Third Sunday of Advent

This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is a Latin imperative meaning “rejoice.” We rejoice because Christ, God’s anointed, the Messiah, is about to come at Christmas. The Christ-child is God's unique gift to us, among the many gifts God bestows upon us to enjoy.
We have so much to be thankful for. Some of you may recognize the name Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World. Here's an excerpt of a poem he often quoted, titled “Lord, forgive me when I whine.”
... when I stopped to buy some sweets,
The lad who served me had such charm;
He seemed to radiate good cheer,
...I said, "It's nice to deal with you,
Such courtesy I seldom find."
He turned and said, "Oh, thank you, sir!"
And I saw that he was blind.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two eyes - the world is mine.

Read the poem and you'll never whine again. Count your blessings.

At bible study last Wednesday, the group explored different levels of meaning in the Book of Genesis. I read about a youngster who asked each of his parents in light of Genesis, "Where do people come from?" The mother replied, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children and that's where we came from." When the youngster asked his father the same question, he responded, "We probably 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.”  The mother answered, "Well, it's very simple. I told you about my side of the family and daddy told you about his side." There's something odd about that answer!

The Advent season invites us to reflect continually upon the threefold coming of Jesus. The Word made flesh, the Christ-child, came to us centuries ago in Bethlehem; the living Christ comes to us now sacramentally in Mass; and Christ will come again gloriously at the end-time to transform this universe into a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Today's word of God takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus, as the Hebrews resettle in their devastated homeland. Ruin and debris are everywhere. Yet the prophet proclaims good news: healing, freedom, favor and justice. Ultimately  the good news is Jesus—the Word made flesh. The prophet Isaiah might ask us: do we bring good news to people?

Paul, in his letter to the community at Thessalonica in Greece, urges us to rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks to God. Count our blessings, Paul says. And then he prays that God will make the community holy. That's our prayer: to be made holy.

In the Gospel, John the Baptizer announces that he is the “voice” in the wilderness who prepares the way for the Messiah. John points to Jesus.  We might ask ourselves in light of John's mission, does our lifestyle and behavior point to Jesus?

Now three personalities dominate the Advent season: Isaiah; John the Baptizer; and the Virgin Mary. Today I would like to reflect upon John the Baptizer: so-called because he immersed people in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign of cleansing from their old ways, so that they could be faithful to the demands of God’s covenant.

John lived a simple, ascetic life-style. His message was straightforward. He proclaimed what the prophet Micah begged the Hebrews to do centuries before: do what is right, love goodness, walk humbly with God. “Repent,” John cried out; “orient your life to God’s covenant.”

John points to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God through whose life, death and resurrection we have God’s friendship again, God’s eternal life.

John is indeed the herald of Jesus; and for speaking the truth to King Herod, John was imprisoned and executed. What really impressed me about John was his courage.  He had the courage to speak truth to power, and paid for it with his life.  He wasn't afraid to do the right thing. John was a profile in courage.

It's interesting that a common phrase in the Old Testament is “Be not afraid.” A common phrase in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.” Between the two testaments or covenants, the phrases appear more than one thousand times. Do you think God is trying to get a message across?

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. Fears can paralyze us.  In fact, fear (rather than lack of ability) stops many people from doing something extraordinary. 

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 venture to say nothing worthwhile 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 it. You acquire courage by practicing courage. 

Virtues are like muscles—when you exercise them, they become stronger. John Glenn, for example, 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 just “enough.”

It takes courage to stand on principle and an informed conscience, as Thomas More did against King Henry VIII, when compelled 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. It's one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the challenges of leading a good life demand courage.

But in the end, a life lived in accordance with an informed conscience leaves us at peace. 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 with God and with our own best selves. 

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 what is right and good. And having found what is right and good, as the slogan says: “just do it.”

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