John 1:6-8, 19-28
Rejoicing on Gaudete Sunday
by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.  And this is the testimony of John.  When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, "Who are you?"  he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, I am not the Messiah."  So they asked him, "What are you then?  Are you Elijah?"  And he said, " I am not."  "Are you the Prophet?"  He answered, "No."  So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you have to say for yourself?"  He said:  "I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as Isaiah the prophet said."  Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?"  John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to unite."  This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called "Gaudete Sunday" or the "Sunday to rejoice. It goes back to a time when Advent was more deeply penitential than it is today. Gaudete Sunday signaled the halfway mark signifying that Advent was almost over. People were invited to rejoice that Christmas was near. This year, however, we have the shortest possible Advent as we celebrate the last Sunday of Advent in the morning, and Christmas Eve in the late afternoon and evening of the same day. 

On this Gaudete Sunday, many people do not look forward to Christmas with joy. In fact, some view the coming Christmas season not with joy but with dread. Just as we have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, Gaudete Sunday for many people is "anxiety Sunday." That anxiety can have many sources. Negative experiences of Christmas in the past, current illness, the memory of a loved one who is no longer with us, family problems or family divisions can all lead to profound apprehension about the coming Christmas celebration. 

The idealized media portrayal of happily united families gathered around the table or the Christmas tree might lead us to imagine that everyone's Christmas is just as perfect and to the extent that ours isn't, we feel we have failed. 

Christmas, however is more than a winter frolic with beautiful people in beautiful surroundings. Christmas and the Incarnation it celebrates is deeper than that. Today's readings provide an antidote to a difficult Christmas season for some, maybe even for many.  

Isaiah of Babylon, in today's first reading, speaks of his mission to bring glad tiding to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Christmas is precisely for those in need of forgiveness, healing, consolation and release from addictions as well as painful memories. Christmas means that the Lord is with us to transform the winter of our souls into a springtime of a new life as the Lord gives us the grace to heal the past. 

In the second reading, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians and to us to recognize the Holy Spirit among us, to respect the prophetic utterances and teaching given us to discern the ways God is speaking in our midst today. 

In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist points his followers to Jesus as the one who takes away the sins of the world and thereby opens the door to a new future. 

The best medicine for the Christmas melancholy some may feel is to give time to being with those who are alone at this time of year. For people in nursing homes whose world has become limited, we can be an Isaiah, a St. Paul or a John the Baptist helping them to see God's presence to heal the past, to recognize God in the present and to look to a new future with Christ. As we help them to experience Christmas, we will come to know the joy, the real joy, the deep joy, the liberating joy, the ancient joy of Christmas once more.

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