3rd Sunday in Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Responsorial – Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 (Isaiah 61:10b)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 17, 2017
As we have seen the last two weeks, our liturgical color for Advent is violent (we typically say purple). As we celebrate this third Sunday of Advent our banners, cloths, and the cinctures wore by our altar servers remain violent to remind us of Advent as a time to think about our readiness and what we need to change in our lives to prepare for Jesus’ coming.
However, I am not wearing violent. My chasuble is rose-colored. It is a color of warmth. It reminds us to “rejoice.” Today is what is known as Gaudete Sunday. The word “Gaudete” means rejoice.
We need to think about our readiness but not to feel gloom and doom but rather to feel hope, hope made possible because we know of God’s love for us. Gaudete Sunday is to remind us that even during our Advent reflection we can rejoice.
We hear of “rejoicing” in our first reading as Isaiah says, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” We hear in our responsorial today that comes from Mary’s magnificent as she visits her relative Elizabeth after learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Mary says, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
We hear in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he writes, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.”
Even our gospel today that does not use the word “rejoice” shows a rejoicing spirit from John the Baptist. He knows Jesus is about to come. He is happy for this and he wants all to be able to enjoy Jesus’ coming so he calls them to “make straight the way of the Lord.” John wants all to be able to rejoice at Jesus’ coming. John points to Jesus.
We want to “rejoice always” but the reality is we don’t always feel like rejoicing. Sometimes bad things happen. We lose a loved one or face a serious illness. We might struggle to make ends meet. In these times it might seem difficult, if not impossible, to rejoice. Yet, we hear Paul’s words, “In all circumstances, give thanks.”
How are we to give thanks in “all circumstances”?
It’s not that we are to be thankful for the bad things that happen but when things don’t go the way we want, we need to think about how God gets us through those times. We can recall Mary’s words, “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” She goes on to speak of how “He has come to the help of his servant Israel.”
It’s not that God whisks away all our problems, that should be obvious. We know we face earthly struggles that seem to bind us. This is where I turn to Isaiah’s words that he has been sent to “to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
Isaiah wrote these words to the Israelites who had just been sent free from exile in Babylon. So, the words “captives” and “prisoners” would first be heard by them in that context. However, there is a deeper meaning to what we read in scripture beyond the moment in time in which it is written.
What are we “captive” to today? What is holding us “prisoner”?
I see two things, “sin” and “mammon.” Sin holds us captive by separating us from God’s love. It can compound this by the way sin blinds us and leads us into further sin. We might start with a small sin but then we sin further by lying about to cover it up. As such, not only does our sin separate us from God but it controls our subsequent actions.
What about “mammon”? Mammon is material wealth. Just last week I spoke about how sometimes we might want to possess material things (nice car, brand name clothing) to increase our status. In doing so, our quest for status controls our actions and it is sin. The name for this sin is “pride.”
Jesus comes to grant us liberty from our sins by his death on the Cross.
Jesus also shows us that it is possible not to be held prisoner by mammon. Jesus’ actions are not directed by a desire for earthly things and neither should our actions.
Yet, we continue to get caught up in earthly affairs. Sometimes it even happens to us when we try to celebrate our faith. I’m thinking of Christmas. Christmas is the birth of Jesus. To celebrate Christmas, we have parties, dinners, and give presents. These can be excellent ways to come together to celebrate our faith but we have to be careful not to let the material aspects of all that goes into our celebrations hold us captive.
As we go through these final days of Advent leading to Christmas, we need to ask the Lord to help us remember what Christmas means for our salvation so that we can all repeat the words of Isaiah, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.”