MESSAGE: 3rd Sunday in ADVENT 12th December 2021
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Advent is about Christ appearing, coming. It’s about God showing up and keeping his promises.
God, through Zephaniah, offers us glimpses of a hopeful future and calls us to “Rejoice and exult with all our heart.” Isaiah reminds us of the ways God has delivered us, is delivering us, and will deliver us. He invites us to shout aloud and sing for joy because we shall “draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.” And our cheerleader, St. Paul, strongly urges us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”
We have been experiencing tough times these last few years. With the suffering, loss, uncertainty, and state of our beautiful and broken world, how can we hear these words and rejoice?
During Advent we are attentive, our eyes peeled for any indication of God’s coming. Scripture and history are filled with witnesses throughout the ages who testify to God’s trustworthiness and to the reality that God appears in a thousand different ways, in the mundane goings-on of our lives and in the world.
As Paul reminds us, “the Lord is near.” God is always near enough to be found and to find us—even in our darkest night. But perhaps we are weak in faith, or tired, or sick, or doubting. Maybe we are weary and wary. Perhaps we do not quite believe anymore, even though we want to—the problem of evil is too much. It could be that we have convinced ourselves that God appears and is attentive to others but not to us. How on earth can Paul tell us to “rejoice in the Lord always” and not to be “anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” to bring our requests to God? It seems unrealistic and incredible.
But then I think about how Paul wrote these things from prison.
What is to be done when we are not feeling the Advent spirit and cannot rejoice or live close to anxiety-free, as Paul exhorts us?
- I offer no formula, but here are a few things I try to do:
- I express my feelings to trusted others. I confess the state I am in.
- I phone a friend.
- I come up with five things I am thankful for.
- I recall God’s faithfulness to me and to others.
- I do spiritual reading—Scripture, books, devotionals.
- I surround myself with beauty, which draws me to God.
- I go outside to feel the breeze and see the trees
- I keep my eyes peeled for traces of God.
- I try to take my eyes off myself by engaging in service to others.
- I watch videos that make me laugh and try to think about what Jesus might have laughed at and about what might make God laugh now.
- I listen to how God is present in the lives of others.
- I listen to beautiful music.
- I go on a date with my husband.
What helps you anticipate and see God’s coming during Advent, especially when it’s hard to sense God’s presence?
Advent is not only a season for waiting. It is also a time of preparation – a time of looking for the coming of the Lord, for the fulfillment of God’s promised restoration, for the peace that overcomes all violence, and for that perfect love that casts out fear.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He was sent into difficult, complicated times – times like we are experiencing. And his message was simple: repent; turn your lives around; turn back to God. For John, repentance was not about beating ourselves up for things done or left undone; to repent meant total transformation – transformation that bears fruit.
Snakes are what John the Baptist calls the people who venture into the desert: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Yet, they do not turn and run. Instead, they listen to his sermon. You must bear fruit, he tells them. Do not rely on your ancestry, your tradition, or your history. This is about you preparing yourselves for the One who is to come. When John finished preaching, they asked “How do we repent?” “What should we do?”
John doesn’t ask the people to change the world, but rather to change themselves. He doesn’t tell them to leave their lives and stay with him or start a revolution; he tells the crowds who came to him to consider sharing what they have with the cold and hungry. He told the tax collectors to be honest and fair. The soldiers, he cautioned to act with integrity, avoiding abuse of their power. “Go home,” John told them. Go home to your families, your neighbours, your vocations, your friends. Go home and live your lives as deeply and as generously as you can right now. Do what the Lord requires of you and do it now. Be generous now – Be merciful now – Do justice now.
What does this all mean for us? In this Advent season, are we seeking the answers to the question “What should we do?” As we wait and as we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, are we engaging in the kind of deep self-reflection that leads to action? Or have we fallen into complacency? Are we gathering like the crowds in John’s story, moving toward genuine repentance? Or are we turning away? In our baptisms, we are marked as Christ’s own forever, and it is the meaning of this mark that John called his followers to embrace – and is calling us to embrace. Through baptism, we are cleansed and renewed with water from the springs of salvation before being sent out to serve.
We might think that focusing our attention on what we long for but do not yet have might be a cause for discouragement rather than joy. But, perhaps, it is that very act of watching and waiting and looking for the coming of God that inspires great joy. The Gospel writer calls John’s exhortation “good news.” And it is, especially if we believe that we are not worthy of God’s saving grace. Nothing in our lives is beyond redemption. Knowing and accepting this is reason enough for rejoicing.
This is not easy. That’s why it takes intentional preparation and repentance – which means amending our lives and turning toward God. That is what we must do to prepare in this holy season. Advent is beckoning us to do just that, and it encourages us with a promise, rather than a threat: the promise of the coming embrace of Christ and the gift of abundant life that he brings.
John the Baptist appeared as an itinerant preacher. Yet, ironically, he is remembered by the Church as the patron saint of spiritual joy. Perhaps he earned that title since, earlier in Luke’s gospel, Elizabeth voiced how the baby in her womb leaped for joy at the presence of Mary and Jesus. It was John’s great joy to always be pointing to Jesus. Today, it is our great joy to be waiting for the coming of Jesus.
On this Gaudete Sunday, as we wait and prepare, we are also called to rejoice.
The coming of the Messiah and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the Good News the angel will speak of when appearing to the shepherds, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”
This brings us hope even amid our struggles so that when the Christ child arrives at the manger, we can rejoice and sing with gusto, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come.”
For now, we pray, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”