Third Sunday of Advent – Year A
The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin ‘rejoice’. The opening words of today’s Entrance Antiphon are ‘rejoice in the Lord always’. This is a mid-season reminder that Advent has a large element of joyful expectation as we await the coming of Christ at Christmas. The rose-coloured vestments represent a break from the penitential purple.
In the first reading the prophet Isaiah presents a highly lyrical poem urging not only his people but the natural world around him to rejoice at the prospect of the Lord’s coming. Hearing the prophets read at Mass we rarely get a glimpse of the artistry of their utterances. All the prophetic books of the Hebrew Testament were written in poetic form. There is considerable literary creativity and artistic quality in the writings of the prophets. Naturally we miss a lot of this creative genius when we read them in translation.
Isaiah is poetically urging nature to blossom with colour as a sign that it too rejoices in the coming of the Lord. Lebanon, with its mighty cedar forests, and the Carmel range with its green woodland and wildflowers can sing joyful songs of colour to the Lord. The Plain of Sharon that stretches down the western side of Israel looks rich as the cultivated fields and orchards bear fruit in abundance. If you travel down from Jerusalem, which is roughly at the same altitude as Wentworth Falls, toward Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast you pass through part of the Plain of Sharon and in spring the whole atmosphere is filled with the sweet citrus perfume of orange orchards. You can’t help get the feeling of rich growth and productivity. The prophet is seeing this springtime growth as an expression of nature’s song of joy.
The coming of the Lord should bring new energy and hope into our lives Isaiah goes on to say that the coming of the Lord will bring new energy and hope into the lives of those who open themselves to the Spirit of God.
He also makes the point that God takes pity on the oppressed and shores up the downhearted, but none of this happens automatically. We have to do our part by being open to the Spirit and by cultivating a healthy relationship with God and those who are part of our daily lives. Being positive in our outlook is necessary for us to correspond with the gifts offered to us.
The Hebrew idea for this positive outlook is expressed as: ‘seek the Lord’, ‘the just walk in the ways of the Lord’, ‘the Lord looks with favour on those who seek what is right’. In other words, the inspired writers make it clear that we must do our bit; we have to work on our own spirituality, ‘living the life of the Spirit’, as St Paul puts it.
The Responsorial Psalm is a cry from the heart asking God to come and rescue us. The psalmist warns that trusting in human agencies is a risky business whereas trust in God is rock solid. As with a lot of Psalms the writer points to God’s track record of having saved people so many times in the past. God has always proved to be reliable.
Be patient and do not lose heart The second reading comes from the letter of James who is urging his people not to lose heart but to be patient as they wait for the coming of the Lord. The assurance of rain for the crops is coming from a Mediterranean mind set. The author in this case has never visited Australia where there is no guarantee that rains will come seasonally and reliably.
However, the message of patience is valid for our own time. We live in a ‘now’ time in history when our desires and wants have to be satisfied instantly.
We have been educated to expect results straightaway. It is like a slot-machine mentality; you put in your coin and the product comes out immediately. How often do we hear people say how fast time seems to go by? It’s only natural when we live at such a fast pace. You only have to take a car out on the road to appreciate how impatient most people are. As a society we seem to have lost the ability to wait patiently.
The gospel readings in this new liturgical year (A) come from the gospel according to Matthew. Most scholars would agree that this gospel was written around 75-85 AD. It borrows large amounts from the Gospel of Mark, which indicates that it was not written by an eyewitness of the events it describes but is a faithful account of the earliest traditions about the life and teachings of Jesus. It is the most Jewish of all the four gospels and presents Jesus as a devout Palestinian Jew who was faithful to the Law of Moses and the traditions of his people.
Today’s reading gives us a picture of the disciples of John coming to Jesus to ask if he is the one they have been waiting for. John had been imprisoned to keep him quiet. He had publicly criticised Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, for his adulterous union with his own sister in law. The answer Jesus gave to John’s disciples was virtually a quotation from the prophecy of Isaiah which contained signs of the age of the messiah. This passage is a sure expression of the faith of the earliest Christians that Jesus was indeed the messiah that had been written about by the Jewish prophets of the period 400-200 B.C.
Jesus allows us to see the great esteem he has for John
The second half of this gospel reading is a great revelation about the character of John the Immerser. Jesus is talking about John and allows us to see the great esteem he has for John. He bears witness that John is no flaky reed in the wind going in whatever direction public opinion might take him. John is not a vote chaser, a crown pleaser or a follower of fashion. He would make a lousy politician! He wouldn’t know how to play the game. He is a man of strong convictions and stands up for his beliefs in the face of all opposition.
John, says Jesus, is certainly a prophet, but more than that since he is the one preparing the way for the Lord’s anointed. Then Jesus adds a statement of high praise indeed when he says that there has been no one greater than John. This is a fine example of Middle Eastern exaggeration in order to emphasize a point. While it implies that John is greater than Jesus and Abraham, the message of Jesus is obvious enough. He has a high opinion of John as a prophet of courage and fidelity to his calling. In fact, John is one of the gutsiest characters in the Bible and the crowds that came to hear him speak and be washed by his ritual dunking were clearly impressed by his authentic character and the strength of his convictions.
In light of recent history, we might well put figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr in the same category – men who had extraordinary strength of conviction and unconquerable energy in their quest for the abolition of hatred and discrimination.
Like John they were prophets of justice, withstanding all criticism and opposition, pursuing their goals against incredible odds.
John is a model for all of us in an age when fashion and the opinions of others call the shots and very often decide human behaviour. He discerned what was right and followed through with determination and boldness, ignoring criticism and petty opposition.
The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.
Robert Ingersoll (American lawyer, political leader, Civil War veteran and orator)
A coward flees backward, away from new things; a man of courage flies forward in the midst of new things. Jacques Maritain (20th century French Catholic Philosopher)
Without kindness there can be no true joy. Thomas Carlyle (Scottish, essayist and historian)
An old bushie decided to visit the big smoke, but he had never travelled by train and did not know what to do or how to go about getting a ticket.
‘Just go to the ticket window,’ his mates told him, ‘and they’ll fix you up.’
So, the old bushie got a lift into town, found the ticket window at the railway station and joined the queue. He figured he could watch the others in the queue and follow their example.
The young woman in front of him gave some money to the booking clerk saying, ‘Alice Springs, single.’
When the bushie’s turn came, he plonked a $50 note down and said,
‘Mick O’Brien, married with two kids.’