3rd Sunday in Advent, Year B
The first two Sundays of Advent stressed that the Lord was coming, and how much we need Him to come, and how we need to prepare for so great an event. As we move closer to Christmas, the stress begins to switch to the greatness of the Lord and His light who comes, and the joy and light He brings to those prepared and wanting Him to come. This third Sunday of Advent of waiting, hoping and preparing is called Rejoice Sunday. The Lord is near! In our hope, we are urged by Paul in the Letter to the Thessalonians to continue to do some positive things and to avoid some negative things. He tells us to rejoice, pray, and render thanks constantly. We can only be joyful, prayerful and thankful in the Scriptural sense if we are aware of the Lord’s nearness and activity in our lives. “…for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Beside these positive works and ways, Paul urges us, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances”.
The Spirit wants us to move toward Christ our Savior and the light of our life. Resistance and stifling of the grace of the Spirit can take place in subtle ways in our lives. As great as the light of Christ and all that it brings is, we can still find the darkness of sin attractive, or we may not want to enjoy the fullness of the light but stay in its shade and shadows. We can ignore the Good News of the Lord’s coming into our lives and its demanding preparation. Just a little evil, or what we call venial sin, can block out the fullness of the light just as a simple window shade can block out the powerful sun. Paul tells us therefore, “Refrain from every kind of evil”. Live each day as if it were the day the Lord was coming again in His glory or as if it were your last day on earth. “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yielding to the Lord’s Spirit brings the light of the joy of Christ, and all the fruits of the light of Christ such as peace, patience, chastity and long suffering.
We can shift our attention from what we need to do to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming to what the Lord will do when He comes. This emphasis can help us to complete our preparation and even begin a new preparation. The Messiah continues to do what He did at His first coming, and what the Lord had done through the prophets. He brings good news to the poor, heals the brokenhearted, frees people from what binds them, and brings salvation.
All of these are needed by all people on some level and to some degree. The effects of this coming of the Lord are justice, peace and a whole host of spiritual gifts. The fitting response is praise of God. Our awareness of the coming of the Lord probably can be measured to some degree by our inward and outward praises of God. Our awareness and appreciation of others can be measured to some degree by our inward and outward praise of them. How different may be what the Lord does for us and what others do for us in our awareness and appreciation! The awareness is what helps to create the joy of the Lord and others for us and for them. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” (Isaiah) Mary’s awareness of the presence of the Lord brings about in her the response of joy and rejoicing. “My soul rejoices in my God.”
Gospel joy, peace and hope are not the same as worldly joy, peace and hope. Worldly joy, peace and hope is founded on material things and weak people. God’s joy, peace and hope comes from the powerful action and saving presence of the Lord, who alone can bring about the deepest fulfillment of our persons.
Another way to say this is that only Jesus is the light. The great John the Baptizer teaches us this. He presents himself as a witness to the light. He was not the light of the world, but only a witness to Christ who is the world’s light. As we receive the light, joy and peace of Christ, we reflect it back to others. The witness thinks of him or herself as a reflector of the light and never as the light itself. John the Baptizer clearly saw this and it is part of his greatness. Many confused him with the Messiah. They sent some to ask him, “Who are you?” He answered them “I am not the Christ”. He said he was a voice. Jesus was the Word. “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord…” John used other comparisons. He said he was the lamp; Jesus was the light. He was the messenger; Jesus was the message. The witness is not as important as the one witnessed to.
Our call is to move beyond the witnesses to Jesus. Our call is to point as witnesses beyond ourselves to Jesus. We are lamps, light bulbs, florescent lights, which help ourselves and others to receive the light. Like them, we are not the light itself. This light brings joy. The joy that comes to those who have received the light of Christ is to be a lamp and a way for others to find their way to Christ our Light. The witnesses never want anyone to stop short of the light and joy of Christ. They raise the message of John the Baptist when necessary. “…there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” The light of joy is realized when we become aware of the coming and presence of the Lord. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing…give thanks…”