leaving wish lists for Santa.
Yet, like all children hoping to find something other than coal under the Christmas tree, we also know that we better be sure our name is on the nice – and not the naughty – list. There is much to rejoice about in this season, but there is also a message of great challenge to share in the joy.
This is certainly seen in the Gospel. The Gospel ends with the words, “He (John the Baptist) preached good news to the people.”
Penance Amid Joy
When we read the whole Gospel passage, however, that good news is the promise that One mightier than John is coming: One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, who would not only gather the wheat into his barn, but also throw the chaff into unquenchable fire.
With an intentional precision, John told each group what they had to do to prepare for that arrival: the crowds had to share with the poor, tax collectors had to stop collecting more than was fair and soldiers were called to act justly.
They were invited to enter into an examination of conscience and change of behavior to better prepare for this arrival. This is the good news.
To quote a hero of my childhood, Grumpy Smurf, “What’s so good about it?” It could be challenging and difficult.
Expectation and Commemoration
So, what is so good about this good news? Although the abiding spirit of the Scriptures today is the expectation that something wonderful is about to happen, they also remind us that we are commemorating something wonderful that has already taken place.
The prophet Zephaniah tells his people twice that the Lord, God is already in their midst. St. Paul encourages the Philippians to have no anxiety because the Lord is near.
The Church reminds us today that even though there is a penitential dimension to Advent, Christ has already been born in time, suffered, died, rose and is now seated at the Father’s right. He sent us the Spirit to help us as we prepare for the fulfillment of His promise to return.
The promise at the heart of our expectation is that Christ will come again. The good news is that He gives us day by day the grace we need to live, ready to meet Him again, face to face.
Advent reminds us that God keeps His promises and invites us to open our hearts to the grace He gives to welcome Him joyfully.
Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3: 14-18a
Isaiah 12: 2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 10-18
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.