December 11, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

The Lord is coming again in glory

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

This weekend, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent). The Latin word “Gaudete” means rejoice. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us to rejoice always because the Lord is near (Phil 4:4-7). Christians should always be filled with joy, but we rejoice in a special way during the Advent season because the Lord is near.

Christ lived among us as a man 2,000 years ago. After his passion, death and resurrection, he ascended to his Father. But we Christians believe that he will come again in glory on the last day. We also believe that he is with us here and now—in the holy Eucharist and all the sacraments, in our prayer and in the works we perform in his name, and wherever two or more are gathered as his Church.

What do we mean when we say that the Lord, who is with us always, is also coming again this Christmas season and at the end of time?

Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. That means that, while he is the goal or end of human history, he is not bound by the limits of time or space as we are. As a result, he can be present with us now and, at the same time, be coming again in the future.

Advent celebrates this mystery. Although we know that Christ is with us always, we still wait for him, our blessed hope, and long for his coming again in glory. While we believe in his real presence in the Eucharist, we long for the more perfect communion that we will enjoy when we are with him in our heavenly home.

This “perfect communion” that is still yet to come is hinted at in the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. The season of Christmas is the time of year when we once again rejoice at the coming of the Lord. We sing of his presence and celebrate the wondrous fact that God is with us (Emmanuel), the Lord of history freely choosing to enter into our time and space in order to be one with us.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written, “As a child, Jesus came not only from God, but from other human beings. He grew in the womb of a woman, from whom he received his flesh and his blood, his heartbeat, his gestures, his language. He received life from the life of another human being.”

Christmas celebrates this great mystery. God is with us—really and truly—in the person of an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The Almighty God has emptied himself and taken the form of the most vulnerable and dependent human being, a little child.

So, we rejoice. We are filled with joy because the long-awaited Savior has come at last. We rejoice because we are not alone in a vast, uncaring universe. God is with us. He knows us—each one by name—and he loves us as his sisters and brothers in the one family of God.

But even as we rejoice at the mystery of God’s presence here and now, we also celebrate the profound hope that he will come again. The suffering and evil that we experience in this world will pass away one day. God’s kingdom will come—on Earth as it is heaven—and on that day every tear will be wiped away, and we will see God face to face.

What must we do to prepare for the Lord’s coming again? The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk 3:10–18) is very clear:

“The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise’ ” (Lk 3:10-11).

What should we do to prepare for the Lord’s coming? Share generously with others all the gifts God has given us. This is the source of all true rejoicing. This is why we can wait for the Lord’s coming in joyful hope. It’s why we celebrate Christ’s birth and why we can pray with absolute certainty: We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.

My prayer for you and for all our brothers and sisters here in central and southern Indiana is that we will be filled with Advent hope. And that we will express our hope by reaching out to our sisters and brothers—especially those who are most in need of our love—and sharing with them our confident hope that the Lord is coming, now and at the end of time! †

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