“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Every third Sunday of Advent, the Church rejoices. This is known as “Gaudete Sunday”, which uses the Latin word for “rejoicing”. But, we’re still in the season of Advent, a penitential season. We are still in preparation for the coming of the Lord. In this way, the Lord is not here. Why are we rejoicing? Because “the Lord is near”.
My brother and his family are rejoicing because my nephew Ryan, their oldest child, is returning home for Christmas break soon after spending almost the entire semester at college. They are so happy that his return home is near. So many people will have the exciting experience of picking someone up from the airport for the holidays that they haven’t seen for so long. One of the best examples, though, of rejoicing at the nearness of someone’s arrival is a new baby. Of course, that is what we do at Christmas: welcome the baby Jesus. Waiting for a new baby might be the preeminent experience of being excited for someone’s near arrival. To use a phrase from today’s Gospel (Luke 3), we are “filled with expectation” throughout the Advent season for the arrival of our Lord.
This is what the Church is doing for us today by giving us “Rejoicing Sunday”. She reminds us the reason for the season which is the coming of the Lord. “The Lord is near!” While we will still endure the remaining days of Advent, we are uplifted by the announcement that the Lord is close. As we pass the halfway point and head for the home stretch, the Church gives us encouragement. “The Lord is near!”
For some, hearing that Advent is halfway over may be more of an alarm than a sound for rejoicing. They might be asking what the crowds asked John the Baptist, “what should we do?” If you feel that you haven’t been tuned into Advent yet and want to finish strongly, the first thing I would say is what St. Paul wrote, “have no anxiety at all”. This in general is easier said than done, I know. But, be at peace. The Lord has given us much practical advice through the sacred authors in today’s readings for the remaining part of our Advent journey:
1. PRAY EVERY DAY: “make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving”
2. DONATE TO THE OUTREACH CENTER: “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise”
3. GO TO CONFESSION: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.
Regarding the third suggestion, it seems to me that more people here are going which is awesome. We had a beautiful and inspiring turnout on Wednesday night for the Penance Service. Overall, more parishioners here are responding to the words of St. John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance and forgiveness of sins. And, as I’ve been saying to you for three years now, an increase in frequency in the Sacrament of Confession is an increase in freedom. This means that Confession helps us to be free from sin and more fully enjoy a clean house in preparation of the Lord’s Coming, but also it means to be free to be the people we truly want to be.
Gaudete Sunday is special for me here every year because I rejoice in being your pastor. I echo the Lord’s sentiments of you through the prophet Zephaniah: “The Lord, your God …will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals”. I sing joyfully because of you throughout the year but especially upon Advent reflection and universal rejoicing today. “I shall say it again: rejoice!”
May you know the peace of Christ,