This Sunday is still referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” (pron. gow-DAY-tay SUN-day) from the Latin word which used to begin the opening chant of the Mass — the “introit” — which was the first word of the epistle reading and is now the second reading of this Sunday in the C cycle of readings. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!”
One set of invocations which are optional for the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass are very appropriate for Advent because they draw our attention to the three comings of Jesus which I mentioned two weeks ago: “You came to gather the nations into the peace of God’s Kingdom” — his incarnation and saving work on earth; “You come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness” — his presence in our lives; “You will come in glory with salvation for your people” — his glorious return at the end of time. Today’s readings refer to all three.
In the gospel — Luke 3:10-18 — John the Baptist is talking about Jesus both in his earthly ministry — baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire — and in what he will do at the end of time — gathering the wheat into his barn. Zephaniah, in the first reading — Zeph 3:14-18a — calls us to rejoice because the Lord is with us — his presence in our lives as members of his people, his Church, which we understand as typified by Jerusalem. In prior weeks, the prophetic call to rejoice was based on the promise of God’s bringing his people home from exile — ultimately in the third coming of Jesus: our going home to our promised land — but we also rejoice this week in his ongoing presence. The Lord is in our midst and rejoices over us. When Paul —Philippians 4:4-7 — calls us to rejoice because “The Lord is near,” he was probably thinking of the return in glory, but it also fits his ongoing presence.
But whichever reading we are looking at, we have cause for rejoicing. Even though John the Baptist can take a menacing tone, gospel concludes with the note that John was preaching good news when he spoke of what Jesus would do. In the Responsorial Psalm — Isaiah 12:2-6 — we make the scriptural call to rejoice our own.
The first part of the gospel reminds us that being ready to receive the Lord into our lives and at the end involves repentance and conversion. That is why various groups of people ask John what they should do.
In general, they should share. He doesn’t call tax collectors and soldiers — people who worked for the Roman occupation — to quit their work. He tells them to perform their work justly.
And how about us? What should we do? The extraordinary Jubilee Year, around the theme of mercy, began last Tuesday in the Catholic Church. There is a twofold aspect to it. One is that we should be aware of God’s mercy, which he exercises for us especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So we should go to confession. Those whose churches don’t offer sacramental reconciliation can and should acknowledge our sins to the Lord and ask for forgiveness, which will not be withheld from those who repent.
Secondly, we should imitate God’s mercy, and be instruments of it, by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead; counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead. Obviously, we can’t all do all of these, but we can try to be alert to the opportunities for one or another which come into our lives.
Those are general points, but we would also do well to ask ourselves, “What would John say to me if I asked him, ‘What should I do?’” Today’s readings might have us ask ourselves, “Is my kindness known to all? Do I seek more than is my due? Am I content with what I have? Do I impose my will on others? Do I falsely accuse others?” Maybe we’re fine with respect to those items. For each of us there may be a different answer than the ones John gave his hearers, but if we ask sincerely and listen attentively, God will tell us what we need to repent of, what we need to do, or stop doing, to be ready for him. Maybe it won’t be an answer we want to hear, and maybe it will take time to do what he says. Not every failing is easily overcome. But God is patient — more patient that we sometimes are with ourselves — because he knows what it will take. As long as we’re cooperating with the grace he gives us in the moment, we’ll be making progress and his mercy and forgiveness will be ours.
Jesus was born in Nazareth and brought redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. He comes to us today in word and sacrament to show us what we should do and strengthen us to do it. He will come again to complete his work in us and bring us to glory. Rejoice!