3rd Sunday of Advent
Historically, this weekend was called “Gaudete Sunday,” taking its name from the first word in the Latin Introit, or Entrance Antiphon. “Gaudete” meant “to rejoice.” The Church calls us to rejoice, not that the penitential season is closing soon, but that the coming of Jesus at Christmas is near.
To symbolize this joyful expectation, the old rubrics required celebrants at Mass to wear vestments of rose color. It was not a diluted violet, or purple. Rather, it was the somber violet lifted by the brilliant gold of the distant sunrise of Christ’s coming.
Few biblical readings could be more joyful and excited than this passage from the Book of Isaiah. The reading is a proclamation of vindication and of salvation. God’s majesty and goodness are triumphant, vindicating not only the fidelity of the truly loyal believers but also the constant mercy of God.
The reading is a celebration of salvation. God’s people, long at risk and indeed downtrodden, are saved by God’s almighty power.
Surely contributing to the eloquence of this passage is its splendid imagery of geography in the Middle East, particularly in the Holy Land, and in its references to human difficulties overcome by the loving power of God.
For its second reading, the Church this weekend presents a selection from the Epistle of James.
This reading recalls a mood very prevalent in the early Church. Problems beset Christians, not the least of them hostilities springing from the materialistic, pagan Roman imperial culture. Of course, eventually these hostilities would lead to political acts. Christians would be persecuted.
Understandably, Christians yearned to see Jesus return in splendor and victory to earth. After all, this had been promised.
The reading from James reassures Christians, calling them to await the Lord’s coming in virtue and in patience. But, the reading insists, the Lord indeed will come again!
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Again, as last weekend, John the Baptist is the central figure. Imprisoned, John hears of Jesus. He wonders if Jesus of whom he hears stories is truly the promised messiah of Israel, or is Jesus someone else? So, John sends emissaries to Jesus to discover the Lord’s identity.
Responding, Jesus describes a situation that clearly informed John. The lame walk. The blind see. The poor hear the Good News of hope and salvation.
By contrast, Jesus knows who John is. Jesus sees John as a prophet and holy man who speaks the word of God.
Advent is the season in which the Church bids us to prepare for the coming of Christ. Of course, it looks ahead to the liturgical event of Christmas that recalls the actual birth of Jesus as a human. Son of God, Jesus truly was the human son of Mary. He was born in Bethlehem.
With James, the Church anticipates the future, final coming of Jesus. All will be made right. Jesus truly will be victorious.
These readings excitedly look forward to both Christmas and to the Second Coming.
More directly, the readings summon us to make the coming of Christ a personal event by transforming ourselves through prayer, penance and with a determination to be worthy dwelling places for the living Christ. Thus, the Church in these weeks of Advent asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lord. If we have paused after these first three weeks, the Church calls us to renew our determination to be ready for Christmas and for our personal reception of Jesus.
The Gospel focuses upon Jesus. The Lord alone can guide us to God. Jesus knows the answer to every question. He knows every person’s true identity. No human, however good, can be as trustworthy and sure a guide. He knows all. He is God, coming to us. He is our salvation.
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