Third Sunday of Advent
First reading: Is 61:1-2, 10-11
Responsorial psalm: Lk 1:46-50, 53-54
Second reading: 1 Thes 5:16-24
Gospel: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
By Jem Sullivan
“Rejoice in the Lord!” is the invitation of this Third Sunday of Advent when God’s word calls us, once again, to enter into the meaning of life in light of the mystery of the Incarnation, soon to be celebrated in the great feast of Christmas.
Traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, the theme of rejoicing in the Lord echoes through the readings and into our hearts and lives.
We may ask ourselves — in the midst of this season’s rejoicing — do I pause in prayerful reflection to give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of his Son Jesus? Will I make the words of the responsorial psalm — “my soul rejoices in my God” — my daily Advent prayer?
Isaiah tells us that God anointed him to proclaim a message of liberation and joy. Once he receives the Spirit of the Lord, his mission reaches out to the needy and oppressed. For the lowly and the brokenhearted, his words must have been a source of comfort and great hope.
Isaiah also announces a year of favor from the Lord, a jubilee year that occurred once every 50 years in Israel’s history. This was a special time of restored equality and justice, when the land was left fallow, debts were forgiven and prisoners set free.
Jesus’ coming into the world inaugurates the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, the definitive time of redeeming grace that the world longs for.
St. Paul’s words continue the theme of rejoicing as the apostle describes the kind of people we become as we await the coming of Christ. He encourages the early Christians to rejoice always, to pray constantly and to discern the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perfect words of spiritual advice and a good road map for the Advent season.
Another guide we are given for our spiritual journey is the figure of John the Baptist, the Advent saint par excellence.
In the Gospel, he outlines his mission as one sent to witness to Jesus, the light of the world. His witness began in the womb, as he leaped for joy at the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, his mother, and culminated in his ultimate witness of martyrdom. His entire life pointed to Jesus’ coming, as he made “straight the way of the Lord.”
From John the Baptist we learn that our Christian witness is rooted in humility and boldness. This saint of Advent also teaches us to turn to and fix our gaze on the Lord Jesus, so that our hearts will overflow with Advent joy as we say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” No. 1)
Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.