Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice," and the name comes from the opening word of the Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass. Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est. Which means, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near."Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.
This joyful theme is repeated in today's readings. In the first reading from Zephaniah (Zep 3:14-18a) we are told, "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! ... The Lord, your God, is in your midst."
In our responsorial psalm today we acclaim, "Cry out with joy and gladness, for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel."
In our second reading (Phil 4:4-7), St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! ... The Lord is near."
Today is a festive day indeed. In the penitential season of Advent, a season of preparation, we pause and express our great joy and excitement for we know that the one we are preparing for is just around the corner. His arrival is imminent. In today's world, it is as if a family member you have not seen in a very long time sends you a text message saying, "the plane just landed, I'll be home soon." His arrival is closer to being a reality. It changes from something you simply long and hope for, to something you can actually see on the horizon. Excitement and anxiety builds. Last minute preparations are made.
What last minute preparations do we need to make for Christ's arrival? That is the question put to John the Baptist in today's gospel (Lk 3:10-18). His answer seems simple. If you have two cloaks, share with the person who has none. To the tax collectors, he tells them to stop taking more from the people than the law asks for. To soldiers, stop extorting people. In other words, behave yourself. These are lessons parents teach their children: share, be fair, play nice.
The heart of John's message is this: be generous; be selfless; think of others before yourself. Be satisfied with what you have.
We prepare for Christ's coming by "being on our best behavior" because, as John describes it, Jesus is coming to clean house. "His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
One may find it a bit unusual to read about burning in unquenchable fire on a Sunday that is supposed to be about rejoicing. How is eternal punishment joyful?
We rejoice because we can avoid that fate. This is John's message. Repent, ask for forgiveness, and change your selfish ways. Begin living for others, and you may save your own life. For those suffering from oppression, hardship, and injustice, the coming Reign of Christ is indeed a cause for rejoicing, for all will be set right. The wicked shall be punished, while the lowly and righteous shall be exalted.
For those whose hearts are turned to God, today is a day for rejoicing. St. Paul's tells us to have no anxiety at all. In everything, give thanks to God. "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
John the Baptist tells the soldiers to be happy with their wages. St. Paul tells us to be thankful in all things. Can we make those sentiments a reality in our lives? As children, we look forward to Christmas often with more anticipation about the new toys we expect to get, than excitement over the birth of Christ. Suddenly the games and gadgets we already have look tired and old. They fail to satisfy us; we long for the new toys that Santa will bring. Even as adults we are groomed by society to feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction this time of year. As the year draws to a close we are expected to make "New Year's Resolutions" and think about how we can make things better for ourselves. I want to get a raise next year. I want to loose weight. I want to make better grades.
Improving ourselves is a noble goal, of course. But the biggest improvement we can make is to be thankful for what we have now. Do we recognize the gifts God has already given us in our lives? Are we satisfied with them? If we are, then, like St. Paul, we need feel no anxiety. We know we are being cared for. We know we are beloved of God.
So today, be joyful. Be calm. Be thankful. And stand ready to accept the gift of God's peace that He longs to give you. The Lord is near. Gaudete!