I work in a parish in Fulton, MO. This past Sunday, our high school students met for a faith formation class. During the session, the youth were shown three different short clips from the same movie, which helped underscore for them various point of our lesson. The clips were just long enough to give the viewers a sense of the feel of the movie without giving away any major plot twists or, of course, how the story ends.
As Christians, we know how our story ends. God wins. Amen. Alleluia! Too often, though, we behave like people who have forgotten that all-important truth. Too often, we get wrapped up in ourselves and our surrounding environment and we lose sight of God’s love for us and for all humanity. We let our busyness and stress dictate the choices we make and the way we interact with the world. If this describes you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. There are lots of people (including me) who do the same thing. Fortunately for us, Gaudete Sunday is here! Pronounced gow-DAY-tay and falling always on the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday reminds us of God’s unfailing love for God’s people and of the need to rejoice in that love at all times, even when we don’t feel up to it.
In the first reading, Isaiah tells us that he views life in God and service to God as a tremendous privilege, one he accepts enthusiastically. The reading begins with a list of responsibilities for God’s anointed. Among them Isaiah is to ‘ bring glad tidings to the poor’, ‘heal the brokenhearted’, and ‘proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners’. God seems to be asking a lot of him, but Isaiah doesn’t mind. As the second half of the reading goes on to explain, Isaiah does all of this in a spirit of joy, because he knows the amazing good God is for his life and for the world. These words are meant for us, though, too. We are God’s anointed also. God is calling us in the same way.
The responsorial psalm isn’t a psalm at all. Our response is mostly taken from the first chapter of the gospel of Luke, where Mary responds in pure joy and praise at the news that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, carrying the long-awaited Messiah in her womb. Mary could have responded with worry and fear. Instead, as a model for all of us, she accepts this responsibility from God in faith and humility.
The second reading continues to drive home this notion of joy in all things, even adding the command to pray without ceasing. Do you struggle finding joy in Advent, as the world prepares for Christmas? Tell God. Do you feel as though you are constantly in a dark place because this time of year only reminds you of loved ones who have passed on? Tell God. Do you find it difficult to do the right thing when the easier way, it seems, would be to choose a more sinful option. Tell God. YELL at God if need be. God can take it. God wants us to live in joy at all times, but God knows we need God’s help to make that happen.
The joy in this week’s Gospel is a little tougher to spot, but it’s there in spades. Here you have John the Baptist fulfilling his life’s role, to ‘make straight the way of the Lord’. In other words, the crux of John the Baptist’s vocation is to call the world to repentance and renewal, preparing them (and himself) for the imminent arrival of Jesus, the Messiah. The joy for John is fully living God’s vocational call for him and few have ever accepted their call more completely or fervently.
We already know the end of this movie. We know that our God of love, joy, and light will go on forever. Let’s try and remember this week to take extra time to pray, asking God to help us find ways to live more joyfully, remembering that all of us are God’s beloved children.