The challenge of Advent: do more than rejoice

Detail of "St. John the Baptist Preaching" by Mattia Preti, 1665. (Public domian)

Reflection on Mass readings for Dec. 17 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

This weekend, we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, this Sunday is referred to as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice,” and we rejoice because this is usually around the halfway point of Advent, and we are that much closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. However, this year we have the shortest Advent possible and we are only eight days away from Christmas. This may be the cause of great joy or great anxiety, depending on your point of view.

Regardless of your point of view, the first and second readings and the psalm speak to us about rejoicing and joy. Isaiah proclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” In the reading from Thessalonians, Paul tells us to “rejoice always” and the response to the psalm reminds us that our souls rejoice in the Lord.

Do we rejoice and what is it we are rejoicing?

We rejoice remembering Jesus’ birth that happened over two thousand years ago. We rejoice greatly in his presence in our lives today. We should rejoice in this every day. However, Advent is intended to be so much more. The Scripture readings challenge us with what we need to do, what we need to be.

The first part of the reading from Isaiah is one of the options for ordinations and confirmation and speaks to those being ordained or confirmed. Today, it speaks to all of us, the baptized. By virtue of our baptism, we experience an outpouring of the same Spirit Isaiah speaks about, the same Spirit that Jesus experienced at his baptism, and the same Spirit we are sealed with at confirmation. That Spirit sends us into the world to proclaim the presence of God in our lives.

The first section of the Gospel reading is often overlooked because we tend to focus on the second part, where John is questioned by the priests and Levites and then by the Pharisees. However, the beginning three verses of the reading are an important part of today’s message.

John was sent by God to testify to the light that all might believe through him. Baptism makes us members of God’s kingdom here on earth and as members, we are called to prepare the way for the kingdom; to announce the presence of God in the world.

It means we are sent to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.” It also means we are sent to “testify to the light,” so that others might believe through us.

This Third Sunday of Advent, we are called to rejoice and also to reflect on how we respond to the call, how we proclaim and testify to the kingdom. We have to ask ourselves if we are serious and steadfast in accepting this challenge from God.

What would happen if we were to take our baptismal charge seriously all the time and always testify to the presence of God in the here and now, not just in a kingdom to come at the end of time?

What would happen if we proclaimed in word and action the presence of God, not just on Dec. 25, but at all times and in all places?


Deacon Christopher Colville serves at Church of the Redeemer, Mechanicsville.


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