3RD Sunday of Advent,
by Deacon John Girolami

“Brothers and sisters, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” These are the words of St Paul that were given to us just a few minutes ago in the second reading.

For the past two weeks the Church has been in a state of expectation and anticipation. This weekend we celebrate “Rose Sunday” or “Gaudate Sunday”. Gaudate is a command that orders us to rejoice. Rejoice for Jesus is near. Visually we see the rose candle, the candle of joy, on the advent wreath that we light today.  The rose candle tells us this is a point of transition. Our time of waiting for the Messiah is almost over. The church changes focus from the Lord who is to come, to the Lord who is now near and close at hand. The mood changes to one of anticipation and preparation for the Christmas feast. We celebrate the joy and gladness in the promised redemption. We rejoice that the arrival of the Savior is near. The candle symbolizes the joy we feel to welcome Jesus in Christmas.

The Lord gives us the joy in hope of the Savior’s coming; joy in the face of apathy, joy in the face of sorrow, joy in the face of uncertainty. We rejoice in our salvation from sin. We are to prepare for the Lord’s coming with joy in our hearts, with prayer on our lips and with a life of holiness.

These three orders sum up the vocation of a disciple. We should profess the truth that he proclaimed. We must live what Jesus taught. We are to rejoice, pray and give thanks always. Advent asks us to look at ourselves and see how well we are doing these things. We are to rejoice always, in good times and in bad. How is this possible and why are we called to do this?

The answer is Christ. We are called to do this because Christ has come to save us. He loves us and will give us everything that we need to overcome sin and live with him in this world and the next. God desires that we be joyful because that joy is the most tangible sign that we recognize his marvelous love. It is the clearest evidence that he is present in our lives. We however have difficulty showing this.

Pope Francis calls it the joy of the gospel. He says “It fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Christ. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew. This joy is a serenity that comes from a deep overflowing sense of God’s love for us. From this sense of God’s dwelling in us, through sanctifying grace, we are to be joyful in God’s will for us and know he has given us the grace to meet those challenges.

Through prayer we remain in constant communication with God; we remain in his presence. He also calls us to always give thanks. He helps us realize that everything is a gift from God and we must give thanks. Rejoicing is the highest expression of joy. Having the joy of the lord in our hearts, that is where we must begin. The joy of the Lord is a constant gladness. Nehemiah the prophet says “the joy of the Lord is my strength”.

How do get to the point where we can rejoice in the Lord? It starts by making sure that we have the right relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ. We must then walk in submission to the Spirit of God. We must take time to praise God. Finally we must serve the Lord in gladness.

But holding this joy inside ourself is not enough. We, Christ’s disciples, the members of his Church, need to become a source of joy to those who are suffering. Through prayer, we also want to bring eternal joy and peace to those who have died. We must also remove the things in our lives that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.  Our ways of greed, selfishness, indifference. They must all be removed.

To find this state of joy is not always easy, especially this year. Our normal way of life has been replaced by concern for our neighbors, our families. For many, celebrations have been delayed. Funerals are different. Even the arrival of a newborn is subdued. First communion days have become small private events. But even with all this, Christ still comes to us; maybe not in a grand Christmas pageant or a Santa Clause parade, but he still comes. Maybe God is giving us the opportunity to focus on what Christmas is really about.

I think it was told best by a cartoon character called Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas. It is about the love that God had for us that he gave us his son Jesus. He was born of Mary and became one of us. Through him, his followers can experience heaven. He wants peace and goodwill to exist between everyone.

So maybe we will have less people around the dinner table. Maybe we won’t be able to kiss our grandchildren. But the spirit of Christ and his love for us cannot be stopped. This great gift from the Father is given to us each year; no matter what the circumstances are.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his son that who soever would believe in him, would not perish but have every lasting life.” May our hearts be open to receive this great gift.

So let our anticipation be great. Rejoice, for Christ is near. The celebration of his birth in Bethlehem is near. Let us turn our eyes there for soon we will see him, Emmanuel, God with us, the child in the manger.