REJOICE, THE LORD IS NEAR!
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11,
Responsorial (Magnificat) Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54,
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24,
John 1:6-8, 19-28
In what some might call “the good old days,” this Sunday was called “Gaudete Sunday,” from the first word of the Introit Verse in Latin meaning “Rejoice.” Today the priest has the option of wearing rose vestments instead of violet, and we light the rose candle on the Advent wreath. St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…the Lord is near” (Phil. 4:4-5). This current of joy and expectation runs throughout today’s liturgy.
The first reading today from Isaiah is interesting because it happens to include the very verses that Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue as he began his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he 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 and a day of vindication by our God.” We recall that when Jesus started preaching on this text, it upset his listeners so much that they wanted to throw him off a cliff (cf. Luke 4:28-30). I’ve stood on the very cliff that Nazareth is built on and can testify that it is very steep!
Today we focus on the “glad tidings” the Lord brings: healing, liberty, and release – “a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.” The reading ends with what sounds like Mary’s Magnificat: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” This is a beautiful word of joy, salvation, and hope as we look forward to the coming of the Lord. Instead of the customary psalm, today’s Responsorial is actually verses from the Magnificat – honoring Our Lady on this Third Sunday of Advent.
As last Sunday’s gospel from Mark featured John the Baptist, so does today’s gospel from John. The focus is on the humility of John the Baptist. He was not himself the light, but was to testify to the light. John answered honestly that he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. He quoted Isaiah 40 as in last week’s gospel and said, “I am a voice in the desert crying out: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’”
Again, John says that there is one coming after him, whose sandals he is not worthy to unfasten. Just a few verses later in the chapter, John would describe Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and the one who would “baptize in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). No wonder that Jesus would later praise his cousin, John the Baptist, as “a prophet and more than a prophet” (Matt. 11:9; Luke 7:26) and say that “there is no one born of woman greater than John” (Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28).
Our second reading continues the theme of “rejoicing” today as St. Paul says: “Rejoice always; pray constantly; in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” St. Paul adds a prayer that his readers be “perfect in holiness and preserved whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul then ends with a tremendous promise: “He who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” How can we not take great hope and joy from that verse! It’s a good verse to commit to memory and to use when we feel our weakness.
“REJOICE IN THE LORD”
There is a Scripture version which translates the above as, “Make God your only joy.” It may well be very challenging to find much joy as we approach Christmas in a year as difficult as this one. But we can determine to “Take delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4). We can “find joy in God my Savior” as Mary did in the Magnificat. Today’s readings comfort us but also challenge us to “make God our only joy.” God may allow us to go through temptation, trial and testing, but will always provide a way of escape so that we can bear it (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). And for that, we can surely rejoice!