Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third one in the season of Advent, you may have noticed a difference in the vestments of the priests and the celebrants of the Mass as we use the rose colour instead of violet, the decorations of the Church and the music, because on this day we celebrate what is known as Gaudete Sunday, which came from the Introit of today’s liturgical celebrations, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’, with the word ‘Gaudete’ meaning rejoice.

That is why on this particular Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of ‘Joy’, after we have focused on ‘Hope’ on the first Sunday of Advent, and ‘Peace’ on the second Sunday. On this day, we have some sort of reprieve from the relatively sombre and penitential nature of Advent, and assume temporarily the more joyous and festive atmosphere, not because it is already the time to embrace the fullness of the joy of Christmas, but rather because we look forward to that ‘Joy’ in Christmas that we rejoice today.

On this day, this Gaudete Sunday we are all reminded what the true meaning and joy of Christmas are all about. That is because many of us have forgotten what the true joy and meaning of Christmas is, and have become swallowed by the way the world perceives Christmas, the celebrations and festivities we often see all around us especially throughout this month and holiday season, which is focused not on the true joy of Christmas but instead on false, worldly joys.

This is why the world has often led us astray and distracted us from finding the true joy of Christmas. What is this true joy of Christmas, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is Christ Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all and the One after Whom Christmas was named. It is indeed such an irony that most of us treated Christmas as just another festivity and another holiday, forgetting the very One we should be celebrating about.

That is why it is indeed timely that we are reminded of Who we are celebrating for this coming Christmas, so that we may no longer forget about Him and may have the right direction and way of celebrating Christmas with true joy and happiness, not the glamour and pleasures of the holiday spirit and celebrations of Christmas all around us, not all the gifts we receive and all the food we are going to feast in, but rather in welcoming the Lord, our Saviour into our midst.

All of us rejoice because in Christmas lies the fulfilment of our long wait and desire for salvation and reconciliation with God. As our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah stated, the coming of the Lord and His salvation would indeed be a joyful one, a time when God would heal His people and reach out to them, when He would bring them true freedom and happiness by revealing His way and His truth to all of them, that is all of us mankind.

The Lord has always been faithful to His people and to all the promises that He has made with them. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had indeed suffered, humiliated and beaten by their enemies, and the entirety of the northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians and the inhabitants of the northern lands had been brought into exile in far-off lands. Therefore the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah must have indeed brought great relief to the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, as a reassurance of God’s providence and love.

And this was reaffirmed in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus quoted that very same prophecy of the prophet Isaiah as a word of confirmation to St. John the Baptist, the one sent to herald the coming of the Messiah, that He, Jesus, was indeed the One and only Messiah of God, promised to all of mankind, through all the miracles and wonderful things He had done. All these fulfilled what God had spoken in the past, and for this all of us ought to rejoice.

But at the same time, this happiness and joy must be tempered with patience as St. James wrote in his Epistle, which is mentioned in our second reading today. St. James spoke of how the Lord is indeed coming, and we must be patient to wait for His coming, the time when He will fulfil completely all that He has promised to us. What St. James spoke about was the promise which Christ had made as He ascended to heaven, that He will come again at the end of time, to gather all of His faithful flock to Himself.

That is why we have in fact two joyful celebrations in this upcoming Christmas, the first one of which all of us must have known, in celebrating the historical birth of Our Lord and Saviour in Bethlehem, the moment two millennia ago when Jesus was born of His mother Mary in the poor and dirty stable just outside the town of Bethlehem as prophesied by the prophets. But then, at the same time, we also then rejoice because of the expectation of His second coming, which will come at the time that only God knows.

All of us rejoice because of this hope, and today, as we focus on this aspect of joy on Gaudete Sunday, we are also asked to reflect on how patient we have been as the disciples and followers of Christ all these while. Have we followed the Lord patiently, knowing that He has loved us all so much and blessed us all these while? Many of us are often too impatient and expect immediate satisfaction, happiness and joy.

That is exactly why many of us fell into the many temptations of the world, and why many of us have forgotten about the true joy of Christmas in Christ. We seek the instant joy and pleasure in our lives, which the world readily provided for us, in the many amenities and comforts we enjoy throughout life, in the many perks and things that we have all around us, in our often consumeristic and materialistic lifestyle.

On the contrary, if we want to be true and faithful Christians, we must then be ready to deny ourselves and all of these pleasures, the attachment to the many tempting things found in this world. We must be ready to suffer and face ridicule, rejection and difficulties, as what the Scripture readings today had alluded, as St. James wrote of the suffering of the prophets and all those who had come earlier on bearing God’s truth.

St. John the Baptist himself had to endure and suffer in prison, as what we heard today from the Gospel passage, how he sent message to the Lord Jesus from prison. As dedicated and committed St. John the Baptist was, he was still human, and he must have also felt some despair and the pain and bitterness of suffering in prison, and that was why he asked, if the Lord Jesus he believed to be the Messiah was truly the One he and all the others had waited for.

Similarly therefore, all of us will also likely face challenges and trials somewhere in our journey of faith, in varying degrees and difficulties. But we must not give up our faith and resolution to follow through this journey of faith, just as the prophets of old remained true to their mission and calling, despite the people’s opposition and challenges, and just as how St. John the Baptist remained firm and faithful until he was martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why as we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday today, while we rejoice at the expectation of the coming of Christ and the joy of Christmas, but we must also learn to be patient and to endure the trials and challenges we may face in this world with patience and faith, and not to seek or yearn for instant joy or gratification without having to endure the pains and crosses of life.

After all, the Lord has called us to follow Him and to carry our own crosses and walk in His path. Yes, we will find true joy and happiness in God, but it does not mean then that our life at present in this world will be free of sorrow and sufferings, because as long as sin exists in this world, and as long as mankind continue to walk in sin and in disobedience against God, abusing the freedom He has given us, in living our lives wickedly and in succumbing to our many desires, to our greed and ego, there will always be troubles, trials and sufferings to endure in this life.

This is where then we need to realise that, out of all these challenges, difficulties, trials and darkness in life in this world, there can be no true way out besides that of following the Lord and through His saving grace, by which He will bestow on us true joy and freedom from all the chains and trials that we are facing and will be facing in life. It is in Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Whom we celebrate this coming Christmas, that we have our hope and our salvation, the one and only source of Joy for us.

And last of all, as we look forward to the true joy of Christmas, let us also endeavour to remember our fellow brothers and sisters and share our joys and blessings to one another this coming Christmas. Let our festivities and celebrations be done with the right intentions and purpose, and not be selfish in keeping all the happiness and joy just for ourselves and leaving others to suffer while we rejoice. Let us remember that there are those in our midst, sometimes even within our families and friends, who are not able to celebrate Christmas with joy for various reasons.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all bear witness to Christ through our Christmas preparations this Advent, and by celebrating Christmas this year and from now on with the right focus and intentions in mind, that Christ is always and will be the centre and focus of our Christmas joy and celebration, because it is by His coming into this world, that joy has been given to us all once again. May the Lord bless us all and be with us through this journey through the remaining days of Advent. Amen.

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