Today – the third Sunday of Advent -- is known as “Gaudete” Sunday.
The word “Gaudete” is a Latin verb which translates into English as “rejoice”: rejoice because Jesus, the joy of our salvation, is about to be born.
I read a story about a youngster who asked his mother, "Where do people come from?" The mother thought for a minute and replied, "Well, Joey, God made Adam and Eve and they had children and that's where we came from." Two days later, the youngster asked his father the same question. He answered, "The human race evolved from apes over millions of years." The confused youngster went back to his mother and said, "mommy, you told me that God created people, but daddy says they came from apes." "Well, Joey, it's very simple. I told you about my side of the family and daddy told you about his side." There's something not quite right about that answer!
Here’s a question. How many can sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas?”
There’s a story behind that carol. After 1558, for some two centuries thereafter, Catholics in England couldn't practice their faith openly. And so someone wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a statement about Catholic belief. The carol has two levels of meaning.
On a religious level, the Partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ. The two turtle doves are the old and new testaments. Three French hens are faith, hope and love. Four calling birds are the four Gospels. The five golden rings refer to the Torah. Six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Spirit. Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the spirit. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers piping stand for the faithful disciples. And the 12 drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed.
So if you listen to or sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” this season, you might test your family's religious education.
The Word of God takes us back probably to the Isaiah of the 6th century before Jesus. Babylonia had conquered Jerusalem, burned the temple down and destroyed whatever it could. Yet the author speaks about new beginnings: the dry barren desert will bloom; the wilderness will burst with life; the messiah will come: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk.
The author of Isaiah may be asking us: What message do we proclaim to others in our attitudes and behaviors? Hope in a God-centered future? The medium is the message.
James in his letter urges us to practice patience like the farmer, he says, who plants and waits for nature to bring forth a harvest of produce. Patience! Even better, perseverance! That’s a theme in James.
History abounds with examples of naysayers. However, success often comes to those who persevere, who say, “I can make it happen.”
A sculptor, e. g. worked on a large piece of marble and lamented, “I can't do anything with it.” But Michelangelo discovered the same stone and visualized the possibilities for it. His “I-can-make-it-happen” attitude resulted in one of the greatest masterpieces in sculpture: the statue of David.
Thomas Edison discouraged his friend, Henry Ford, from pursing the idea of a motorcar. But Ford believed he could make it happen. And, of course, he did. Yes, patience and perseverance often make the difference! James might well be asking us: How persevering are we in our life of discipleship with Jesus?
In the Gospel, John the Baptizer announces that he is the “voice” in the wilderness who prepares the way for the messiah. John cried out to the people who came to the waters of the Jordan, “repent”; live an other-centered, a God-centered life. And when Jesus walked along the banks of the Jordan, John pointed to him as the sacrificial Lamb of God through whose bloody death/glorious resurrection we are in relationship with God.
What really caught my attention today were the words of Isaiah, “fear not”; and the courage of John the Baptizer. John had the courage to speak truth to power—King Herod-- and paid for it with his life. He wasn't afraid to do the right thing. He was a profile in courage.
It's interesting that a common phrase in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.” A common phrase in the Old Testament is “Be not afraid.” Between the two testaments, the phrases appear more than one thousand times. Do you think God might be trying to get a message across to us?
Some psychologists argue that the most dominant emotion in society is fear. Think about it. We're afraid of rejection and failure, afraid of certain parts of town, afraid of certain types of people, afraid of criticism, afraid to say how we really feel and what we really think. We're afraid of so many things. All these fears can paralyze us. In fact, fear stops more people from doing something extraordinary than lack of ability.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear.
Look through the pages of history and identify people you admire. Who would they be without courage? I would venture to say nothing worthwhile in life is achieved without courage. So much can be accomplished in one moment of courage. By the same token, so much can be lost in one moment of fear.
Courage is an acquired virtue. You learn to ride a bicycle by riding a bicycle. You learn to play a sport, or a musical instrument, by playing. You acquire courage by practicing courage.
Virtues are like muscles—when you exercise them, they become stronger. John Glenn, e. g., logged thousands of aeronautical miles before he became the first American to orbit the earth.
Starting a new venture, making a sacramental commitment like marriage or ordination, struggling to overcome an addiction, coming humbly before God in prayer: they all require courage. It animates us, and makes so many things possible. In fact, the measure of one's life is the measure of one's courage.
It takes courage to do something “just right” as Therese of Lisieux did daily when called upon to choose between quality and what’s slipshod or just enough.
It takes courage to stand on principle and an informed conscience, as Thomas More did against Henry VIII, when called upon to speak up for what is right.
In short, it takes courage to choose what is right in decisions that affect work, career, family and social life. We know that in the struggles of life we are not alone, for God has given us the Spirit of courage.
Yes, the challenges of leading a good life demand courage. In the end, a life lived in accordance with an informed conscience leaves us at peace within ourselves. And only such a life — and the struggle to have an informed conscience — can bestow this peace, this inner calm that comes from being in harmony not only with God, but with our own inner best selves.
And so, seek always what is right as John the Baptizer did — not what is fashionable, not what is expected by others, not what is merely acceptable, but simply what is right and good. And having found what is right and good, as the slogan says: “just do it.”