Father Donald Senior, CP

Dec. 12: Third Sunday of Advent

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

God is singing!

Zep 3:14-18; Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word “rejoice.” The idea is that we are almost through the preparatory season of Advent, and Christmas is not far away. 

It is time to take a bit of a break. The celebrant can wear rose-colored vestments today and you can have a pink candle lit in your Advent wreath.

The readings for today certainly have a spirit of joy about them. The first reading is from the prophet Zephaniah, one of the so-called minor prophets in the Bible. The book dates from the seventh century B.C., not long before the Babylonian exile. 

Zephaniah’s message is often dour, but not here in this exuberant passage: “Sing for joy, O daughter Zion, sing joyfully, O Israel! ... The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst!”

A unique and striking image comes at the end of the reading. God’s love for Israel is so great that the Lord, too, “rejoices over you with gladness and renew(s) you in his love.” 

Even more, God is delighted to be with Israel, so much so that “he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals!”

Can you imagine this? The transcendent and mighty God, the Lord of the universe, taking the stage at a music festival and singing with joy for you!

The other readings also brim with a spirit of joy. The “psalm” response this Sunday is actually a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Again, joy breaks out because of God’s presence in the midst of the people: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” 

The prophet cannot suppress his joy: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid … With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation … Shout with exaltation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!”

The name for this Sunday — Gaudete — is taken directly from our second reading, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. 

I think Paul had a special love for this community. It was the first place he visited as his missionary travels took him from Asia Minor to the continent of Europe. There he was received warmly by Lydia, who was so taken by Paul that she invited him and his companions to stay at her home. 

In this concluding section of his letter, Paul leaves a final loving exhortation: “Brothers and sisters; rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The Gospel scene for today is more sober, portraying John the Baptist at work, urging the crowds to change their way of life and live justly and generously. The reason? Because the Lord is near. The advent of Christ is precisely the “good news” that John preaches to the people.

There is a common thread running through the readings for this Sunday and its accent on joy. There are, of course, plenty of reasons for sadness and anxiety, both on the turbulent world stage, but also in the smaller but vital arenas of our families and communities.  

Advent invites to sink beneath our anxieties to the deepest level of reality disclosed by our Christian faith. God is with us. He is not just with us as the ground of all being, but with us, loving us intensely, so much so that in Jesus the divine becomes human, giving his life to express that love in unimpeachable terms. 

Our belief in the Incarnation is the foundation on which our faith stands, the ultimate source of strength and reason for hope that enables us to bear our burdens.

I can see it now — the almighty God mounts the steps to the stage and begins to sing for us, “joyfully, as one does at festivals.”



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