THIRD SUNDAY OF OF ADVENT B
John 1:6-8. 19-28
December 11, 2005
Today the Church blushes with joy! Again, the Entrance Chant is addressed not to God, but to us. It contains not one, but two imperatives! Gaudete in Domino semper “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Iterum dico, gaudete,! “Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).
Rosy vestments are sign of the joy that fills the Church “because the Lord is nigh” (Phil 4:5). No room for gloom! The secret sorrows that we all carry in our hearts must today yield to something to something stronger, to the joy of the Lord. “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh 8:10).
The first reading, taken from the prophet Isaiah, echoes the song of joy that, on December 8th, the liturgy placed in the mouth of the Immaculate Virgin Mary: Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God” (Is 61:10. The Responsorial Psalm too flowers on the lips of the Blessed Virgin: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). Attending closely to today’s liturgical texts, we discover that the Mother of God, Our Lady of Advent, is present. In the West, the Litany of Loreto invokes her as the Cause of our Joy. In the East, she gazes at us from the icon called The Joy of All Who Sorrow. Wherever the Church rejoices, Mary is present.
The joy of the Lord is deeper, higher and wider than any earthly satisfaction. The joy of the Lord coexists with failure, weakness, insecurity, poverty, loneliness, and fear, and is stronger than all of these. The joy of the Lord dwells in the heights of heaven and murmurs its chant in the secret depths of the heart. More often than not we experience it as a kind of abiding peace, a certainty that we are held fast in the strength of a Love that is both invincible and tender.
This was the experience of the Virgin Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour” (Lk 1:46). Mary dispenses the secret of joy to all who approach her. She sings that God looks on his servant in her nothingness; that he fills the hungry with good things; that he lifts up his servant Israel; that he remembers his mercy (cf. Lk 1:47-54). The Mother of God teaches us that those who are hidden in the hollow of their own nothingness are the very ones to whom the Lord is drawn, irresistibly, as if by a magnet. This is Mary’s secret of joy.
Suffering of all sorts may weigh upon us: physical pain and metaphysical anguish, emotional brokenness, oppression, rejection, doubts, fears, lingering hurts from the past. The joy of the Lord waits to surprise us. The joy of the Lord comes to us as the lovely Rebecca came to Isaac in the fields toward evening (cf. Gn 24:63). The joy of the Lord visits us not on the summits of spiritual exaltation, nor on the high places of success, but in the midst of the valley of dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1), in the places of our desolation and brokenness.
Isaiah tells us today that Christ is sent “to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Is 61:1). The prophecy continues, promising “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Is 61:3). If you are poor, if your heart is broken, if parts of you are captive or imprisoned, then lift up your head. “The Lord waits to be gracious to you” (Is 30:18).
In the face of suffering, it takes no little courage to announce a gospel of joy, and yet, proclaim it we must if we are to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! How dare we proclaim joy to the widow, to the orphan, to the parent who has lost a child? How dare we proclaim joy to one who has suffered calumny, accusation, and rejection? How dare we proclaim joy to those whose lives have been torn asunder by violence? How dare we proclaim joy in the face of cruel and unseasonable sorrows? How dare we proclaim joy in this valley of tears? The day we stop proclaiming joy, even in the face of life’s harshest and most brutal realities, is the day we will have no choice but to lock the doors of our churches, close our monasteries, and walk away from them, leaving them empty shells.
The Church and, in a particular way, the monastery must be for the world what Tertullian called a spatium laetissimum, a most joyous space, a space in which one is free to speak and to sing of a joy that comes from above, a joy that is not incompatible with the Cross, a joy that ever flows from its wood, a joy that defies the cold darkness of the tomb. “You have sorrow now,” says the Lord, “but I will see you again and hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).
In today’s Entrance Chant, Saint Paul says, “Have no anxiety about anything” (Ph 4:6). Easier said than done? Most of us are very possessive of our anxiety. We hold it close. We feed it. We let it shape our faces and colour our conversations. The need to know everything, to control everything, to foresee everything, produces not peace of heart, but more anxiety. Our Lord reproved Martha of Bethany because she was “anxious and troubled about many things” (Lk 10:41).
Saint Paul enjoins us to “have no anxiety about anything” (Ph 4:6), and Saint Teresa, in her practical wisdom, says:
Let nothing disturb thee,
Saint Paul’s teaching in the second reading resonates with the Entrance Chant: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Th 5:16). He gives us a threefold rule of life: always and everywhere joy, always and everywhere prayer, always and everywhere thanksgiving. Take that rule and begin to practice it. You will begin to understand the secret that lies beneath the Church’s rosy vesture on this Gaudete Sunday.
Advent means coming. It means arrival. In this sense, every Holy Mass is the Advent of the Lord. Every Eucharist is the arrival of Joy. The joy Saint Paul commands is a Eucharistic joy, a joy not taken but received, a joy freely given. Leaving all else behind, offer yourself today to Joy.