Gospel Reflection – Third Sunday of Advent
Someone is coming
The entrance antiphon for Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent sets the tone for coming closer to Christmas. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” Today is known as Gaudete Sunday, a day of special rejoicing.
The Second Reading is worth repeating in full and remember that Paul wrote these thoughts to the Philippians at a time when he was in prison. Paul was a man of compulsive activity, yet he found a new depth of faith and peace when locked up in prison. “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.”
Paul has suggested two important steps towards happiness. “Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.” For the person of deep faith, the Lord is as near as the person beside or before us. Tolerance means accepting this person as God’s creation even if one is difficult and offensive.
Paul then suggests that the answer to worry is prayer. And he adds that prayers of thanksgiving are very important because gratitude keeps one alert to the everyday gifts of God. Indeed, it is suggested that gratitude is the heart of prayer.
Allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God
Pope Francis is a great believer in the joy of religion. He is all against what he calls sourpuss religion. One has only to look at the titles of his great documents: The Joy of the Gospel: Rejoice and be Glad, which is a simplified application of the previous document: and his document of family life is called The Joy of Love. Here is a very important piece of advice he gives. “Do not be afraid to set your hearts higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit” (Rejoice and be Glad, 34)
One common mistake is to think that we must first prove worthy of God’s love by the perfection of our own efforts. We wrongly imagine that some day we will advance from the petty squabbles and tatty agitation of the familiar world, and then, in that pure, anaesthetised life we shall have become a home worthy of God. It reminds me of the little boy who went into hiding the first day he was to go to school because he could not read and write like his older brothers and sisters. Love begins in God, not in what we do.
John the Baptist stirred up hope for the sinner
The great Advent figure, John the Baptist, was called to prepare a way for the Lord. His preaching was good news for many people who were given no hope by the religious institutions of the day. The word of God which he proclaimed stirred up in people a surprising willingness to mend their ways. They asked him what they should do. People who were wealthy were told to give to those who lacked the essentials of life. In sharing with others, they would experience the joy of giving. Tax collectors were told to be totally honest in their dealings. Soldiers were told, “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!”
In contrast to the preaching of John the Baptist, those who congratulated themselves on the merit they accumulated by their religious observance were not ready to hear. They did not know their need for a Saviour. They had no need of Advent, or so they thought.
The Holy Spirit and fire
John the Baptist celebrated the repentance of sinners with a ceremonial washing called baptism. A feeling expectancy had grown among the people. They were beginning to think that John might be the promised Messiah. But John told them, “I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Pope Francis, the joyful believer, has taken up the idea of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in saying that what the world of today needs are spirit-filled evangelizers. Our society and our Church are experiencing the darkness of a winter of the spirit. But Advent raises our hope because first it was Jesus at the Nativity, and then it was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who fulfilled the prophecy of the Baptist that someone is coming. Remember that Saint Paul was in prison when he exhorted people to be happy, always happy in the Lord: the Lord is very near. And, as Pope Francis said, let yourself be loved and liberated by God.
O God, may I always know you as Someone-is-Coming. May I experience my prison of loneliness as a space for your nearness, my darkness as the stretching of my sight to your vastness, my coldness as the need for your warmth, my inertia as the sleep that restores, my winter as enriching the earth for spring’s excitement.
Take me and use me, Lord, to be someone-coming for others. Make me more caring for those who are neglected, and sensitive towards all who are hurt. Use me as good news for those caught up in the sadness of sin, and as the spark of joy for those who feel down and depressed.