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December 10, 2008
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Dec. 14: Third Sunday of Advent
Theme: Joy. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “joy.” Liturgically, this Sunday is signified by the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath, the priest’s vestments and other accoutrements. Listen closely and you will hear the theme of joy throughout the readings. The first reading from Isaiah is one of the most well-known passages in the Old Testament. It was the text Jesus chose to read at his “inaugural” sermon at the beginning of his public ministry in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-21). In their original context these words were a source of great inspiration to the exiles in Babylon, for they announced “liberty to the captives.” The expectation of returning to Jerusalem filled the people with immense joy. This is followed by the Song of Mary, or Magnificat. Chosen to bear the Savior of the world, Mary rejoices not in herself, but in God. Joy is also the focus of our second reading as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always!” Their joy is rooted in the expectation of the parousia—the second coming of Christ. The second coming of Christ cannot be understood apart from his first appearance on earth, and vice versa. Finally, our Gospel reading focuses on the person of John the Baptist whose role was to “testify to the light.” When questioned about his activity John answered by pointing away from himself and toward the one “who is coming after me.”
Key verse: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul” (Is 62:10).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “The Church has no other light than Christ’s. According to a favorite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun” (No. 748).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Advent does not mean ‘expectation’ as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means ‘presence,’ or more accurately, ‘arrival,’ i.e., the beginning of a presence. His presence has already begun and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world. Through faith, hope and love He wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world. The Christ child comes in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord” (“Dogma and Preaching”).
Application: John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and the Church were called by God to bear witness to the “true light that enlightens every person” (Jn 1:9). As members of the Church today we are called to reflect the light of Christ by our joy. A dour saint is an oxymoron. On Gaudete Sunday we do not merely adore a distant God who will appear at the end of time, but we hail with joy the Lord who is already present in the world.