Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent

What is Advent?
We are now in the holy season of Advent where we prepare for both the coming of Christ at Christmas and the second coming at the end of time.  It is a spiritual period in which to meditate on these two mysteries and prepare for them.  We use the wreath and 4 candles to mark down the 4 weeks before Christmas.  

Three of the candles are purple and one is pink.  The purple symbolizes preparation through penance and prayer.  Purple is also used during Lent.  Another way to see it is purple is a physical sign of healing. When we get hurt, the injury becomes purple.  During the time of healing, it remains purple until it clears up.  Sin hurts us and we need time to heal from it by using the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, Prayer, Fasting, Indulgences and a genuine Spiritual life.  

The pink is for the third Sunday or Gaudete Sunday which means "Sunday of Joy."   We are joyous because we are getting closer to Christ's birth.  As each week goes, we light the candle that corresponds to that week.  

Today's readings:

Christmas is almost here!  We are joyous as we light the pink candle on this Gaudete Sunday or Sunday of Joy!  Christ is almost here!  But who is Christ?  Today's readings tell us.  In the first reading from Isaiah, we read about the Spirit of God being part of someone.  This someone is anointed and will bring glad tidings to those in poverty.  This someone will be there for those who are heart broken; will free those in captivity and minister to all.  So who is this someone?  Well this "someone" is none other than Jesus Himself. As a matter of fact, Jesus took this very text and read it at the synagogue.  It got Him into trouble as the religious teachers of His day became upset when He said that the words of Isaiah were fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:17-21).  They thought He was blaspheming and were about to beat Him up, so to speak. This is understandable.  How many of us would raise an eyebrow if someone reads Scripture and claims it was referring to him or her? We would think of this person as insane.

The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading with joy. We rejoice in God! Today's Psalm is unique because it is not from the book of Psalms, but from Our Lady's Magnificat found in Luke. The word "Psalm" comes from Hebrew "Tehillim" which means "praises or songs of praise."  Mary's "Magnificat" is her song of praise to God while showing her joy for having been chosen to bear Christ the Son of God. She echoes Isaiah's words of God who comes to "fill the hungry with good things" and the one who is the help of Israel.  This "Psalm of Mary" is prayed/sung at vespers (Evening prayer) every day by clergy, religious and those lay faithful who pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is a powerful expression of faith.

In the second reading from Thessalonians, we read about the need to rejoice and pray at all times. We must give thanks in ALL circumstances.  This means even in circumstances that are "bad." Many times we only pray and get joyous when things go well for us.  When they get rotten, we get upset at God. Sometimes we even try to barter with God: "Lord, if you do this or make this better, I will go to daily Mass or pray more."  This is not how a prayer life should be like. We must be with God and trust in God always, even when things go bad (Job 13:15). Life will not always be "puppies and kittens," so to speak. Things can get "hairy" really fast during the day. We can wake up cheerful and walk with a "skip" during the day and at night come home gnashing our teeth after facing long schedules, uncontrollable events and all kinds of personalities that give our facial muscles a good work out as we make different faces to each emotion we feel. Despite this, God will never allow us to deal with something we cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).  So in light of this, we must thank God even for the bad things that happen in life (James 1:2-3).  I know it sounds crazy, but it makes sense and demonstrates that God gives us power and freedom over all scenarios. They do not control us. Furthermore, the second reading continues to tell us not to "quench the Spirit" or set aside the fire in us from the Holy Spirit.  Our Christianity must be our lives, not something we do on Sundays. We must not reject things that will lead us to God and must always test everything. Many times, atheists claim that Christians believe things by blind"faith" and never question. This is not true. We are called to question everything. The reading then ends with a blessing to keep us in God's peace, holy and ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally in the Gospel, we read more about Jesus' cousin John the Baptist.  The reading tells us that John came to prepare the way for Christ.  He cries out in the desert preparing the way for Jesus. During this preparation, he offered a symbolic form of Baptism using water ( Ezekiel 36:24-27). Today we are also in preparation for the coming of Christ, not only on Christmas, but also in the end of time.  However, we are joyous. We cry out "maranatha" and hope for the return of the Savior of the world. The return of Christ is a joyous occasion even though it entails judgment. If we follow what needs to be done, then there is no need to panic or be fearful of this day. Christianity is about joy!  Nothing gets us down not even the pressures of this world. We are an "alleluia" people who proclaim Christ as the light and hope of this broken world. Gaudete Sunday reminds us of this joy. We are to take this joy and share it with the world.  Like St. John the Baptist, we must prepare the way of the Lord once again though we have not seen Him ourselves as John did (1 Peter 1:8-9). People will think of us as crazy, but that is okay. They will see the joy in us and it will become contagious.  God is all about joy, happiness, mercy and peace (Romans 14:17).  This is why Pope Francis has stressed the fact that we must not have "funeral faces." We must smile and be happy. We must show visibly our joy in Christ Jesus. Whenever we see someone come out from a show or movie, we can get a sense of how good that show or movie was based on the face of those exiting. The same with our faith. Outsiders will get an idea how our Christian faith is based on how we present it outwardly. If we come out of Mass with gloomy faces, or pray as if we were doing it out of obligation, then outsiders will see us as miserable sheep. This will not attract them. Our faith must be joyous and welcoming so as to prepare the world for Christ.  We are an Advent people who prepare; we are a Lenten people who suffer, we are an Ordinary people who live by extraordinary faith, but we are an Easter people who live in the joy of Jesus.

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