A couple of days ago, on our celebration of the Immaculate Conception, we heard the announcement of the Angel of Gabriel to Mary: “Hail Mary! Rejoice Mary - you are full of grace! The Lord is with you!” Perhaps the announcement to rejoice that the Angel brought to Mary is a sign to us in the midst of our Advent preparations, a sign that God is calling us to rejoice as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world. Today, we leave behind our usual Advent color of purple or lavender to today’s joyful color of rose. This Third Sunday of Advent is commonly known as Gaudete Sunday. The word “gaudete” is derived from the Latin words “gaudium” - meaning joy and “gaudeo” - meaning to rejoice or to be glad. The term “Gaudete" is taken from the Entrance Antiphon of today’s mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near”. This year, the way the liturgical calendar works out, Gradate Sunday is right in the middle of our holy season of Advent, so we rejoice that the Advent season is coming to an end as we approach our joyful Christmas celebration. Our readings today reflect the spirit of Gaudete Sunday, giving us encouragement, hope, and joy. Our readings start out with Isaiah telling the people of Israel to rejoice and have hope: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
But then we hear from this strange Advent character again - the prophet John the Baptist. In the Gospel we heard last Sunday, John the Baptist was wandering around the desert wilderness, eating strange food and calling the people of Ancient Israel to repent. But today our Gospel finds John the Baptist in prison - not a place that is particularly connected to joy. John is in prison for speaking the truth to King Herod. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus an important question: Are you the one to come? Are you the Messiah? The spiritual joy that we are called to have this Advent season is not a joy that is connected to the material pleasures in our world - it is a joy that is intrinsically connected to our faith. Think of how when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, it was John the Baptist who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb, recognizing that he was in the presence of Jesus and Mary. Later in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist asserts to his disciples that although he himself is not the Messiah, he has been sent by God to announce his coming, and so he rejoices greatly at the voice of the Messiah that he hears at Jesus’ coming into the world, for it has made John the Baptist’s joy complete.
Not many months after he was elected Pope, Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - The Joy of the Gospel - in November 2013. Joy is such a commonly used word - and perhaps misused word in our world today - that Pope Francis issued this document on the importance of Gospel joy and joy of evangelization that we are to feel in our hearts as disciples of Christ. Pope Francis opened this document by saying - “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and ives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness.” This joy is open to everyone and is to exclude no one. What a great message for us to hear in a world that is so divided and so exclusionary in so many ways. Advent and Christmas can be such a busy time of the year. We have so much work to be done, so many social and family obligations, extra bills and expenses, extra chores and errands to run. We feel so busy and so stretched this time of the year. How can quiet our hearts and feel the joy of Christ inside with such a busy time of the year? How can we prepare for the coming of the Lord? Pope Francis said in his apostolic letter that all of us are invited to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, to be open to let Jesus encounter us in the busy schedules of our lives. You might think that this message is not meant for you, but it is meant for all of us, no matter where we are on journey of faith. We may think we are engaged as much as we can in our busy lives with our faith, to feel the joy of Christ inside of us, but perhaps God is still calling out to us today in certain ways. Tuesday, we will be having mass and our Advent reconciliation service, starting at 6:00 pm. We will have several priests here to listen to your confessions. It is common for a lot of Catholics to brush off and ignore the sacrament of reconciliation in your life of faith, to make excuses for not going, to think that we don’t need that sacrament. But, perhaps this is what we need right now on our Advent journey to experience a sense of joy or healing or peace in our lives.
I was reading our Little Blue Book reflection for this weekend, and I came across this quote from Mother Teresa from when she accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace back on December 10, 1979 - “Le us keep that joy of loving Jesus in our hearts, and share that joy with all we come in touch with. That radiating joy is real, for we have no reason not to be happy, because we have Christ with us. Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and Christ in the smile we receive.” Let us feel the joy of the Advent season with us this morning.