Authentic and Genuine Rejoicing!: 3rd Sunday of Advent
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) Of Advent
Sermon And Christian Act In The Word
Theme: Authentic and Genuine Rejoicing! Gaudete Sunday!
Point of Reflection: Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”. The Latin word “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!”, and the Scriptural readings of today focus on the theme of rejoicing. Not just rejoicing but authentic and genuine rejoicing. The overflowing of genuine joy and rejoicing is not caused by the attainment of material prosperity or the feelings of contentment or security. Rather, this genuine joy results from an eager anticipation of God’s salvation. That is why today we lit the pink candle to symbolize the anticipation of joy. This anticipation allows the believer to rejoice in God’s presence even amid pain, agony, loss, or destruction. The Messiah is to be born, let us authentically rejoice.
First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14–18
Psalm: Isaiah 12:2–6
Second Reading: Philippians 4:4–7
Gospel: Luke 3:10–18
Sermon (Reflection): In today’s liturgical celebration, the Church invites us to rejoice at the coming of someone much greater and this is the King of kings himself, Jesus Christ. Since his coming is near, the prophet Zephaniah proclaims, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart” (Cf. Zephaniah 3:14). St Paul adds his voice to the call for rejoicing when he says, “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Cf. Philipians 4:4).
The first Scriptural reading from the book of the prophet Zephaniah contains a joyful victory song for Jerusalem. Zephaniah’s book is dominated by prophecies of doom against Jerusalem and all humankind. The prophet warns his people about the coming “Day of the Lord” a terrifying day of cataclysmic destruction that will sweep away the pagan nations. It would also be a day of judgment upon the unfaithful Israelites, who would suffer the same fate as idol worshipers. In his oracles Zephaniah issues stern warnings that Jerusalem and its inhabitants face inevitable destruction for their infidelity to God.
Today’s reading contains the ninth and final oracle from this prophetic book. This oracle brings a notable change in tone and content “O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” Zephaniah shares this knowledge with his fellow Israelites and sets it out as the reason for true rejoicing.
Though we can be in darkness as Christians, we need to rejoice because the messiah is coming to redeem us. We have all the reasons to rejoice as Christians because our Saviour is to be born.
Even in the second Scriptural reading of today, Paul invites the believers in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. This invitation might come as a surprise because Paul wrote these words while languishing in prison. The letter to the Philippians is sometimes known as the “letter of joy” because of its gracious and optimistic tone. However, Paul wrote it while suffering imprisonment and, perhaps, execution, for the sake of the Gospel.
Today as Christians, we may be in prison of anger, the prison of jealousy, the prison of bad-wishing to others, the prison of power but let us look at the Cross of Jesus Christ and see how he brought salvation from the Cross, and this begun with His birth: we need to rejoice that the Messiah is to be born and we need to get out of the prisons we are living in.
Of course, despite the captivity and the danger to his life, St. Paul repeatedly and emphatically calls on his Christians to “rejoice in the Lord”. The reason for this joy is the nearness of the Lord. The natural reaction to the much awaited coming of the Lord, “the Parousia”, could be one of anxiety and worry. The spirit of constant rejoicing leads to continual prayer and praising the Lord: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Such prayerful attitude will result in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”, the peace that will guard the Philippian’s hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Thus, rejoicing accompanied by prayer and praise prepares believers for the Lord’s return, for the Parousia. Paul’s own confidence while suffering in prison certainly flowed from prayer and from an ardent longing for the Lord’s return. During advent time, as Christians, we are encouraged to pray all time, it is in prayer that we meet the coming Messiah to be born in our hearts.
The Gospel passage of today narrates the encounter between John the Baptist and those who came to hear his preaching. John’s proclamation was meant to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming by a message of repentance and conversion.
Like a true prophet, John used forceful words to describe the judgment that will fall upon the stubborn and unrepentant. He described Jesus as one with “winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” These images might invoke fear, but the text underscores that only a transformed life can bring joy and security at the time of the Lord’s coming. If there is no change, disaster will come. However, with the right response, the believer can await the Lord’s coming with confidence and joy. As Christians today, are we ready to believe and repent? The messiah is coming with a winnowing fork in His hand.
John the Baptist gave them specific advice on how to accomplish a genuine conversion of heart by admonishing them to examine their relationships and conduct towards the “others” in society. Though the content of his response to each group differs, the basic principle in his advice is the same as he advocates a change of heart which will result in a change of lifestyle. Thus, the tax collectors are to refrain from overcharging the people for their personal gain; the soldiers are not to misuse their power through acts of extortion; the ordinary people are to share their surplus with the needy.
Contextually, there was a profound sense of urgency in John’s message, as he emphasised that conversion must express itself in very tangible and manifest ways; there is no place for pretences and deception.
As Christians, are we not pretending these days? Are we not deceptive? Despite the grave tone of John’s message, there is “good news” in the end. It is a message of joy flowing from anticipation of a changed world, a world which sees God’s salvation approaching and making itself felt through the transformation of society.
As Christians, let us rejoice in the Lord always, let us be happy the Messiah is to be born and will never leave us as orphans.
Christian Act in Word of God “Authentic and Genuine Rejoicing”
Rejoicing comes naturally when things are going well, thus, when I have enough food to eat, clothes to wear, a safe place to lay my head, good health, and good job. But, how do I rejoice when I lack these basic necessities? How do I rejoice when divorce stares me in the face, or when I lose a loved one? How can I rejoice when I am diagnosed with a serious medical condition? How is it possible to rejoice when I am robbed of my last penny?
The letter of Paul was not written from a ten-star hotel if we have any but from a prison. Perhaps we can gain insight into how one can find joy even in prison by looking at the Gospel text anew. The message of John the Baptist was a call for a change of mind resulting in a change of action. What often robs us of joy is an unhealthy mind-set.
There is an African proverb which says, “It is not how much one has that brings joy but rather how much one gives.” A similar proverb adds, “There is joy in making someone joyful.” John the Baptist said to the crowd, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Yes, if you desire to be joyful seek to make others joyful. As Christians, are we ready to share the joy? Food for thought!
Additionally, the mind-set that does not accommodate the possibility of suffering will rob a person of joy in the face of any challenge. Following Jesus does not mean we will not have trials and tribulations. The practice of the virtue of hope is necessary to fill us with joy in spite of the challenges that beset us.
The proclamation of the Gospel by John the Baptist is a call to demolish any thought patterns that keep us far away from God. It is a call to develop new ways of thinking, and doing things, grounded in truth.
Therefore, let us drop everything that robs us of joy, and entrust to Jesus all our cares and burdens. Let be happy Christians and rejoice in the Lord.
Action: In the course of this advent season, I will look for at least one chance to make someone/some people happy, either through sharing some material goods or by a simple act of human kindness and care. There is joy in making someone joyful!
Prayer: Eternal Father, we thank you for giving humanity this Sunday as Rejoicing Sunday (Gaudete Sunday). We kneel down before You to implore that our hearts be filled with much joy as to rejoice in the Lord, and be transformers of joy to other people in our daily Christian living. As we wait for the birth of your Beloved Son, help us to prepare our hearts by cleaning our hearts and rejoicing in the Lord. We ask this through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.