3rd Sunday of Advent 2011 Year B:
Rejoice, I say it again, rejoice the Lord is near at hand. This is the entrance antiphon to today's mass. The first word of this antiphon in Latin is Gaudete: rejoice. This is why we call this Sunday Gaudete Sunday. Liturgically we see that the joy of the celebration of Christmas is starting to sneak into the preparatory season of Advent. The first thing you notice is the fact that we have lit the pink candle and I'm wearing pink vestments (yes, they are pink… you can call them Rose all you want…). This is what happens when the white vestments of Christmas are mixed with the purple vestments of Advent. Also, you may have noticed a slight change in the opening prayer from the last couple of weeks: today we hear about the preparation for the feast of the Lord's nativity. Up to this point the focus of Advent has been preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord. Now we begin to prepare to celebrate the feast remembering the First Coming of the Lord at Christmas. Today's Mass shows us the link between these two events: Joy.
For two weeks the Church has been teaching us how we are to prepare ourselves for the Lord's coming. Two weeks ago we heard: grant us the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming. Last week we heard: let no earthly concern hinder those who have set out in haste to meet Christ. So the Church is teaching us that to be Christian, to be one of those who await the return of the Messiah, means to be running forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds. This season of Advent is a time of preparation and reflection, a time to ask ourselves if we run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds, or if we run away from him because of our sinfulness. This season is a time to heed the voice of John the Baptist: prepare the way of the Lord, open our hearts, repent of our sins. Yet, this can be disheartening and difficult. How does repentance take place? Where do we find the energy to run forth to meet Christ?
Here is where joy comes in. If our hearts are filled with the joy that can only come from God, we find the strength, the courage, and the desire to run forth to meet Christ. Sometimes we get the feeling that Christianity is all about morality. And it is certainly the case that the moral life is an important part of Christianity. To be followers of Christ means that we must leave behind our selfish sinfulness and embrace a life of virtue, but without joy we will never be able to do this, because we won't want to go through the hard work of conversion if there is no joy.
However, joy is not easy. It is not bubbly enthusiasm. Joy comes from knowing God's love, experiencing it and giving thanks for it. Joy comes from meeting Jesus, and becoming like him. Joy is at once a sign and requirement for developing the Christian attitude, for becoming like Jesus. St. Paul gives us a great lesson on the Christian attitude today in the second reading: rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances. These three commands of Paul tell us less about what we are to do and more about how we are to be. I would argue that if we could master these three things, the rest of our lives would really fall into line.
Rejoice, always. It is easy to rejoice sometimes: at the birth of a child, at getting a job or a promotion, at doing well in school or sports, when Indiana University beats number 1 Kentucky, etc. But these joys, great as they are, can be fleeting. There can also be many times of sadness in our lives: at the death of a loved one, at the suffering of another. Paul commands us to rejoice always. How do we get there?
Pray constantly. Paul does not mean that we spend our whole lives in the Church. Rather, all of our lives must be prayerful. And we must have a consistent life of personal prayer. Prayer is not so much about what we say, as it is about to whom we say it. Prayer is about establishing a relationship with God. If God is in our lives, we will be filled with joy. Not a passing joy, but a source of strength even in difficult times. If we really reflect upon God's goodness and his presence in our lives it should instantly turn into thanksgiving.
Here at this Mass we are fulfilling St. Paul's command: give thanks in all circumstances. We gather in joy to celebrate this holy Eucharist, to enter into this solemn worship. As we do so it is important for us to reflect upon God's goodness, to recognize his presence in our lives, and to turn to him in thanksgiving. All of which, again, should fill us with joy. Here is the program: pray, reflect on God's goodness (like Christmas), give thanks for these things and we will have joy. This joy will allow us to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds when he comes again. Our opening antiphon is so beautiful and it really gives us an insight into how we live a Christian life: Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again: rejoice for the Lord is near at hand.