December 14, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionFor centuries, this Sunday was called Gaudete Sunday, the name coming from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon—“Rejoice” or, in Latin, “Gaudete.”

The antiphon calls worshipers to rejoice because the Lord’s arrival into human experience will be coming soon!

While violet is the color prescribed for liturgical vestments in Advent, on this weekend priests may choose to wear rose-colored vestments. The rose represents the more somber violet brightened by the light of the impending dawn of Christ’s birth.

The first reading is from the Book of Zephaniah.

This book traces events from the seventh century before Christ. It is a rather short work—just three chapters in length—but its language and message are powerful.

Its theme is similar to that of the other prophets. Human sin has brought great hardship and heartbreak into the world. Sin is the worst calamity, and people have no one to blame but themselves for their sins.

However, God is always faithful, forgiving and good. He rescues people by showing them the way out of their sin and by renewing the call to righteousness.

Thus, this reading exclaims in anticipation and joy that, “All is forgiven! A savior is on the way! All will be right!”

Even so, God imposes nothing on people. He does not coerce them into reluctant obedience. He does not overwhelm people as a conqueror would control them.

Rather, the people turn to God and reform their lives, although certainly impelled and strengthened by God.

For its second reading, the Church presents a reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

As in the first reading, the theme is joy. Christ is the long-awaited Redeemer. He reunites humanity with God. In Jesus is life and hope.

St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the Gospel reading.

The principal figure is John the Baptist, one of the more striking figures of the early Church. A cousin of Jesus, he was a widely known prophet who called people to God.

Quite realistic in his understanding of Jesus, John knew that he himself was only the precursor of the promised Savior. Indeed, John said that he was not even worthy to untie the Savior’s sandal strap.

It was a testimony to John, but also to the Redeemer. John was regarded as a holy man. If John could not even perform such a menial task on behalf of the Savior as to untie a sandal strap, then the Savior most certainly was of God.

This reading would have been especially meaningful in the first century A.D. to anyone familiar with Jewish tradition and the environment surrounding Jesus.

All the Gospels appeared against the backdrop of God’s relationship with the Jews. Supreme in this relationship was God’s constant mercy—a mercy perfected when a Savior would appear.

Reflection

No New Testament writing more splendidly presents the great majesty of Jesus—the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God—and true Christian faith than does St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

This weekend’s second reading so well captures this quality of Philippians.

The message is thrillingly given. Jesus is Lord! He is everything.

Opposite Jesus the Lord, the wondrous figure of perfect love and resurrected life, is human sin and the destruction that sin creates. Zephaniah alludes to this sin and its consequences as does John the Baptist in the Gospel.

Christians can rejoice, however, because they are not doomed to the eternal consequences of their sin. They are redeemed!

God, through and in Jesus, will forgive their sins if they renounce these sins and ask for forgiveness. Then, assured of forgiveness, they can live forever in Christ.

Christmas is near. Jesus is near. Turn away from sin. Be forgiven. Then, because we have reformed ourselves in Advent, the Lord soon will be with us personally.

Thus, the Church calls us to rejoice. “Gaudete!” †

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