Saturday, December 12, 2020

Advent: Being a Joyful Witness of the Gospel

Third Sunday of Advent - 13 December 2020

Readings: Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; Luke 1:46–50, 53–54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28

(The Apparition of Christ to the People [1837-57], a photo by Gandalf's Gallery)


I. A time to rejoice in the half-way of Advent

We are in the middle of the Season of Advent. The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to rejoice. Therefore, the third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called the Gaudete Sunday. In Latin, Gaudete means "to rejoice." Just like Lent, Advent is also a time to practice some sort of mortification and penance. Even though this kind of penitential elements might not be practised in Latin Rite Catholic Church but is very much prevalent in Byzantine Rite Churches (in Slavic countries like Russia, Ukraine, etc.) where people abstain from taking meat and other diary products. In the midst of such a dry and penitential atmosphere Gaudete Sunday or the Rejoice Sunday brings a little reprieve, a note of anticipated delight in the mid-way of Advent. Hence, the readings of this Sunday brighten us up especially Prophet Isaiah and St Paul amply describe the theme of joy in a very vibrant way asking people to rejoice because "God has clothed us with garments of salvation" (Is 61:2). We can rejoice because our Messiah did come.  God kept – and continues to keep – promises.  Rejoice!

II. God's plan gets unfolded when we open up to Him

Prophet Isaiah is full of hope and joy. There is an overwhelming energy that flows from him borne out of an experience of love.  The unconditional love of God is real, delightful and eternal. He puts it so beautifully: "The Lord has anointed...to announce a year of favour from the LORD, and a day of vindication by our God. I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul" (Is 61:1-2). With God as guide and strength, we can do anything and everything. God's plans in our lives get unfolded as we open up ourselves to Him and to His Kingdom. With God's blessings, there is a way to participate in God's life of peace and joy. Therefore from our part we should leave it to God all that stands on our way. 

The work of the Lord continues and we have a part to play. In another place Prophet Isaiah asks: "Lift up your eyes on high and see, who created these?" (Is 40:26). Further there is an assurance of courage and boldness for those faint hearted, and fearful hearts: "God does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives power to the faint; and strengthens the powerless." (Is 40:28-29). Often we do not make progress either in spiritual or actual life with our low self-esteem and self-confidence. The more and more we build up the trust in the Lord and His words things begin to change even though we might be fearful and full of anxiety. The problem is with us because we imagine a God who is too small for us.  We are so skeptic that we do not trust the Lord and His words instead we go behind those mortal beings. 

III. We need people like the ascetic prophet to show us the future. 

There are elements in the Gospel reading that also point to joy, albeit in less explicit ways. The joy is coupled with a mixture of hope and promise. The Gospel reading of today begins with an authentic question of the people on the working of Saint John the Baptist. The priests and the Levites come to John at the river Jorden and ask him this question: "Who are you?" A question that troubled the Jewish society, the kind of life John lived and the message he preached with his unusual prophetic life. 

The son of a devout temple priest of Jerusalem, John the Baptizer came as a witness to the light, to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. He baptised them with water, but always with a message that there is someone who is greater than him who would be coming to follow up what he is doing. Because John bore witness to his faith through his actions, many people came to believe. He was a light in the darkness.   Particularly in times of uncertainty, we need people like John the Baptist who lead the way. Only such people can give confidence, courage, hope and a future. The ascetic prophet gave that future for the people of his times in a modest way. John had a clarity of his mission and life that he embodied. A deep awareness of the purpose of his work of baptising in the river Jorden and bringing people to repentance fulfilled the life that he was called for. 

IV. In God we find our real joy

God wants us to get back on our track during this Advent season. Therefore, the servant of God brings good news to the poor, binds up the broken hearts, sets the captives free, announces the good news, cancels the debts. In other words, both the spiritual and actual world are bound together. Therefore our siding with the poor, the farmers, the disabled, or campaigning for the marginalised, corruption free world, clean politics, are all part of our struggle to find a real joy in the Lord. God's work is done through our works and our hands. As the book of Exodus warns us so well: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many/majority to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many/majority, so as to pervert justice,  nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit" (23:1-3). 

Through incarnation, the Word became flesh. Both spiritual and material reality embodies our physical mortal existence. God meets us in the events and activities of everyday life, and the tasks of making this world a better and a freer place. He meets us in the sacraments in the bread and wine at this Mass – not just in pious thoughts; and he meets us in our struggle to be good news for broken people in our world. However, our every pointed work both spiritual and secular should point towards one that is Jesus Christ who is the good news. Just like John the Baptist we need to point at him. And through this Messiah we should draw our strength to fight against the evils and wickedness of this world including that which is in our hearts, families, and communities.

So let us rejoice, give thanks, and pray without ceasing that God will make us perfectly holy in spirit, soul and body as St Paul exhorts in today's Epistle. Thus we may be blameless when our Lord comes. Like Isaiah, let us rejoice heartily in the Lord.  Like Mary, let  soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord; let our spirit rejoice in God our Savior.  Like Paul, rejoice always!  May everyday of our lives be filled with joy in our God.

Questions for Reflections:

1. The Scripture calls for joy. Perhaps, joy may be the last emotion on our minds. How do I approach this call to rejoice? Where is my heart and spirit at this time? Let me open these inner feelings with the Lord with openness and trust. 

2. Do I know for what purpose God has created me? Do I lack St John's clarity and confidence in me?

3. When is the last time that I felt rejoicing in the Lord? 

Prayer:

Dear God of kind and mercy of all, Saint John the Baptist came to bear witness to your light in the dark times of the Israelites. Fill us with faith and the courage to follow your way of life and acting which you give us continuously through the scriptures. Grant that I, like Mary, be filled with courage and openness to bear the Christ-child, by receiving and bringing forth the Good News. Let me be witness to your truth and justice, as I walk along the path of peace, as I am strengthened in my love for Christ and my fellow man and woman. Amen.

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

12 December 2020

4 comments:

Unknown said...

This article is really captivating and made me wanted to read again and again. It's very different from any other articles. Many thanks to the author for helping us stay tuned to the spirit of this graceful season. There's a flow of thoughts that creates interest to read and reflect the scriptures. The picture presented is very meaningful and significant. Thank you Olvin.

Joilin said...

Inspirational article! Read and reflected every bit of it. Extremely happy to get to the prayer with your insightful message of joy and hope.

Anonymous said...

Father you’re a great researcher and writer . Wow wow... your innovative thoughts .. unimaginable father. I enjoyed reading and assimilating. Forwarded to my friends. Very useful work father. I appreciate and congratulate you dear father.

Filomena Giese, US said...

I read and agree with Fr Olvin’s Commentary
Especially from Prophet Isaiah about not lying in a lawsuit and lying in public concerns This is what’s going in in this country. Politicians going to court with false claims. Putting political gain before honesty and integrity.
As the book of Exodus warns us so well: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many/majority to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many/majority, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his justice