Gary N. McCloskey, O.S.A.
Federation of Augustinians of North America
Is 35: 1-6a, 10
Ps 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Jas 5: 7-10
Mt 11: 2-11
At the end of our recent election I heard people of both sides saying T.G.I.O. – Thank God it’s over. They were expressing the weariness of a long and stressful election cycle. At this time of the year when advertisements barrage us from every direction about buying for Christmas and the countdown of shopping days to Christmas, I am sure that the annual question of “When will it be over?” is occurring in the wearied minds of many.
Yet, our readings today remind us that we, as Christians, are in a time of expectation, a time of awaiting. We are not waiting to get over or beyond something – to be done with it. Rather, we are reminded of the great coming of the Lord at Christmas when Isaiah tell us, “Here is your God he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” He also reminds us that the coming of the Lord is something that should impact our lives in the words, “Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” He was not speaking of some conceptual idea, but rather was describing the joy-filled return of the Jewish people from exile to the promised land.
In our Gospel, Matthew goes further and challenges us to reflect on what are we really expecting at Christmas. The words he has Jesus saying to the disciples of John, should be ones we are pondering. “Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” Who is the Jesus you are expecting and how are you ready to follow the way he is preparing for you? How is the path you are walking with Jesus impacting you and how you relate to others in real concrete ways that they can recognize? Our Responsorial Psalm takes our expectations even further in ways that are reminiscent of the corporal works of mercy in Matthew 25. “When I was hungry…” While the Psalm has the Lord feeding the hungry and releasing the captives, are we expecting to be part of doing those works in celebrating he coming of Jesus at Christmas? Matthew 25 tells us that Jesus is expecting such work from us on his behalf.
In our expectation and showing the impact in our lives of the coming of the Lord, those who are waiting for it to be over may have something for us to reflect on. Expecting something can be very tiring. With all the difficulties in the world, we can easily wonder if the coming of Jesus has had much impact. The Church understands our weariness. Today it offers us encouragement by naming the Third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete Sunday,” that is, in English, “Rejoice Sunday.” This comes from today’s Entrance Antiphon from Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” James in his Letter today also seeks to encourage us who are weary while in expectation, when he tells us, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” and “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
This need for joy to continue in our expectation and to overcome our weariness is something that Saint Augustine sees as essential to preaching, hearing and living the Gospel of Jesus who has come to us and is coming to us. In his Instructing Beginners in the Faith, Augustine identifies a cheerful attitude as something essential for the message of Jesus to impact us. For Augustine, this attitude should come to us from 2 Corinthians 2:9 “God loves a cheerful giver.” In Instructing Beginners in the Faith, Augustine shared these thoughts on having a cheerful attitude with the Deacon Deogratias who had asked for help in preparing people to come into the Church through preparation for baptism. Augustine encouraged Deogratius to encourage those to whom he was preaching by especially being attentive to those who were tiring or having difficulty with the message. In the way that Augustine responded to Deogratias, he modeled the cheerful encouragement he wrote about by encouraging Deogratias to develop a cheerful attitude in his work, even when he was tiring of problems with those to whom he was preaching. For Augustine, this chain of encouragement from Augustine to Deogratias to the people Deogratias ministered to was something contagious.
As the Church is encouraging us with this Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, we are called to show to others the impact of our experience with the Lord. The ways that our lives reflect the Gospel message speaks volumes to the world about the ways the Lord is here now in our lives. Even on a deeper level we can demonstrate who we are waiting for during Advent by the actions we do in Jesus’ name, most particularly in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In the most personal way, we can be contagious in our rejoicing this day in our Advent expectation, by encouraging each other with our joy, because “God loves a cheerful giver.” Most of all, work on finding encouragement through cheerful people. Let their cheerfulness be contagious to you. In doing so, be contagious by helping God to love that cheerful giver who gives to you.