Third Week of Advent

I can’t believe it is the 3rd week of Advent already. Only three weeks left of the year 2021. I’m very happy to be the celebrant of this mass, my first one as a priest. And I’m happy to be celebrating this week because JOY is the theme. The readings are full of joy and comforting words. Gaudete is the Latin term used to describe this joyful week because it means “rejoice”. Why rejoicing today?
Because the day draws near when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The first reading today finds the prophet Zephaniah preaching during the reign of King Josiah (who ruled 640 to 609 before the birth of Jesus) in the land of Judah. Most of the old testament book of Zephaniah spreads words of doom & gloom. Today’s readings, however, provide Zephaniah’s words of hope and promise. He declares that God rejoices in the people of Jerusalem, that God showers them with love.
I’ll repeat a few of Zephaniah’s words read today:

God is in your midst;
God rejoices over you with gladness;
God will renew you with love;
God will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

This message of God’s love for people fits very well on Gaudete Saturday, as we wait and we get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

In fact, these words of Zephaniah could be used to celebrate the birth of any child, such as for Mary & Steve Keldermans, who welcomed their 11th grandchild into their family this past week. Let’s see how these words fit for Ellie Anne, their new granddaughter:

God is in your life; God rejoices over you with gladness;
God will renew you with love;
God exults over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

Steve & Mary, do these words fit your sentiments for Ellie Anne?
We also know that these words don’t end after a baby is born.
Perhaps our parents joyfully welcomed our birth a few years ago,
back in the day. But maybe, sad to say, they really did not rejoice over our birth. No matter the sentiments of our parents or grandparents,
we can welcome the words of Zephaniah for each of us this very day.
Yes, God continues to take joy in our lives:
And so we hear again Zephaniah’s words with a new pronoun:
God is in OUR lives;
God rejoices over US with gladness;
God renews US with love;
God exults over US with loud singing as on a day of festival.
Isn’t it comforting to reflect upon God’s love for each of us:
when we were born, while we were growing up,
when we made our life choices, when we’ve chosen a new path,
when we’ve grown older.
God’s love has always been with us,
whether or not we realized it.
And the same love extends to all peoples, in all places of the universe,
in all cycles of life, from birth and beyond the grave!
Another joy for me today from the readings is that the 2nd reading from Paul to the Philippians was included in the 2nd reading on my ordination day, just five weeks ago.
Again, we heard these words: Rejoice in the Lord always.
Let your requests be made known to God,
and the peace of God will surpass all understanding.
Actually, at the time Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison.
Imagine writing a letter while being punished in prison,
and the theme of his message was one of joy.
Paul encouraged the people of Philippi to rejoice in their faith in Jesus, to ack in kindness, and to pray with confidence, even under hardships.

Lastly, our 3rd reading today from the gospel of Luke is a continuation of last week’s gospel where John the Baptist
Offered a baptism of repentance to people who came out to the desert to hear his message.

This gospel version took the form of Q&A.
The question was the same from each group: “What shall we do?”
John’s response to them was pretty straight forward.
I’ve identified John’s responses by these short summaries.

To the crowds John said: Share your food and clothing with others.
To the tax collectors: Be honest about $$$, no cheating.
To the soldiers: Be honest about $$ and be truthful.
Hmm: Share food & clothing, be honest about $$, be truthful!
Sounds very straight forward, sounds pretty simple, too.
So even though John the Baptist was preaching repentance, so as to change people’s lives, the way to go about it was straight forward and pretty simple then, and it remains straight forward and simple today.
I dare to say that all of us sitting in this room today and all the people taking part by zoom, have tried to live this way their whole lives.
That is, sharing food, clothing & other necessities, being honest with $$ and being truthful. It doesn’t mean we have been perfect in the past nor are we perfect now; it means that we strive to practice these goals, day after day and year after year.
Paul encourages us to be practical, sensible and honest
today and each day, to the best of our abilities.
One commentator I read pointed out that there were other people before John the Baptist who had preached a similar conversion message. But people did not flock to others like they did to John.
The commentator raised the question: why were so many people going out into the desert to John? And actually, some people were even asking John if he was the Messiah. One possible conclusion, the commentator remarked, was that the people thought John the Baptist really meant what he said.
Hmm, John meant what he said?? How do we know if people mean what they say? Well, because they act upon what they say.
John acted upon what he said. And so did Jesus;
Jesus preached justice, mercy, kindness, fidelity, to name a few.
And he lived by those qualities.
So too do our words and actions prove
that Jesus is near to us in our daily lives.

The End: Let us rejoice this Gaudete 3rd week of Advent
as we live in expectation of Jesus birth and life,
again and again, not just in 2021, but throughout our lives.

Homily shared on Saturday, 12 December 2021, by Rev. Katherine Elsner.