Homily for December 11, III Sunday of Advent, cycle B
“Rejoice in the Lord!” Variations on this phrase are repeated over and over in an almost constant crescendo right from the entrance antiphon of this Mass. In Latin, the phrase is “Gaudete in Domino”, and because that word “rejoice”, “gaudete”, is central to today’s liturgy, the third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”. That’s also why the candle we light today in the Advent wreath is a bright cheery rose color instead of deep violet.
As the call to rejoicing echoes through the first reading, the psalm, and the second reading, we can almost feel the expectation building for the final joyful exclamation, “Rejoice because Christ is born!” But instead of seeing the baby Jesus in the Gospel reading, we hear John the Baptist tell us that we still have time – and the need – to prepare ourselves.
It can be easy to forget that we are in a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. We have so many other things to think about – setting up our Christmas decorations, sending out Christmas cards, trying to figure out what gifts to buy for our families and friends, hosting and attending Christmas parties… While this can be fun, it can also wear us out. There is a real danger we end up seeing December 25 as a longed-for end to all the hustle and bustle and expenses of the season, instead of as a day of spiritual rejoicing. Christmas Day is the end of Advent, and just the beginning of the Christmas season, which lasts through the twelve days of Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
So, even as we enjoy all the externals of this season, let’s remember to heed the words of John the Baptist: “make straight the way of the Lord”. We need to work in a special way during this season to rid our lives of anything that might be displeasing to God, and obstacles to His grace this Christmas. St. Paul says something similar in the second reading today. While he encourages us to “rejoice always”, he also warns us to “pray without ceasing”, “refrain from every kind of evil,” and collaborate with God’s grace so we can be “preserved blameless for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” This applies both to our preparation for Christmas and to our preparation for the second coming of Christ.
This spiritual preparation is a lot more challenging than finding the lowest prices and getting the right gift for everyone on our list. It requires more patience than dealing with difficult relatives or acquaintances that we only see once a year. Speaking for myself, back at the beginning of Advent, I picked one area of my life where I need to be more in line with God’s will, and I’ve been trying to improve. I haven’t always been successful, but I’m going to offer my effort to Jesus as the best gift I can give.
So as we pass the half-way point of Advent today, let us renew our efforts to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus at Christmas. Let us rejoice, for He is near, and He will give us once again the greatest gift we can ever receive: the gift of Himself.