11 December 2016: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 35:1-6a, 10 Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 Jas 5:7-10 Mt 11:2-11

Advent: rejoicing in our waiting

Rose_banner_smThe third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (gow-DAY-tay), a Latin word meaning “rejoice,” comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: Dominus prope est.
"Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice: the Lord is near."

The antiphon reminds RCIA participants and the believing community that our time of waiting is almost complete: the Lord will be with us soon. For today only, the liturgical color changes from purple to rose to indicate joy during the season of preparation and metanoia (change of mind/heart).

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah foretells a post-exilic restoration in which the Jewish people return to God and their homeland, and God performs acts of power that only God can do. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for Gaudete Sunday to remind us that, like the Jewish captives in Babylon, our God is coming to save us; Jesus’ incarnation fills us with everlasting joy.

In the second reading, the author of the letter from James asks us to be patient, not only as we await “the Lord’s coming” (Jesus’ return at the end of time, the parousia), but also with one another as we struggle with our own human failings. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for Gaudete Sunday to remind us to look forward with rejoicing not only to Jesus’ parousia but also to Jesus’ incarnation.

In the gospel, Matthew captures two questions that reveal the identities of Jesus and John the Baptizer:

  • Who is Jesus? From prison, John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask: “Are you the coming one, or should we expect another?” Jesus answers by repeating Isaiah’s prophecies about the messiah (see today’s first reading). Jesus tells John that the restoration of Israel John preached (see last week’s gospel) is coming to pass, but not in the way John expected. Jesus’ mission is healing, rather than avenging. Jesus concludes with a beatitude addressed to John: John should not be offended and disbelieve because Jesus doesn’t meet John’s expectations.
  • Who is John? After John’s disciples leave, Jesus asks the crowds who saw John: “What did you come to the wilderness to see?” Jesus answers his own question, telling the crowds that John was a prophet–and more than a prophet. John not only foretold the “coming one” (the messiah, Jesus himself), but also fulfilled the Hebrew scripture prophecies of Exodus 23:20 (“I send my messenger before you”) and of Malachi 3:1 (“he will prepare the way”). Jesus concludes by saying John is greater than all Hebrew prophets: John alone announces the messiah is here. Jesus also says John is least in the kingdom: John only prepares the way for the kingdom, unlike the disciples who live in messianic times and who live in the kingdom.

While RCIA participants and the whole believing community wait and prepare, we should also rejoice. The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. Jesus comes sacramentally every day to be with us. Jesus will come at the end of history to bring us into the kingdom. God has restored and continues to restore God’s people. Isn’t our metanoia and our restoration a reason to rejoice?

—Terence Sherlock

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