“Rose” Sunday in Advent calls us to rejoice, even in a penitential season. Will our readings show us how?
Gospel (Read Lk 3:10-18)
Traditionally, Catholics observe the third Sunday of Advent as “rose” Sunday, or “Gaudete” Sunday, which is Latin for “rejoice.” This is a beautiful reminder that although our preparation for the coming of the Lord has directed our attention inward, calling us to be ready to face our sin in an active way, the reason for this self-examination is one that should bring us boundless joy. Our Gospel reading helps us begin to see this.
St. Luke tells us that John the Baptist’s preaching aroused a response in the crowds who came to hear him. They understood he was calling them to a decision about how they lived their lives with God: “What should we do?” This is the same exact question that the crowds who heard St. Peter first preach the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost asked, too (see Acts 2:37). John had a ready answer for them, and it is not, perhaps, the answer they might have expected. He did not tell them to pray more, give more alms, or spend more time at the Temple. No, his reply was not pious that way. Those who wanted to be ready for the Messiah’s appearance were to look around them for people who were in need and do something about it. Anyone with food or clothing to spare should be willing to share with his needy neighbor. In other words, sacrificial love of neighbor was a good way to prepare to see God.
Tax collectors, who were often considered to be reprobates by respectable Jews, wanted to know what they should do: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” They had been lining their pockets by skimming the top off the excessive taxes they collected. Soldiers were also in the crowd, and they asked John for specific direction about preparing for the Messiah’s appearance. The answer came back: be honest, be fair, be content with their wages. Behind all these exhortations is a challenge: be willing to let go of what matters most to you (often possessions or money) for the sake of love, truth, and justice. John the Baptist called the Jews to a radical re-commitment to their covenant with God. The Law of Moses provided a way of life that was ordered to man’s happiness. It directed men and women to live in harmony with the way God designed them. It made freedom from self-love, the deadly poison of sin that always robs us of our true joy, possible.
See that when the people heard what John had to say, they were “filled with expectation.” This kind of talk, recalling them to what they knew was a truly good way to live, stirred them to wonder if perhaps John was the Messiah. John immediately ended that speculation: “I am baptizing you with water, but One mightier than I is coming.” The mission of the Messiah would also be to call God’s people to a renewal of covenant love for God and man, but His baptism would be “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The Messiah would challenge men and women to seek a new life with God, then He would give His life to enable them to live that life. His appearance would be a time of life-and-death decision, a time for the “fall and rising of many in Israel” (see Lk 2:34).
We might think John’s preparatory work was somber and somewhat downbeat, because of its emphasis on self-denial; a penitential liturgical season like Advent can seem that way, too. Look, however, at how St. Luke describes John’s preaching: “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.” Good news! When the call to clarity in life comes to us, rousing us from the stupor sin can cause, in which our destiny as children made in God’s image and likeness becomes blurred, we should really have only one reaction: Rejoice!
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me practice the self-denial that leads to joy this Advent.
First Reading (Read Zep 3:14-18a)
In our Gospel, John the Baptist prepares for the imminent appearance of the Messiah by preaching a call to repentance. In this reading, the prophet, Zephaniah, centuries before the birth of Christ, calls God’s people to prepare for “the King of Israel, the LORD” in a different way: “Shout for joy…sing joyfully…be glad and exult with all your heart.” Why can God’s people be so jubilant? Because “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” Zephaniah prophesies the coming of the Messiah Who is also the Savior: “The LORD has removed the judgment against you; He has turned away your enemies.”
John the Baptist helped the Jews understand that their “enemies” weren’t the Romans who occupied their land. What robbed them of their glory as God’s people was their sin. Jesus was coming to deal a definitive deathblow to this enemy. In His Second Coming, He will defeat death itself as He ushers in the life of the world to come (see 1 Cor 15:26; Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14). Not only should God’s people rejoice over this, but Zephaniah says God Himself “will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in His love; He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” Let us pause to ponder this astonishing promise of Jesus singing joyfully over us. We have a foretaste of this every time we hear a priest chanting the liturgy at Mass. Christ, in the person of the priest, sings with joy in our midst. Even in a penitential season, how can we resist rejoicing over this?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, it is our joy to give You joy, to give You a reason to sing.
Psalm (Read Isa 12:2-6)
The psalm reading is actually from the prophet, Isaiah. The Church gives it to us today to provide an appropriate expression for our great joy over the anticipation of Jesus’ presence in our midst—begun at His first coming, continued now in veiled ways, and universally established in His Second Coming. Even though we are now in Advent, doing the serious work of preparation and being ready for Jesus, the Church breaks into this intense time with a burst of jubilation. We simply cannot suppress the joy of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Phil 4:4-7)
St. Paul knows that the fundamental response to the Christian life is joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Why can we, at all times and everywhere, be so full of joy? St. Paul explains: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” No anxiety at all? Not even over our sin in this penitential season? No, not even now. Whatever troubles us, whether in ourselves or in our circumstances, can be turned into prayer with the sure confidence that God loves and hears us. We are not alone: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
If we take this promise to heart and practice it diligently, it will drive away sadness, despair, and fear: “The Lord is near.” Amen.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, help me remember to turn my anxiety today into a prayer, with thanksgiving. I need Your peace.