We might have heard this multiple times, that the third Sunday of Advent is called the Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete meaning “rejoice”). The theme, “rejoice,” runs in all the readings of today beginning with the prophet Zephaniah who, ordinarily, is known for his writing about the Day of the Lord or judgment day. In today’s reading, the prophet invites the people of Israel to sing joyfully and to exult with gladness because the King of Israel is in their midst -anticipation.
Paul echoes the invitation repeatedly in the second reading with explicit words, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice.” It is paradoxical to think that Paul is writing this letter from a place of comfort. Rather, Paul is reaching out to the Philippian community from his prison, perhaps bound in chains. Can you imagine that a prisoner would be encouraging free people to have no anxiety at all, to show kindness and to be joyful. The message is that Paul reminds them of their source of joy. Identifying with the Lord’s presence surpasses every experience of suffering and is the reason for joy. Hence, Saint Paul encourages the community to commit to prayer and thanksgiving through which they encounter God.
What is different about John’s approach in the gospel? He answers the people’s question in real practical terms. John’s message reminds us how to be identified as Christians in the world, that Christians, especially Catholics, should be distinct, and easy to spot, for their good deeds. John guides the people to true joy found in conformity with Christ. Think about different category of persons who come to John. Each group has the same question -the crowd, tax collectors, and soldiers ask him, “What shall we do?” This is a question for every believer to ask, “What shall I do?” The first striking incident is that John’s message hits them hard in their existential life and relationship. Won’t I be happy if after Mass, people come to me to say, “Father, please what should I do? How should I be a better husband/wife? How should I be a better person in my place of work? How should I be a better nurse, caregiver, teacher? How should I be a better mechanic, engineer, banker, or salesman? Won’t it be awesome if catholic politicians and political representatives come to priests to ask what they could do to better defend human life and not make everything into selfish political goals? The people of John the Baptist’s time recognize that the voice of John could help them to conversion. Only then could they be joyful.
As preachers, we must place the gospel in practical context of daily living and be as sincere with telling the people what God wants of them as John the Baptist. The invitation from John is clear, those who have should remember those who do not have and share with them. Those placed in charge of public funds should not take advantage of their posts or use public funds in selfish manners. Are we any different in our business dealings and life than non-believers? Are we crooked? Do we ever rip people off, extort money or not pay people what we owe them? Do people know we are Catholic by our honesty, kindness and integrity? We all find ourselves in relationships, ask yourself today, what you should do as a husband, dad, wife, mom, or guardian, whether your faith influences how you show love to your spouse, your parenting values and skills.
God made us to be joyful people. St. Paul proves this by finding joy in prison. A beautiful narrative captures Paul’s missionary experience in Philippi (Acts chapter 16): “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). How could this be possible? The saints found peace and joy with lives despite facing problems. The actions of the Catholic martyrs in the coliseums, being fed to lions or speared by gladiators to entertain the crowd, left the party goers confused instead. The martyrs came out singing, praising God and forgiving their persecutors. They went to their deaths peaceful and joyful. How did the saints do it? How did the Virgin Mary have joy at the foot of the cross? Paul says to us, “in all circumstances give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). It means that nothing should take away joy in our lives not even sickness or suffering. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that should permeate our life, much deeper than happiness or success.
I am not sure if in your life today, you find that inner joy or not. What is one thing that steals your peace, your joy from you? Is it finances? Is it the actions of your boss, a co-worker or neighbor? Is it an annoying or even hurtful habit of your spouse or child? Is it the political situation of your country? Is it the COVID confusion? What is that one thing or situation that impedes your joy? Start simply and examine why it upsets you so much. Bring it to God. No one, no matter how annoying or rotten they are, can steal your joy. No situation either. You allow it to be stolen. There’s no such thing as the straw that broke the camel’s back. The camel was already overloaded. Why? Why are you allowing yourself to carry such burdens that make you miserable when Christ has said, “Come to me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest?” Look more deeply at the triggers in your life that steal your joy. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Here, we see the reason for authentic joy and peace, not in what we have, but in how we live. The rich may not find joy in money. Politicians may not find joy in running for campaigns and being in offices. Authentic joy can only be found in using our positions to improve the quality of life and in serving according to God’s will. Some of you here own businesses such as restaurants, mechanic shops, car dealer shops. Some of you own small scale businesses such as apparel, printing, rentals. Some may also be working for others. The question for all of us today is whether your faith makes a difference in the way you treat others outside the church. How does your attitude toward others produce joy? Advent is a good time for stocktaking. We must keep the Christian life real.
One take home today: Name one aspect or situation in your life that steals your joy. Examine it. Bring it to God and the confessional if necessary.
Readings: 1st- Zeph. 3:14-18; 2nd- Phil. 4:4-7; Gospel- Lk. 3:10-18