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This Sunday is Gaudate Sunday — “rejoice” Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B). The liturgy tells us to rejoice. The readings tell us to rejoice. With Advent more than half over, the pink candle tells us to rejoice.
We hardly need the reminder: We have been rejoicing for weeks, humming along to the Christmas songs at the grocery store, attending Christmas parties and holiday concerts.
The Church does give us one qualifier to all this rejoicing, however: St. John the Baptist in the Gospel.
John gives the one critical prerequisite that allows all this rejoicing. “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,” he says, “‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”
In calling us all to repentance and baptism, he is putting our joy in a very clear context.
You only rejoice that the landlord is coming if you’re all paid up on your bill; you only rejoice that the police are coming if you’re not wanted for a crime; and you only rejoice that your loved one is coming if you have reconciled after that terrible argument you had.
It is the same way with the coming of Christ: Only the repentant rejoice.
It has always been this way. The first reading told us how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah rejoiced.
“I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”
It is only through “salvation” and “justice” that he can “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.”
This Sunday’s Psalm is Mary’s Magnificat from Luke. She proclaims great rejoicing for some, but not for everyone.
“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty,” she says.
St. Paul commands: “Rejoice always,” but he also has a few prerequisites for the joy:
We can rejoice knowing that God’s love is coming only if we have prepared the way for God’s love. We can rejoice because we know is mercy is great and his promises will be kept. We can rejoice because, as Paul puts it, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
But we can only rejoice today in the degree to which we have repented and prepared for him to come, in prayer, penance and almsgiving.
Jesus Christ is coming to our lives as certainly as Christmas is. And when he comes all that will matter is how we have accepted and returned his love.
Image: Lawrence OP, Flickr