Welcome to the third installment of this series on the Scripture readings for Advent, Year C. I mentioned in the first installment that, as I reflected on the Advent Scripture readings, I thought of the image of castaways on a deserted island, feeling hopeless and abandoned. The readings for the First Week of Advent reassured us that “help is on the way,” and the readings for the Second Week of Advent told us that we need to “pack up our things, come out of our caves, and light a bonfire.”
Imagine the joy you would feel if you had been shipwrecked on a deserted island and you could actually hear the rescue choppers approaching in the distance. The Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Advent call us to rejoice, since our salvation is imminent. Our rescue is no longer just wishful thinking; it is palpable. The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday—a Latin word that means “rejoice!” Our joy is grounded in confidence that the Lord is indeed our rescue. We are to be a people of joy, not spreading anxiety, doubt, and fear, but rather, gladness, confidence, and hope. This theme of joy is present in the First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Second Reading.
The Prophet Zephaniah exclaims:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
In the Responsorial Psalm, we sing: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”
In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
And in the Gospel, John the Baptist explains that this joy is to be manifested in selfless actions. The joy we experience from knowing that we are being saved should result in a change in our behavior towards others—a setting aside of our own needs to put the needs of others first. Knowing that the choppers are coming, we no longer have to be consumed with our own survival, but rather, we can turn our attention to those around us who continue to doubt in the prospect of being rescued.
As a result of John’s preaching, the people were “filled with expectation.” Do we have this effect on the people that we encounter? Do we spread joy and hope and raise expectations, or do we spread fear, anxiety, and gloom and doom? This Sunday’s readings make it crystal clear: for followers of Jesus, there is no room for gloom! In our spiritual lives, we are called to confident hope, which is not wishful thinking; it is the rock-solid belief that God’s grace is available to rescue us and will not let us down as long as we take advantage of it. We are called to share this confident hope and joy with others and to let our actions speak loudly of the joy we find in Christ our Savior. A great resource for helping us to recognize the dynamic connection between God’s love for us and our call to love one another is An Invitation to Love by renowned author, spiritual director, and retreat leader, Fr. William Barry, SJ.
As we approach this Third Week of Advent, may we recognize all of the ways that the Lord comes to rescue us and, filled with the joy of that knowledge, may we turn our attention to those who still feel abandoned, isolated, and without hope and fill them with the expectation of saving grace!