Rejoice, the Messiah is Already Here

Dec 17, 2017: 3rd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
First Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

This Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday (from the first Latin word of its entrance antiphon: Gaudete—Rejoice) and includes the first Glory to God we’ve prayed or sung on a Sunday since Advent began. Rose-colored vestments are an option only two days of the year, and this is one of them. Why? It’s not Christmas Day yet, but it is the day we celebrate the joyous realization that the Messiah is already here and appearing soon.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us that the coming of the Anointed of the Lord (“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me”), the Messiah, is going to bring good things and is a cause for rejoicing. The anointed one brings a happy resolution to a veritable litany of afflictions: good news to the poor, healing to the sad and grieving, freedom to the imprisoned and enslaved, a blessed time, and vindication — being cleared from blame for past faults. Isaiah doesn’t just describe what the Anointed One will bring, but our reaction as well in a language that inspired Mary’s Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55). We rejoice because with the Messiah justice and peace will flourish as abundantly as a lush garden.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that joy should not just be our attitude when things are going great, but when things are going rotten as well, because those things pale compared to the joy Our Lord will bring us. Some may see us as airheads when we live joyfully for no apparent reason, but that’s when we must explain the cause of our joy: doing God’s will, aided by the Holy Spirit, can fill us with nothing other than joy. St. Paul encourages us to be moved by the Spirit, but this is not just sentimentalism. He teaches us to test everything to see what is truly good and what is truly evil. The good makes us profoundly happy; evil just makes us miserable if we let it. We rejoice because even though holiness is hard, Our Lord has promised He will help us and He will do the heavy lifting in our sanctification. We just have to let ourselves by led by His Spirit. All the things the Messiah promises in the First Reading will be brought to us spiritually by Christ if we let Him: good news, true freedom, healing, justice, and peace.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tells the priests, Levites, and Pharisees that he is not the Messiah, but that the Messiah has arrived and he is heralding Him. As we saw in last week’s readings, the prophet Malachi said someone would prepare the way for the Lord (see Malachi 3:1). That someone would encourage his listeners to make straight the way of the Lord (see Isaiah 40:3): John the Baptist. John identifies himself as that person today. The amazing message of John that should fill any believing Jew with awe (hence, his skeptical visitors didn’t pick up on it) was that, unlike the prophets before him, he was telling them the Messiah was already “among” them. The Messiah was not coming. He was already here and just had not “gone public” yet. To be fair, that would take some time for the Jews to process, because for them the Messiah would come in power and glory to “clean house” for them. This Gospel is apt for Advent because now we remember Our Savior in Mary’s womb, about to be born. He is already among us, but hidden, waiting to be revealed. In a way this week we can celebrate the moment of salvation history when Mary becomes pregnant and Jesus’ birthday draws near.

A couple rejoices when they find out they’re pregnant, not just when the mother delivers the baby. That good news ushers in an attitude of joyous expectation for the impending birth. It involves some anxious moments of unhappy hormones, planning, and doubts about the future, but none of that can drown out the joy coming to term in the mother’s womb. On the day of delivery, the pain gives way to an indescribable joy that lasts forever.

Advent is now shifting gears. Our Lord is now in Mary’s womb. His birth, the birth of Our Savior, is close.

Advent can be a time of anxiety when shopping lists are uncompleted, Christmas cards are unfinished, work is piling up before the holiday break, the kids will be home from school any day now, and the big family meals are waiting to be planned, cooked and served. The antidote to that anxiety is to take to heart what the Knights of Columbus have admirably promoted: Keep Christ in Christmas. That’s not just a public awareness campaign; it’s a spiritual call to arms. Those anxieties want to shift Our Lord from the center, but we must not let them. The Reason for the season is what maintains our joyous expectation. Our Lord did not say we would be free of difficulties, but that He would overcome them: “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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