There are many paradoxes in our Christian Faith.
For example, there are three Persons in one God; this God made something out of nothing; God's mother is one of his creations, etc. It can be easy to respond by simply ignoring the discrepancies. But these paradoxes are not meant to be ignored. They are mysteries of our Faith, not meant to be kept secret, but to be unveiled by God himself.
One of the greatest mysteries of our Faith is that there can be profound joy even in the depths of the worst suffering, and this is the mystery that the Church draws to our attention on Gaudete Sunday. In the midst of a season of penance and waiting, we find ourselves celebrating a day completely devoted to joy!
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is shown reading this very passage from Isaiah to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. With every eye riveted on Jesus in anxious anticipation, he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulﬁlled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
The breathless astonishment in that synagogue expressed the recognition on the part of those present that this passage from Isaiah was universally understood to be a reference to the awaited Messiah, a title which means, “Anointed.” Note that in verse 1, Jesus would have read the words, “the Lord has anointed me.” The crowd, which had heard of his growing reputation, was probably wondering if Jesus were the Messiah, the anointed one, and now he was speaking the very words that foretold his coming. Having been recited for hundreds of years by thousands of Jews, this phrase ﬁnally was spoken by the One who had inspired its writing!
Imagine the joy of the listeners who realized that they were ﬁnally en- countering the promised Messiah. We should ﬁnd the same joy as we encounter Christ in the Mass and the Eucharist, intimately united with the Savior who came to redeem us from the power of sin and death.
“Rejoice always.” These words, which begin this reading from St. Paul, best describe the appropriate attitude for the liturgy on this Third Sunday of Advent. Our hearts ought to be lifted by the nearness of the Lord’s coming.
In this season, we focus on several of the Lord’s advents or comings: past, present, and future. It is interesting to note that the section that precedes our reading from 1 Thessalonians addresses the question of the Lord’s second coming. Again, the consideration of the end of time, or the end of our lives, is not a reason for abject fear on the part of Christians. On the contrary, as “children of light and of the day” (1 Thessalonians 5:5), we are called to share in the joy of his coming. If we are his, we have nothing to fear from his coming; we will not receive judgment, as will the children of darkness, but vindication.
And although in this Advent Season we await both the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas and the second coming of Christ, we are able to participate in his presence with us now in the Church and preeminently in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Gospel this week features John the Baptist again, although we see him in a diﬀerent light than Mark’s Gospel. In St. John’s Gospel, the Baptist is the witness to the Messiah; he “was not the light, but came to testify to the light” (John 1:8).
Scholars have noticed that John begins his Gospel with the same phrase as that which begins Genesis: “In the beginning.” This suggests a new creation in Christ. Closer attention reveals that John also mentions a series of days in the ﬁrst two chapters of his Gospel that add up to seven in all! The phrase “the next day” is used three times in chapter one, suggesting the passing of four days, and the story of the wedding feast at Cana in chapter two begins with the words, “On the third day,” suggesting the passing of three more days. John describes the beginning of the re-creation in Christ, just as Genesis describes creation itself in a series of seven days.
The Baptist describes the Messiah as “one among you whom you do not recognize” (John 1:26). This idea of God among us is a central theme of both the Old and New Covenants. God dwelt among his people during the Exodus from Egypt, in the Tabernacle, and in the Temple. Of course, Jesus is our Emmanuel, “God with us,” in a special way during Advent. Most profoundly, he is “one among us” in the Eucharist, under the humble form of bread and wine, and as such is often one whom we “do not recognize.” Each Holy Communion, then, is a little advent, another coming of Jesus, and so the Advent season ought to teach us how to be better prepared to greet Christ in each Mass.
When do you ﬁnd it diﬃcult to rejoice in life? What is one thing that you can rejoice in during that time?
On this Third Sunday of Advent, let us take courage and wrestle with this mystery of what it means to be joyful in suﬀering. Is it truly possible to “rejoice always”? Is there always light in the darkness?
As you watch the short Opening the Word video on FORMED.org, ponder the dark times in your own life where you want to learn to ﬁnd joy. (If you need a free FORMED account, go to FORMED.org, click "enter code", enter P4XNPZ and follow the steps.)
In his homily for Gaudete Sunday in 2014, Pope Francis taught that to have joy a Christian must do three things: pray, give thanks, and share the Good News. And St. Thomas Aquinas, the “angelic doctor,” deﬁnes joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit that ﬂows immediately from charity, or love of God.
What do you think is the relationship between prayer and joy? Joy and thanksgiving? Are these necessary for joy? How can you pray more and be more thankful?
Now let’s focus on Pope Francis’s last point. To receive joy, we must give joy, and the greatest joy that we can give is the Good News. A Christian who has been loved by God longs to share that love with others. How can you take John the Baptist as your model to reﬂect Christ in someone’s life? How can you prepare the way for the Lord in the lives of the people around you?
DIGGING DEEPER: The Eucharist
The great spiritual masters teach us that a key to “rejoicing always” is to work intentionally to give thanks. A heart overﬂowing with gratitude does not succumb to darkness. Our word for Eucharist actually comes from the Greek eukharistia, meaning “thanksgiving.” At Mass, we offer Jesus’s sacriﬁce in thanksgiving to the Father. By being with Jesus in Adoration, we can rest in this thanksgiving. In the Eucharist, we give thanks for our greatest gift, God himself, and there we learn how to keep this gift always present in our minds so that we can truly give thanks and “rejoice always.” This week, try to attend Adoration or Mass with your group, or encourage them to do so on their own.