Church-wise we make a big deal about the Third Sunday in Advent and we call it Gaudete ("rejoice") Sunday. I think the major reason is "in the olden, olden days" people used to fast and perform many extra ascetic pious practices during Advent in preparation for Christmas. Thus, when folks were almost through the Season of Advent, they would rejoice that all that extra discipline and denial of self was almost at an end. They used the color rose as a visible sign in church that the end was almost there. In a sense, it is a weakened form of the color of red which is a major Christmas color. Our readings this weekend pick up the theme of the joy that is soon to be here and that the coming of the Light of the World will soon be celebrated. We pick up speed as we come closer and closer to Christmas Day. We can sense Christmas in the air and the liturgy at Mass helps us feel its closeness. The readings for this Sunday reflect this delight. In fact, the whole rhythm of Advent picks up today. We start proclaiming in song the "O Antiphons" beginning this week.
Outside the church in our commercial areas and town commons and also even in our homes, Christmas is being displayed. All sorts of events are taking place: shopping, pageants, gathering preparations, and the occasional moment or two of panic. Our very young people find it more and more difficult to wait for Christmas. Christmas music, especially in the form of carols, is in the air everywhere and Mass on this Sunday reflects this stepped-up level of almost Christmas.
In our first reading the prophet Zephaniah calls for celebration. He tells us that the Messiah, the "King of Israel, the Lord," is here among us . The Messiah has come to celebrate with us, to dance and sing and also to share in our joy. With the Savior's presence, Zephaniah tells us, we have nothing to fear. All our enemies are banished; every negative judgment is lifted. All we must do is to rejoice in God's presence.
In the second reading in his letter Paul invites us to both exult with jubilation and to shout our praise. He tells us that the Lord is near at hand! What is there to be worried about? What is there to fear? The Lord comes to cover us completely with peace.
In the Gospel, the followers of John the Baptist desire to know what to do to be ready for the Lord's coming. John gives them a very simple response. He tells them to keep doing what they are doing, however, to do so with great care and a strong sense of justice. John calls on his listeners who have much to give to those who have less. He urges those who must collect taxes not to unfairly overtax or to cheat people. He informs those who bear arms that they are not to bully and push people around, to wield their weapons but sparingly and also are to give up lying under oath.
According to this weekend's readings, our final Advent preparations need not be anything special. We are to understand that our celebration is part of the ordinary of life. Joy is to be the constant emotion for those who recognize that the Messiah is present. As a result, our Advent role is to take care of what is before us, to be in charge of our own souls, and also to be sensitively responsive to all who are near and dear.
To be responsive to others is not a vague concept just to be merely thought about. Our response must be in the concrete. Our Advent preparation does in fact require us to do and to act. The issue is whether we recognize what we should do and also act on it
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