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Reading                    I: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm                        Luke 1, 46-48. 49-50. 53-54
Reading                    II: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel:                     John 1:6-8, 19-28

A reading from the Holy Gospel of Saint John + (May the Word of the Lord be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Christ!

A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord; a voice cries out in the wilderness, make straight a highway for God (Joncas, 1981).

Today is the third Sunday of Advent.  Christmas is less than two weeks away.  We light the pink candle on our Advent wreath symbolizing this point in our journey to the Holy Feast.  Today is known as Gaudete Sunday, the Latin word for “Rejoice.”  Our readings are filled with upbeat joyful messages.  Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy speaks: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.”  Our psalm is from the Gospel of Luke or the famous Canticle of Mary.  Mary exclaims, “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my savior.”  This canticle is proclaimed in evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.  All ordained priests and deacons, and religious brothers and sisters say this prayer daily.  In our second reading, Saint Paul tells the ancient Christians in the City of Thessalonica, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Our Gospel from John tells us Jesus is “the light.” Our theme for today is the choice of joy and gratitude for the gift of God’s light of salvation.

You may know that originally in the Church calendar, Advent was a time of 40 days of fasting and prayer like Lent.  Gaudete Sunday was seen as the halfway point and people were allowed to “break-fast” on this day.  Around the time of Saint Francis in the twelfth century, the period became four weeks of spiritual preparation or around 28 days, yet Gaudete Sunday remained in tradition.  Above all, Advent is about the joy of salvation brought by Jesus in his first coming and the expectant joy of His final reign. Jesus comes to us once in human innocence.  He comes again in divine glory.

Turning our attention to the always challenging and interesting Gospel of John, we read about the character of the Baptizer.  For the second consecutive week, the readings focus our attention on John in the desert.  Last week, we read about his mission in Mark’s gospel.  This week, see him at work in the Gospel of John.  For a period of time, the Baptizer, who Luke tells us is the cousin of Jesus, is preaching a ministry of repentance along the River Jordan.  At some point, John travels to Bethany, roughly an equidistant spot between the river and the city of Jerusalem.  Now some chief priests from the city come to hear the preacher and question his origin and motives.  The priests ask him three times, who are you?  Interestingly, John answers in the negative:  I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah; I am not the prophet you expect. Finally, he identifies himself with Scripture from Isaiah; a verse John knows the priests know well: “I am a voice in the desert crying out: prepare the way of the Lord.”  Principally, John says I am a witness to the Messiah. John tells the priests, I am preaching a baptism of repentance because the Messiah is soon – in fact, He is in your midst, ministering in your homeland and you do not recognize Him or accept Him as Lord and Savior…but I do.  With all humility John says, He is so great, I am not worthy to stoop in front of Him and untie his sandals.  John knows salvation is not about him – it’s about Jesus.  And Jesus is the Messiah many do not expect or understand.

As we appreciate the Scriptures today, we may ask, what do these readings mean for me today?  I think our answer lies in the character and quality of John the Baptist and the meaning of Advent.

Who is John?  He is a witness.  What does he do?  His living is about preparing others to know the teachings and life of Jesus.  He is not the Word but points to the Word.  We too should be witnesses.  Our lives should mirror and point to the gentle, loving, merciful ways of Jesus.  Certainly, by our standards, and by the ideals of his own time, John was an odd duck.  He literally lived on the edge for God.  Living on the edge, his witness irritated the powerful people of his day.  John was not afraid to do what was right, and he was not afraid to say what was wrong.  He was not afraid to be less so His God would be more.  John was not full of himself.  John was filled with the Spirit of God.

Let’s combine these virtues of John the Baptist and this season of Advent.  John was a man who was spiritually unafraid.  Advent is about experiencing and choosing God as the joy of our soul.  To be joyful, we must be spiritually fearless.  Now the word joy is both a verb and a noun.  Joy is a state of happiness or a cause of delight.  Fear is the enemy of joy.  Many have written, the phrase “be not afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times, or perhaps one time each day, God’s word reminds us to be fearless.  Jesus knows from experience that it’s not easy to be human.  His Word tells us that each day we must choose joy and faith over fear and doubt.  To chase away thoughts of fear and depression, especially in this holy season, we need to count our blessings instead of our woes.  We need to number our strengths instead of our weaknesses.  We need to be grateful for today and not worry about tomorrow.  John the Baptist was an Advent person – he chose to point the compass of his life to eternity instead of chasing after the past. I think joy is a habit and all habits are learned.  Everyone goes through discouragement and suffering.  Everyone experiences illness and fear.  Everyone struggles in some area of life. Yet all of us, by God’s grace, may choose Jesus as our friend and Savior.  Everyone, by choice, can trust our past to God’s mercy and our future to God’s providence.  All of us need help in our spiritual walk on this earth. If you need help finding joy, seek it from the Scriptures, from Church, and most importantly, put your life in God’s hands. Receive Jesus in the Eucharist with a grateful, reverent, and humble heart.

I share this quote from the great Saint Francis De Sales, Bishop of Geneva, 1622:

“Do not fear what may happen tomorrow.  The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.  Either he will shield you from suffering or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”

I leave you with this spiritual truth. God loves you deeply. He is your Savior and friend. He forgives the sins of the past and has a wonderful destiny for your future. Carry His love to others in word and deed. You will not be disappointed in choosing a spiritual life of joy. Gaudete, my friends, rejoice!

References:

Joncas, M. (1981). A voice cries out in the wilderness. OCP Publications. Copyright owned by the Jan Michael Joncas Trust.

De Sales, F. (1622).  A Selection from the Spiritual Letters of S. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Prince of Geneva. by Francis, de Sales, Saint, 1567-1622; Lear, H. L. Sidney https://archive.org/details/ASelectionFromTheSpiritualLetters

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