Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16). As we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, we are invited to rejoice in the Lord.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul urges us to rejoice. In the New Testament, there are eleven occurrences of the exhortation “Rejoice!,” showing us how important it is to rejoice in the Christian experience. When we read about the lives of the saints, we see they are animated by a certain inner joy.

Christian life is founded in joy. Jesus comes to the world to bring us joy. In the first reading, we read: “[…] he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted” (Is 61:1). Christ wants to share his joy with us. He wants to include us in his rejoicing with the Father: “At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike’” (Lk 10:21).

St. Francis of Assisi is the greatest example of a joyful saint. However, as a human being like each one of us, he also had some moments of sadness. Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first biographer, tells us how the saint faced those moments: “He took the greatest care to protect himself from the dire sickness of melancholy, and when he noticed that it was creeping into his soul, he immediately had recourse to prayer.”

With prayer, St. Francis was able to conquer his sadness. There is an intimate connection between joy and prayer, as St. Paul says in today’s reading: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:16). A lack of prayer may be why people around us are far more likely to be complaining than rejoicing.

In order to rejoice, we need to practice what St. Paul suggests: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:18). How can we give thanks to God in all circumstances? It is not easy to give thanks when circumstances seem to be against us. At such moments, doubts that God really loves us can assail our hearts. God knows what our greatest happiness is but we do not. Sometimes God leads us in strange ways. If we thank him, even in the obscurity of incomprehensible situations, we will start to experience a new and different joy.

We are not talking about natural joy. That type of joy depends on the circumstances: we feel happy when they are favorable and sad when they are not. The joy that Jesus brings to the world is different, one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s joy at the moment of the Annunciation is the same joy that makes it possible for her to stand before the Cross.

To rejoice, we need to pray. We need to recognize the One who is among us. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist says to the Pharisees: “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize” (Jn 1:26). Jesus is present in all circumstances. If we constantly search for his countenance, we will find that even what we think are adverse circumstances can become friendly: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:18).

It is our encounter with Christ that brings us true joy. Sadness comes either from our nature or from sin. That is why St. Paul says: “Refrain from every kind of evil” (1 Thes 5:21), as sin deprives us of the Joy given by the Holy Spirit.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we are clearly invited to pray more in order to rejoice more. May our awareness of God’s proximity fill our hearts with joy.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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