Homily on the Third Sunday of Advent
The Messiah (Lk 3:15)
Yesterday, I dropped a white chasuble (the outer vestment that the priest wears when he celebrates Mass) at the dry cleaners. After pointing out which area of the vestment needed particular attention, the worker at the front desk looked at me, smiled and said, “So, the women of the parish must love their priest,” and she pointed to all the lipstick marks. My face turned red, and I told her: “Actually, this is the vestment that I often wear at the funeral Mass, and sometimes people use the shoulder of the priest as a place of comfort.” Her response stunned me: “Although I am not Catholic, I am going to clean this myself after the store closes. I want to get all the stains out so that at the next funeral, people will not hesitate to lean on your shoulder to find comfort.” I looked at her and said: “You really capture the spirit of Advent!”
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). That is the entrance antiphon for the Mass (also part of the Second Reading) on this Sunday. The word rejoice in Latin is gaudete. As a result, this day is called Gaudete Sunday. We rejoice because the Lord is near and our preparation, expressed in our repentance, is intensified. In fact, the word anointed is our key to understand the repentance at Advent. This theme is in the antiphon before the proclamation of the Gospel:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Is 61:1 (cited in Lk 4:18). The Christ/Messiah means the Anointed. God anointed Jesus to bring glad tidings to the lowly. (Our Creed states: “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ”). The people in the Gospel reading “were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ” (Lk 3:15). John the Baptist quickly clarified his identity, “a voice of one crying out in the desert” (Lk 3:4) and the identity of Christ–“one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Lk 3:16). Jesus was anointed by God to bring glad tidings to the lowly, and John is the frontrunner of this good news. No wonder the Gospel this Sunday ends by saying: “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” (Lk 3:18).
Halfway through our Advent, we are to recall and live out our identity as well. In our Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist) we are anointed people. Just as Christ was anointed by God, the followers of Christ, Christians, are to be anointed. Just as Christ was anointed to bring glad tidings to the lowly, so you and I are anointed to bring comfort and joy to others. Just as John the Baptist proclaimed the “good news to the people,” our presence in the world should be that aroma of the oil of gladness we received in our initiation. To be Christian is to radiate the joy of the Gospel to all around us. This Gaudete Sunday reminds us of our identity and our sacred calling.
The Gospel today also recorded. When the crowds came to hear the message of repentance of John the Baptist, they asked: “What should we do?” In response to them, John the Baptist really centered on, “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). They are to share generously and joyfully with those in need: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:10). The repentance during this season must be accompanied by acts of joyful generosity.
Let us be mindful of the words from our First Reading, from Zephaniah: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem . . . . The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals” (Zep 3:14-18). When the Lord comes, may He find you and I joyfully living out our identity as the anointed people. Amen.