Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - December 13, 2020
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near!
On this Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), the Church exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always… the Lord is near!” The prayers and the scriptures of this day emphasize the joy of anticipating the Lord’s coming, and they reveal the mood of the entire liturgy as we prepare to move into the second half of Advent this week. The scriptures, in particular, written and proclaimed originally to our biblical ancestors, are most appropriate as they speak to today.
In the First Reading, we hear Isaiah proclaiming God’s Word to the Israelites as he and they returned from exile in Babylon. The prophet exults in his call as the bearer of God’s glad tidings: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation.” Jesus will use this same passage from Isaiah to inaugurate his ministry of bringing salvation for us all (Luke 4:16 ff.). But here, today, we are being encouraged to join with Isaiah, who rejoices not so much in what God has done but in what God promises to do for His people in the future by making “justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
Our Response to the readings echoes Isaiah’s rejoicing heartily in the Lord, but draws from Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul rejoices in my God.” With Mary we sing of the greatness of God that reverses and corrects the injustices and wrongs of the world. She reminds us that something new is happening and that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ who brings God’s justice and mercy.
John the Baptist returns in today’s Gospel to continue the work of helping us prepare for the coming of the Lord. John makes it clear that “he came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” John denies that he is the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet. He is simply the one who prepares the way for the greater one who is coming after him.
Together, Isaiah, Mary, and John the Baptist help us prepare and to focus more closely on the God who comes to save us. They strengthen our anticipation and encourage us be hopeful and, yes, joyful. Our joy is based on that constant awareness that, despite the sufferings and difficulties we face, God is always present to us. Despite the heartaches and crises that we face and the moments of forgetting or even abandoning God, God does not leave us alone or turn away from us. When we are tempted to think that he might, we do well to reflect on the advice and encouragement that Saint Paul gave to the Thessalonians in today’s Second Reading.
Paul urged the Thessalonians to rejoice always, in all circumstances, anticipating the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He also tells them and us to pray all the time and thank God no matter what happens, because this is the way God wants those who belong to Jesus Christ to live. Paul exhorts us to be open to the Holy Spirit, to check out everything to keep what is good, and to throw out anything tainted with evil. Paul closes with a prayer that reminds us that God is always faithful. “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.” Paul finishes his prayer with a reminder: The one who calls us is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” What God says, He will do!
Today we pray that our Lord will bring His light into whatever darkness we experience – not only in our world, but also in our lives. May our Lord fill our poverty with His justice, heal our brokenness with His forgiveness, and enable us to follow the example of our Advent prophets, Isaiah, Mary, and John the Baptist, to proclaim God’s blessing and mercy in our midst and give voice to God’s love among us.