Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Third Sunday of Advent - Rejoice Always!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.
- Philippians 4:4-5
Entrance Antiphon for
the Third Sunday of Advent

On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Church gives us a very specific mandate: Rejoice! And, during these pre-Christmas days, it seems that there is joy all around us. And yet, the words of the essayist William Stringfellow give us pause: “For the greeting card sentiment and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing. In any case, maybe the outbursts of either frolicking and rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility. He identifies repentance as the sentiment of Advent” (from Advent as a Penitential Season).

Icon of St. John the Baptist, "Angel of the Desert"
(17th century, Russia)
The themes of judgment, repentance, and salvation which emerge in the Gospel today seem to be at odds with the spirit of Christian joy to which we are also called. John the Baptist, the prophet par excellence, proclaims the coming of the Christ as he calls his hearers to lead lives worthy of the new age of the Messiah: give up extortion and avarice and begin sharing with those who are in need. Reject racism, classicism, and prejudice and recognize those things that we share, which unite us as children of God. In short, manifest your interior faith through works of charity, peace, and justice.

How can we reconcile these seemingly disparate ideas of repentance and joy? In answering this question, we can take a cue from Thomas Merton who observed that the “‘King who is to come’ is more than a charming smiling infant in the straw… In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to his presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies” (Seasons of Celebration).

What we prepare to commemorate at Christmas has actually already happened: God is with us. John the Baptist’s clarion call for repentance is an exhortation for us to acknowledge the presence of Christ among us and to live accordingly (cf. John 1:19-28). And so, our Advent-hope and joy are not only focused on the approach of Christmas Day. Rather, we rejoice because God has kept his promises and has given us love and truth in Jesus: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus… The one who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 24a).

A Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent +
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



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