3rd Sunday of Advent – C • December 12, 2021 at St. Luke’s

This 3rd Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday which if you remember from a year ago is Latin for “rejoice”. Even though Advent is a season of expectation and waiting, and a mini-penitential season, right in the middle of it we have Gaudete Sunday in which we are reminded that even now we can – and should – rejoice.
So, in keeping with this theme of rejoicing, our readings and our responsorial psalm urge us to rejoice: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” As we heard in our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah. Why should we rejoice? Because “the Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.”
Even though Advent is a time in which we recall the thousands of years during which the Israelites waited for the Messiah, and even though we are still waiting for the return of the Lord at the end of time and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we are reminded that even now we can rejoice because the Lord is already in our midst. Even throughout the Old Testament, even though the Messiah had not yet come, the Lord was always with His chosen people Israel; he never abandoned them, although they turned away from Him again and again. And as Christians, we believe that the Messiah has already come in the person of Jesus Christ when he was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. Jesus has already come, he has already lived and died and risen from the dead; He has already won our salvation and freed us from sin and death.
But that raises the question: if Jesus has already won our salvation and freed us from sin and death, then why do sin and death still exist? To answer this, we must understand what it means to be freed from sin and death. It does not mean, of course, that they were supposed to have ceased to exist when Jesus rose from the dead. It does not mean that this life and this world should have become perfect and from free from suffering after Jesus’ Resurrection. Rather, “freedom from sin and death” means Jesus has given us the possibility of receiving a new and eternal life in which we will dwell with God in perfect joy and peace. Without the incarnation of Jesus, without his death and resurrection, there would have been no possibility for eternal life. But since Jesus has already come and suffered, died, and risen from the dead, the possibility that we too might one day enter into eternal life is now real. And for that reason, we can and should rejoice, even now.
But, we might protest, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic! We can’t rejoice! Yes, we still can. But what about how polarized we are as a nation! Yes, we can still rejoice. What about how crazy the world has gotten! I agree, the world is crazy. But we can still rejoice.
Or maybe you have experienced or are experiencing an illness, a family tragedy, the loss of a loved one, or you feel trapped in a dysfunctional relationship or family. Or perhaps you feel stuck in the same sins which just seem to prevent you from growing closer to God. As difficult as these situations can be, and as painful as life can sometimes be, I would nevertheless like to repeat the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Philippians which we just heard: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
In spite of whatever dark situations we may find ourselves in, we still have reason to rejoice, because Jesus has given us the promise of a new and eternal life. If there were no God, and there were no eternal life, then of course despair would be completely logical. I think it would be the only completely logical emotion to have. But because Jesus has already opened the way to eternal life for us, then all the darkness and all the tragedies of this life can be seen in a new light, with a new perspective. Without the redemption won for us by Jesus, what hope would we have? But because Jesus has saved us, all tragedy and sorrow and suffering can likewise be redeemed; every wound can be healed.
However, the rejoicing that we are urged to do should not be confused with optimism. Optimism doesn’t really have anything to do with what I am talking about here. Optimism is basically having a positive outlook on this life, that everything is going to work out just fine, in spite of any challenges or obstacles. Optimism is more or less focused on this life, not the next one. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it; I just think it’s inadequate – it’s not the same thing as hope. In fact, I think it’s certainly possible for a Christian to be pessimistic about this world but to be hopeful anyway.
Look at what happened to John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of the Lord. He died an unjust and horrible death because he proclaimed the truth. To his followers, no doubt it seemed like a horrible tragedy and a very dark time indeed. Perhaps they wondered how God could have permitted such a terrible thing to happen to such a good man. Perhaps they wondered where God was in all this, or why God had not saved him. Or, look at the death of Jesus Himself. It was incomprehensible to his disciples at the time – until they encountered the Risen Jesus.
I think it’s possible to feel pessimistic about this world – i.e. to not assume that everything is going to work out fine – and still be hopeful, because our hope is not based on this world or any outcomes in this world or whichever political party is in power; our hope comes from God Himself and the promises that He made to us through His Son Jesus Christ. We all know that this world will not last forever. The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed really doesn’t have anything to do with the promise of a couple cars and a nice home in the suburbs for everyone. Jesus didn’t say that there would never be wars, famines, plagues, and persecutions – on the contrary, he said that we should expect these things, or at least not be surprised when they do happen. And yet we can still have hope because we know that there is something infinitely better than this world that awaits us.
Even when bad things happen to us or to people we love, it’s not the end – God can redeem anything. Maybe not in this life, but certainly in the next.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we just give up on this world and this life and not care about anything because this world doesn’t matter and only the next life does. That’s because eternal life has really already begun for us, but the promises Jesus has made to us have not yet come to fulfillment. So in the meantime, we should strive for holiness and we should strive to, pardon the cliché, make the world a better place. Here are the instructions St. Paul gives us from his letter to the Philippians: “Your kindness should be known to all. By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In other words, we should always strive to show kindness and to perform acts of charity and mercy to others. We should dedicate time each day to the Lord in prayer, certainly bringing our needs and the needs of others to the Lord, but also remembering to give him thanks. And John the Baptist likewise exhorted the crowds who came to him to lead lives of honor and justice, and so should we.
Our eternal life with God has already begun, and he has already come into the world and won our salvation. So we have every reason to rejoice.