The third Sunday of Advent is also referred to as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin “to rejoice”. This Sunday we put away the violet color of Advent and put on the rose color vestments and light the rose colored candle to mark this festive moment. So why are we rejoicing now? Advent isn’t over yet. First, because the 3rd Sunday marks that we are past the halfway point of our Advent fast. While the practice of fasting for Advent was done away with in the early 20th century, we still recognize the day as a brief moment of celebration as we wind-down our period of penitent reflection. It is also an opportunity to recognize that Jesus’ coming, both the first time, and the second time yet to come, are moments of great joy and celebration. As such, our readings this week take a more joyous tone.
The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 146, 6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Our first reading, again from Isaiah, speaks of a glory to come… that the Lord will save Jerusalem. The land itself will blossom with joy for those how are strong in the Lord. It should be noted that at this point in the Isaiah narrative, the Assyrian forces are at King Hezekiah’s doorstep, and in desperation he turns to Isaiah for the Lord’s help. While the Lord rebukes Hezekiah, he does show his mercy to the people.
Our second reading comes from the letter of James (a catholic letter written to everyone). Here we face a people concerned that Jesus has not yet returned, so James is calling for patience, using images that his agrarian community can understand… that of waiting for the rains to come and water their crops. Jesus, like the rain, will come, but in the meantime they should follow the examples of the prophets as they wait.
We then turn to our gospel from Mathew and pick up the story of John the Baptist now later in the narrative where he is in prison. John, perhaps sensing his own death to be coming soon, sends his followers to see if Jesus is indeed the one of whom he foretold. Jesus gives John’s followers a message to bring back to him, then turns to the crowd to speak of John as the one who was fortold (that voice in the wilderness to announce the coming of the savior). We would be misguided, I think, to not realize that John’s followers, who were dismissed by Jesus halfway through the reading, also heard this as well. So while this message may have brought John and his followers great joy, it won’t stop his execution 3 chapters later.
One of the common threads weaving its way through today’s readings is “prophecy”. Isaiah prophesying the salvation of Jerusalem. James prophesying that Jesus will return. John the Baptist prophesying the coming of the chosen one. While we Catholics hold these and other prophets in high esteem, we should not forget that the charism of prophecy is one that is in all of us. By virtue of our Baptism we are called to be priest, prophet, and king. We don’t have to be that voice crying out in the desert like John, but we do have a duty to speak the truth through our words and actions... and for this Sunday, a word of joy that Jesus will come.
A Tour of a Catholic Church
Advent Day by Day: Opening Doors to Joy