The Third Sunday of Advent (B)
Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico gaudéte. Dóminus enim prope est. That is, perhaps better in English: “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”
Today is often called “Gaudéte Sunday;” gaudéte simply meaning, “rejoice.” Today is the day for great rejoicing. Today is the day to rejoice because the Lord is near indeed. With his coming so very near, we cannot – if we have faithfully kept watch for him these past two weeks – help but be filled with great joy.
We now begin our third week of waiting and watching with yearning hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the King because of the promise he has given to us; he will return in his glory for “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). Our time of preparation is at hand and is now half-completed; we have just two weeks more to wait for him who is near. With Isaiah we all can say,
I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).
We have indeed been given the robe of salvation and the mantle of justice; for we, at our baptism, have been clothed with Christ Jesus have become a new creation. Now we wait and yearn for the coming of Christ, the Bridegroom, and long for the day that he will gather his Bride, the Church, into his kingdom when all things will be made new at the great wedding of heaven and earth.
They say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Very often the common phrases that we throw around when we do not know what else to say do not make a great deal of sense or, in many cases, simply are not true. This cliché, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not too different from those others; it is true in a certain sense for those who desire to be united again with the one from whom they are separated, but for those who wanted the separation to occur the cliché is false. It is only an unwanted absence that makes the heart grow fonder; a desired absence makes the heart grow cold and cruel.
We know this in our own lives. This is part of what makes the holiday season so very special and meaningful for us. This is the time of year when we visit with our relatives and friends with whom we have not spoken and whom we have not visited in some time. The early winter months are the time of year that we give to others and seek to reconnect with those whom we love. Each year we say we will be better at keeping in touch but rarely do we keep true to this promise. And between those with whom a deep emotional bond is shared, such an absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. The longer we are separated the greater our hope and desire of seeing each other becomes and when finally we are reunited, how great is our joy, because we are now with the one whom we love.
The same should be true of the Lord; his absence should make our hearts grow fonder. And from our experience with those around us, as our love grows and we long to be with someone, we grow tired and weary and exhausted as we wait and wait and wait to be with them. And so, today Holy Mother Church recognizes this fact and sees how tired our waiting for the Lord has made us and she gives this Sunday to rejoice heartily because the Lord for whom we wait is near. Because of this, Paul says to us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.”
Why does he say it twice? Says St. Anthony of Padua,
Note that he says ‘rejoice’ twice, because of the two-fold blessing of the first and second Advents. We should rejoice, because in his first coming he bestowed riches and glory on us. We should rejoice again, because in his second coming he will give us length of days (Third Sunday of Advent, 3).
But how do we rejoice in the Lord? St. Paul answers this question for us rather simply. He says to us:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).
We rejoice always whenever we keep our attention focused not on ourselves or on the things of this world, but on the Blessed Trinity and our heavenly homeland.
If we have faithfully kept the Advent watch and looked intently and prayerfully for the coming of Christ; if we have followed the counsel of John the Baptist, then today truly will be a day of great joy. If we have kept the Advent watch our hearts will have begun to ache within us as we continually have called out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Do not delay!” For us, today is truly a day to rest and to remember that the Lord Jesus is very near.
But if somehow our hearts do not ache with great fondness and love for Jesus Christ and a sincere desiring for his coming; if we have been distracted by the busy-ness of this time of year and have not properly focused on the coming of Christ, there still is cause here for joy today. John the Baptist was sent among us
to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God(Isaiah 61:1-2).
There is no reason for us to still be held captive by the bonds of sadness and despair; the chains of gloom and sin and death have been broken forever by Christ the Lord! Rejoice in the Lord always! He is victorious! The war is already won! Christ has conquered! Rejoice in the Lord!
John said to the Pharisees, “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). Jesus still is present among us even if we also do not recognize him. He comes to us each day through the Scriptures and through the Sacraments. He has already come among us in the proclamation of the Gospel and he will come us again in a most profound way in the Blessed Eucharist. In the presence of our Eucharistic King we should always rejoice and call to mind the prayer of St. Paul: “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. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).
Come, Lord Jesus!
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