Father Donald Senior, CP

Dec. 13: Third Sunday of Advent

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Is 61:1-2, 10-11; Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice.” This Sunday’s readings, especially the first two, ring with exuberant joy. 

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by citing this same powerful prophetic text of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth as the keynote of his own mission: “The Lord God has sent me 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.”

It is the liberating power of God’s own Spirit that Isaiah speaks of and which Jesus embodies: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” That dynamic spirit leads to pure joy: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul!” The power of God’s Spirit to fill us with abundant life and joy is the underlying motif of this Gaudete Sunday.

Normally, the responsorial is taken from the psalms, but on this Sunday the response is from another hymn to joy, the Magnificat, the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here, Luke presents a scene of exquisite beauty. Mary comes from Nazareth in Galilee to the Judean hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. 

Both women are pregnant in unanticipated ways: Mary, a virgin, is bearing a child conceived by the power of God’s own Spirit; Elizabeth, along with her husband, Zachary, old and presumably infertile, also conceives a child through the power of the Spirit. In fact, the whole wonderful scene brims with the joy of the Spirit.

Luke notes that Elizabeth is “filled with the Spirit.” She is dazzled that “the mother of my Lord” should visit her and at that moment her baby, John, leaps with joy in her womb. Mary herself breaks out in a song of joy and triumph: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

Paul echoes the same joyous melody in his letter to the Thessalonians, which is the first letter he wrote. “Rejoice always,” he tells this fragile community in northern Greece, “pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. … 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.”

Continuing the Advent theme, we are reminded of John the Baptist’s role as herald of Jesus’ life-giving mission. This time the description is from the prologue of the Gospel of John. The Baptist “testifies to the light” that is Jesus — the one who is about to appear and the Word made flesh.

The Spirit of God is portrayed in the Scriptures as the impact of God’s presence among us. Because God is the source of all life, the presence of the divine Spirit brings dynamic life and the kind of joy that spills over in the biblical scenes of this Sunday. 

We know that Advent will issue in Christmas, the feast of joy that celebrates the birth of Jesus and the wonder of the Incarnation. How joyful can we be this Christmas? The lingering impact of the pandemic threatens the normal joys our families strive to celebrate at Christmas time — gathering together, exchanging gifts, for a moment, at least, being with people we love. We know this year will not be Christmas as usual, no matter how hard we try. 

But is also true that the sobering realities of the pandemic can invite us to go deeper into our hearts and souls. Beneath all the very human and worthy joys we celebrate at Christmas we can discover a foundation for joy that no virus or setback can take away from us. 

“God is faithful,” Paul reminds the Thessalonians and us. We are the temples of God’s own Spirit and no threat can separate us from God’s unending love. That is a reason for joy that never ends.


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