I have been a Catholic all of my life, so I find it amazing, when every year at this time I am startled by the appearance of John the Baptist. John is a pretty gnarly guy: I imagine him as a bit of a caveman. I can’t help but wonder how he became this rough and ready fellow, ready to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And in this Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, he doesn’t say who he is, but rather who he isn’t, pointing to Jesus as the one who comes after him. John “was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
We traditionally call this third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” or “Joyful” Sunday. The readings and prayers of the Mass encourage us to rejoice and give thanks in the midst of our watching and waiting. We light the pink candle, our music takes a lighter tone. No, it’s not yet Christmas, but we know it’s very close!
As the month of December goes on the days continue to get shorter and shorter: our hope lies in our experience that in a very short time, the days will begin to grow longer. We will have the sun, or at least daylight, a little bit longer every day! It is not a coincidence that we celebrate the birth of Jesus so close to the winter solstice. In Everything Belongs, Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us that darkness can be a very good teacher: “Religious energy is in the dark questions, not in the answers.” Once we have endured the darkness, and we can look with joyful hope to the arrival of our Savior in our hearts and in our world.
As we listen to Paul’s urgings to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks”, I can’t help but think that many people in our world have a difficult time finding joy. The joy these readings urge us to is not a grinning all the time, Pollyanna type outlook but a joy rooted in God that includes a deep understanding and real knowledge of God’s deep love for us. A joy that finds its roots in faith.
The video below “May I Suggest” seems to call us to become the very best version of ourselves and find real joy.
Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Advent by Ann Mertes, Adult Faith Formation Director, Saint Francis of Assisi parish in West Des Moines