The Only News That Really Matters

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass asks us to rejoice. If you ever wondered why we call this Gaudete Sunday, it comes from the Latin version of this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete. […] Dominus prope est.” The Church, during this time of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord, feels it necessary to remind us to rejoice in the Lord. Our reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy that we will experience when we the Lord comes to us: the earth itself will be unable to contain its joy, with even deserts exulting and blooming with flowers.

To me, this little breakout of rejoicing and joy seems like a perfectly human thing to do. When I am preparing for some really amazing event, at some point everything just fades out, and I have to simply sit back and delight in the joyful anticipation of the event. I must admit, I am feeling this way about Christmas right now. I’ve been very conscious of my preparations for Christmas this year, and at this point, that’s all fading away, and I’m just excited for Christmas. When I was praying about the readings this Sunday, I kept thinking about a movie I recently saw… Ford vs. Ferrari. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really good movie. A little bit of language, but nothing really objectionable. I wish more movies were like it.) You may be thinking, “what in the world does a movie about Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans have to do with Gaudete Sunday?” Well, that’s 100% fair, but I kept thinking about the voice-over at the beginning of the movie, where Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, says, “There’s a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, it just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM, that’s where you meet it. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”

Seven thousand RPM aside, there is a deep and profound point here. The question at the end, “who are you?,” is a critically important question, but there is even more than that here. When we have focused on something long enough, when we have prepared for it with everything we have, and when we finally find ourselves right in the middle of it: everything else really does fade away. We are left with just two things: ourselves and whatever it is we’re getting ready for. In Advent, we prepare to make present again the memory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, being born in Bethlehem all those years ago. We try to let all of the hustle and bustle of the world, all of the parties, all of the distractions fade into the background as we focus on just that one even: the sudden and completely undeserved appearance of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our hearts, in our lives. It is a moment of profound joy. Elizabeth, at Mary’s visitation, asked, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” We, ourselves, can pose a similar question as we move closer to Christmas: “why has this happened to me, that my Lord comes to me?”

The simple answer: God loves us too much to leave us. Our love is fickle and fades, but his never does. So, he came to us to save us. In case we wouldn’t take him at his word that he was who he claimed to be and had the power he claimed to have, he worked miracles and incredible signs, so that we might know he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John the Baptist had dedicated his whole life to preparing for the Lord. There was no more credible witness than John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah foretold from the very beginning, the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

There’s a point, the Third Sunday of Advent, where everything fades. The things of this world become weightless, they just disappear. And all that’s left is that pure and joyful expectation. Third Sunday of Advent, that’s when you meet it. That joy, it creeps up near you, and tells you Good News. The only news that really matters: Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Today’s Readings:
December 15, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:40am)
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Rejoice! The Lord is Near!

Rejoice in the Lord always! For hundreds of years we Catholics have read this same passage from Paul on this Third Sunday of Advent.1 If we’ve been reading the same thing for so long on the same day, it must be important. What is Paul saying that the Church wants us to hear in this reading? The Gospel today gives us a clue. John the Baptist reminds us that the mighty one is coming, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, who will separate the wheat from the chaff. The people in the Gospel repeat the question over and over: What should we do?

The people knew that they had to do something to prepare for the Messiah, but they weren’t sure what to do. The people knew that they must be ready for him. Last week we heard the prophecy of Isaiah which told us to prepare the way for the Lord. It told us to straighten the road, to make it smooth and easier for him to travel. While the Jewish people would have originally understood that this is what you actually do when a king visits them, we now can take a new meaning from it. We must cleanse our hearts and our souls and prepare them to receive the Lord at Christmas. We must make a path within our hearts for the Lord, a straight and smooth path upon which he may travel. John tells us that this path is paved with good deeds. We must give to the poor, conduct our business honestly, and not extort others.

This sounds like a lot of work, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be something over which we would normally rejoice. But this work of preparation is just the beginning! John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. He never saw the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord. He was not blinded by Jesus like Paul was. John the Baptist never heard the Good News of the New Covenant: he only had half the story!

Paul knows the whole story. He knew that yes, we must repent of our former lives. He knew that we must die and rise again in Christ. Paul knew that we must always remember the presence of the Lord in our new lives as Christians. The first step to remember the Lord’s presence is to rejoice in the Lord always. We cannot rejoice when we are burdened by our sins and our anxieties. Instead, we must give these up. We must rid ourselves of sin and anxiety and give everything over to God. Paul knew that the world wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He knew that there were hard times in store for each of us. In fact, in this part of Philippians he is trying to resolve a disagreement between two of his former co-workers and evangelists! This doesn’t stop Paul, though. He tells us to turn everything over to the Lord, and he promises us that the peace of God […] will guard [our] hearts and minds, which Paul knows will help us to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14 NRSVCE)

During this time of year, the Lord is calling us to be near to him in a special and unique way. We are quickly approaching the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Jesus’s birth reminds us that God became a human being, just like you and me. He had a mom, just like you and me. He had an earthly father, just like you and me. He walked and talked and worked just like you and me! God knows how hard it is to be human. That is why he came to help us. God wants us to live forever with him in Heaven. We were struggling to live the lives necessary to join God in Heaven, and because God loves us, he came down to us and showed us how to do it. This is what the Church reminds us every year when we celebrate Christmas.

But it’s not quite Christmas yet. We still have a little over a week before it gets here. Why is the Church calling us to rejoice now, instead of waiting until Christmas? We must rejoice, because we know that our Lord is coming, and we know why our Lord is coming. We know that he is coming to save us. We know that he is coming to take away all those anxieties that we give him. He is coming to help us to live the good and moral lives that we struggle to live every day. Jesus is coming, and he’s coming very soon. We rejoice because we are nearing the end of our preparation time. If we have been using our time in Advent well, then we have begun to live our lives in a new and better way. We have begun to cast out all our fears and doubts and pains and struggles, and we have begun to give them all back to God. Not only is the Lord coming closer and closer to us in the celebration of Christmas, but he is coming closer and closer to us because we our lives are better reflecting him to others. We are becoming more able to receive God’s love and to enter his Kingdom at the end of our lives. This is cause for rejoicing!

Rejoice! The birth of our Lord and Savior is near!

Today’s Readings
December 16, 2018
3rd Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18