3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday, 12 December 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Responsorial: Isaiah 12: 2-6; II: Philippians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 3: 10-18

The holy pilgrimage of Advent continues on. Much like the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem we encounter times and places of weariness and wondering… Will our Lord ever come? Will the long hours and daily weary steps ever bring rest and peace? It is in this long final stretch of the journey to the joy of Jesus’ birth in a manger we are blessed with this Sunday of rejoicing. The pink Advent candle is lit and the Spirit of God calls us to rejoice!

This week brought us again to witness the challenges and struggles of life in heart, home, and our church. As we tread the delicate balance of living in this world but not of it, and especially at this time of Advent we are made aware of the tests and challenges of those who seek to draw ever closer to God.

Rare tornado seen in Rome the week of Dec. 5th, 2021, Photo from BBC

Yet even in the storms of life God call us to remember: “…The Lord is in your midst… fear not, be not discouraged…He (God) will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” (Ist Reading from Zephaniah). The epistle of St. Paul to the Philippian church brings this encouragement even more strongly as we are commanded to “Rejoice in the Lord always…have no anxiety at all…”. Gaudate! Rejoice…always! The words, the command is so clear yet so hard.

Are we to rejoice when the real-life devastations of storms, conflicts, illness, need, or death press upon us? Are we to pretend that such realities are to be ignored? Is it wrong to mourn? Or to feel the drought of anxieties causing us to thirst for relief or hope? Our psalm from the prophet Isaiah speaks of drawing water from the fountain of salvation. It is to be understood that our thirst, our need for relief may be experienced in the journey to the holy fountain of joy and hope… found in God.

The words in Philippians would seem to almost mock the very real struggles of life. “Rejoice in the Lord Always!!! Rejoice…Always!?!?!?!? Are we to rejoice when serious illness besets a loved one, or ourselves? Are we to rejoice when someone is struggling with addictions that would destroy a life?

The Holy Spirit is very clear. It is not in our sorrows we are to rejoice. Our Blessed Mother did not rejoice to see her Son crucified. We are not called to rejoice either in the sorrows or even the blessings of life. Truly blessed family gatherings, a trip to a longed-for destination, unexpected wealth are things for which we should be grateful and joyful. But they are only things, the stuff of life. The Spirit of God calls us to rejoice, ALWAYS, in Christ our Lord. Our joy, our peace our happiness should not, cannot be built upon the sandy shoals of circumstance. Our joy is found…in God.

Our Gospel for this Sunday seems almost out of character for the theme and the rest of our Bible readings. It shares how those coming to St. John the Baptist were seeking to learn “what should we do?” In John’s call to conversion, he replied to simply live for God in the place and work in which we find ourselves and to do so with justice, mercy, and repentance. John then proceeds to tell them that they are to be baptized, immersed in the promised Holy Spirit.

The solution, the power to rejoice ALWAYS is found in the often ignored two words of the command. Rejoice…IN THE LORD, always. It is as we are immersed in God’s Presence the Holy Spirit will, in healing comfort and joy bring us to know that In Christ is our peace, our joy. We will know the joy of God’s embrace as the Comforter shares our sorrows, The Provider ministers to our needs, the Shepherd guides to His Kingdom, His Presence.

Today, this 3rd Sunday of Advent is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was in December of 1531 that a series of apparitions appeared to St. Juan Diego in what is now a part of Mexico City. A man of real poverty but also hard work and deep faith he struggled with fulfilling the guidance of the Blessed Virgin. But he did with humble, joyful obedience. His faith, his obedience his joy was never determined by his ability or circumstance but by the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary and his humble life. It was that humble gaudate that enabled St. Juan Diego to bring the tilma filled with roses to the archbishop and this opened the gates of God’s mercy for the conversion of countless souls.

St. Juan Diego with Our Lady of Guadalupe

Gaudate Sunday brings us ever closer to the joyful celebration of the incarnation, the birth of our Savior and God, Jesus. And this joyful, holy day would bring us closer to Mary our Blessed Mother, and thus to better know her son, our joy, Jesus the Christ.