Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday marks the occasion of Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday is unique because it is a brief moment of elevated joy and rejoicing as compared to the usually more sombre and solemn Advent theme. This is because today we focus on the aspect of ‘Joy’ in Advent, continuing from the series of ‘Hope-Peace-Joy-Love’ during the Sundays of the season of Advent.

The word Gaudete Sunday came from the beginning of the Introit for this Sunday, which goes ‘Gaudete in Domino semper : iterum dico, gaudete’ which means, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.’ And this leads us to the focus of this Sunday of reminding us that while we have not celebrated fully in joy yet, as we preserve that for the upcoming Christmas, but Advent is a season of expectant joy, as we look forward to the joy of Christmas to come.

And therefore, as we are about halfway through this season of Advent, we need to ask ourselves, what is our joy in this life and what joy are we looking forward to in this season of Advent? What is the joy that we are looking towards in Christmas? Is it about the festivities, revelries and merry-making that we are surely familiar with during this period of time, when everyone are trying to outdo each other in their extravagance in celebrating Christmas?

We see how merchandises and Christmas paraphernalia are all around us, shopping malls and all sorts of places are filled to the brim with Christmas decorations. Christmas jingles and songs, promotions among many others, Santa Claus and all other familiar Christmas celebrations and perks are all around us, and we revel in all of these, often a bit too much, and we ended up focusing on the wrong joy in Christmas.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is indeed that we should rejoice in Christmas, and Christmas is all about happiness and being joyful, but not because all the gifts and parties that we are having, not because of all the celebratory moods and excessive commercialisation of Christmas that we have seen all around us. What we see are merely imitation of the true joy of Christmas, the attempt of the world to profit from the Christmas celebration for their own benefits.

That is why the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas that we have seen all these while can prevent us from understanding the true significance, meaning and importance of Christmas to us, and prevent us from knowing the true joy of Christmas that we are looking forward to, especially in this Gaudete Sunday as we focus on the joyful aspect of our Advent waiting for Christmas.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard of the hopeful and joyful prophecies of the prophet Isaiah speaking of the coming of the Lord’s salvation through His Messiah or Saviour, when the Lord will send forth His grace and love to the world, and touch the world and all of His people with His great compassion and tender loving care.

And that was indeed a very strong message of hope and joy, that came at the time when the people of God were having bleak outlook of their livelihood, having endured centuries of humiliation, suffering and decline after the glorious past of the mighty days of King David and Solomon. By the time of the prophet Isaiah’s ministry, whatever remained of the kingdom of Israel was just a mere shadow of its former greatness under the aforementioned kings.

The kingdom had been divided long ago into northern and southern halves, and the northern kingdom that was composed of ten out of twelve tribes of the Israelites had been destroyed just recently then, by the Assyrians who had conquered the lands, destroyed the cities and brought the people off into exile in faraway lands in Assyria and Mesopotamia, and putting foreigners in the lands that used to be dwelled by the sons and daughters of Israel.

The southern half, the kingdom of Judah itself did not fare much better, having continually been shrinking in terms of their power and glory, subjugated by neighbours and oppressed by its enemies, and the forces of the Assyrians themselves had came up to Judah, besieged its cities, looted its countryside, and even almost managed to conquer and destroy Jerusalem, if not for the Lord’s loving intervention that saw the Assyrian armies destroyed and their king fleeing in shame back to his homeland.

Amidst all of these, we can now see just how the message of the prophecy of Isaiah was indeed like a fresh breath of life and a glimmer of beautiful hope and light in the middle of the darkness and despair that were surrounding God’s people at the time. The prophet Isaiah was calling on the people to turn towards the Lord, their Saviour and their Hope, through Whom alone they could attain true joy and happiness.

All of these prophecies were to be fulfilled in Christ, through His coming into the world, which we celebrate as Christmas. In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the account of St. John the Baptist, who was asked by the priests and the Pharisees who doubted him and wanted to question him on the veracity and authority of his actions. St. John the Baptist could have said that he was the Messiah, and based on his many followers, he could very well had made that claim.

Yet, St. John the Baptist was sent into this world as the Herald to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and he boldly proclaim that truth before all, that he was not the One they were waiting for, but just the who was sent before the One, to clear His path and to prepare and make everything ready for His coming. St. John the Baptist pointed the people towards their true hope, and the source of their true joy, Christ, the Saviour of the world.

When later on the Lord has begun His ministry and gained more and more followers, and even more than what St. John the Baptist himself had, as some of his followers began to follow the Lord Jesus instead, he was happy when his discipled asked him, that the Lord became more important and prominent than himself, and he had true joy knowing that his mission had therefore been accomplished, to show the true joy of the world to God’s people.

And this is what we have also heard being echoed in our second reading today by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, saying enthusiastically that we ought to rejoice, just as the words of the Introit that inspired the name of this Gaudete Sunday said, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and I said again rejoice!’. And St. Paul said that this is the vocation of all Christians, to be joyful and to rejoice.

But when we rejoice, it ought not to be caused by our own glory and power, our own achievements and happiness, but rather because we have found our true joy in Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, knowing that through Him we have the sure assurance of eternal life and glory, of eternal and true happiness with Him, and not the false and temporary, fleeting joy of this world.

That is the true joy of Christmas that we are looking forward to celebrate, and which we have to reflect at all times in our lives. We have to keep this joy in us, no matter how difficult and dark the situations may be. And we all know that during this year, things are very difficult and challenging for so many people, because of the pandemic that had claimed so many lives and destroyed so many livelihoods.

But we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by despair and darkness, brothers and sisters! This is exactly why we are looking forward to Christmas, because we know that, just like the people of Judah long ago, that God has always been with us, caring for us and loving us, journeying with us all these while even through our most difficult and darkest moments.

He sent us all our salvation, by sending to us His own Begotten Son, to be the Saviour of all. He is our true Joy, the Joy that we are looking forward to and are expecting in this Advent season, and we look forward to a renewed hope and joy through Him. And let us all be filled with this joy, and be generous in sharing them with one another, particularly those who have been sorrowful and downtrodden.

Let us all be genuine brothers and sisters to our fellow men and women, supporting each other through these difficult times, that no one should be left alone in sorrow and despair. Let us all look forward to a brighter future with hope, filled with peace and joy in our lives, and be full of love, both for God and for one another, at all times. May God bless us all and guide us through this journey, and may He bless our wonderful Advent observation. Amen.