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Posted by on Dec 12, 2021

Our God Rejoices and Renews Us in His Love

Our God Rejoices and Renews Us in His Love

Gaudete Sunday is another name for the Third Sunday of Advent. The name comes from the first words in Latin of the Introit, the psalm or hymn at the beginning of the Mass. Today’s Introit begins with words from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:4-7), “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The passage in this letter is filled with hope and joy. Rejoice! The Lord is near. The Lord cares about us. So don’t be afraid of anything. Ask God with confident thanksgiving for what is needed. And our hearts and minds will be filled with God’s peace. This is truly wonderful news.

We can see a similar theme in the reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah (3:14-18a). Zephaniah was another of the prophets who lived during the time of King Josiah (640 – 609 BC). This was a time when the kingdom of Judah was allied with the Assyrians and had adopted many of the gods and practices of their allies. Zephaniah’s prophecy came during the first 10 years of Josiah’s reign. It’s a short piece, just three chapters. The unfaithfulness of the people of Judah and some of their leaders is set forth. The statement that the unfaithfulness would be punished follows. Yet there is hope after all, because a small remnant of those faithful to the Lord remain. In the end, those faithful ones will survive. Zephaniah cries out, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!” Why? Because the King of Israel (who is the Lord) is present among them. This Lord “will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.”

What a wonderful image! How hopeful for us all – Our Lord God rejoices over us and sings joyfully because of us.

This theme is repeated in the Responsorial Psalm, which today is actually a passage from the prophet Isaiah. “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”

With such a long history of faithfulness on God’s part and varying periods of being faithful and falling away among the people, the appearance of a new prophet in Israel was always of interest. This is especially true when the nation has been conquered and the people are ruled by foreign powers. Who will come to lead the nation to freedom this time? Will this be the time that a new kingdom begins and Israel again becomes a powerful nation? Who is the chosen of the Lord this time?

When John the Baptist arrived on the scene, people were ready for a change. They hated paying taxes to Rome. The riches of their nation were being taken for the use of others in the empire. Foreign rulers were making sure no dissent could safely be voiced. Those who opposed their rule were executed. Who would come to save the people?

John came speaking of repentance and paving the way of the Lord who is coming. He quoted the ancient prophets who spoke of the Chosen One coming to restore the glory of Israel. “What should we do?” the people ask. How do we prepare for the coming of the Chosen One? How do we make straight the path?

John gives very practical answers. If you have two cloaks, give one to a person who has none. If you have extra food, share it. If your job is to collect taxes, only collect the amount owed. Don’t take extra for yourself (a legal and common practice that made tax collectors particularly unpopular). If you are a soldier, don’t use threats to make people pay you. Don’t accuse anyone falsely. Be content with what you are paid, don’t go around making people pay extra to be left in peace.

These are all things that most of us would say make perfect sense. In fact, much of our social contract is based on these types of behaviors as the rule for all. However, then as now, there are always those whose approach is different – those who want to see how much they can get for themselves. John’s words gave great hope to his listeners. Could this be the promised one? Could he be the Christ?

Again, we might not phrase this question in terms of promised ones or messiahs. We live in different times. Our challenge is to evaluate the latest fads, the celebrity of the day, the newest consumer goods or leisure activities. Is any of these going to prepare us for the coming of the Lord in our midst? Is any of these what will make clear that the Lord is already in our midst?

John told the people that one mightier than he was coming. This one would fill them with the Holy Spirit of God and gather them safely like a farmer bringing the harvest into a barn at harvest time. St. Luke tells us, “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.” (Lk 3:10-18)

Words of encouragement. The Lord is coming. The Lord rejoices with us. The Lord takes delight in us. Truly good news for all.

Today let us rejoice. The Lord has come and is joyfully among us. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see and share this joy.

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