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Dec 16, 2019 - Yes, Joy! But Let's Set Things Straight First!

Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

This week, I spent quite a few hours in the confessional. I celebrated he Sacrament of Reconciliation for the students of St. Helen School on Tuesday. On Thursday, I was at the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the students at Immaculate Conception School. On the same evening, we also the Tri-Parish reconciliation service. In numerous instances, the sense of comfort and relief in the faces of the penitents is something that only I get to see. One penitent put it this way: “I just want to be this (makes a gesture connecting her heart and God above), to be OK.” Tears rolling down her cheeks, she longed to have God back in her life again. She left the confessional in total relief and peace. It’s also called joy!  

The third Sunday of Advent is always celebrated as “Gaudete Sunday!” Translated as “Rejoice Sunday,” the name comes directly from the scripture readings chosen for the day. “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zep 3:14). In today’s second reading from Philippians, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). The joy that today’s reading is referring to is the joy of God’s presence – God’s healing, restoring, reconciling, comforting, redeeming presence!  

In three points, let us try to understand the joy of Gaudete Sunday.  

a) The Joy of Divine Presence. The book of Zephaniah, from which our first reading is taken, has a total of three chapters. It makes for hard reading because Zephaniah was preparing the people for the impending divine judgement. Those were the days of rampant infidelity to God and to the Covenant. It was seen particularly in the worship of alien gods during the reign of King Josiah. While Zephaniah proclaimed judgement and doom for Judah, he also announced joy to those who awaited God’s presence – a presence that would set things straight. The verses, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem” (Zeph 3:14), is for those people who anticipate God to come and set things right again. Those who longed for godliness, rejoiced greatly at the news that God was coming to be present to them. In reality, the joy that Zephaniah announced was in anticipation of God’s presence.  

b) Setting Things Straight with God. We might call John the Baptist the Zephaniah of the New Testament. In the words, “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” John prepared the people for Christ. These words were once proclaimed to the people who awaited the Messiah. Today, these words are proclaimed to us. Advent is a time to set things right with God. As you go about with your preparation for Christmas, take a glimpse into your heart. Take the time to look within and see where we might be subject to both God’s judgement and mercy. Where do we need to be right with God? Joy awaits us if we long for God. Joy awaits us if we long for God’s presence. Joy awaits us if we are willing to set things straight with God.  

c) Setting Things Straight with Others. You might call John the Baptist the Zephaniah of the New Testament. In the words, “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” John prepared the people for Christ. These words were once proclaimed to the people who awaited the Messiah. Today, these words are proclaimed to us. Advent is a time to set things right with God. As you go about with your preparation for Christmas, take a glimpse into your heart. Take the time to look within and see where we might be subject to both God’s judgement and mercy. Where do we need to be right with God? Joy awaits us if we long for God. Joy awaits us if we long for God’s presence. Joy awaits us if we are willing to set things straight with God.  

The presence of God that Zephaniah announced is here on this altar. “His winnowing fan is in his hand….” Let us acknowledge Jesus’ presence, and let us set things right with God and with one another, so that his joy might be in us!

- Fr Satish Joseph