John 1, 6-8, 19-28: Joy
First, let me explain the Sunday today in the Season of Advent. Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, derived its name from the first word of the Introit at Mass: Gaudete meaning, Rejoice! The season of Advent originated as a fast for forty days in preparation for Christmas. The third Sunday becomes the break of the penitential seasons like the Laetare or mid-Lent Sunday. On Laetare Sunday, those discouraged during the season such as flowers are permitted, and rose-colored vestments replaces purple, the color of penitence. Gaudete Sunday, therefore, is a break like Laetare Sunday, about midway through a season with a penitential character, and signifies the nearness of the Lord's coming.
All breaks are joyful ones, like the grade school’s recess and the office’s snack break. They refresh and rejuvenate us, and allow us to gain energy for the work ahead. The Epistles encourages us to rejoice and asks us to meet the coming Savior with prayers, pleas, and thanksgiving. The feeling is an excited waiting for someone whom you know will soon arrive. The spirit of the Office and Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the Christmas feast as well as for the second coming of Christ, and the penitential exercises suitable to that spirit are thus on Gaudete Sunday suspended for a while in order to symbolize that joy and gladness in the Promised Redemption which should never be absent from the heart of the faithful.
Second, the essence of Gaudete Sunday is therefore rest, relaxation and reflection about the beauty and joy of being a Christian. Before World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI said, “I would like to show them how beautiful it is to be Christian, because the widespread idea which continues to exist is that Christianity is composed of laws and bans which one has to keep and, hence, is something toilsome and burdensome. I want to make clear that it is not a burden ... but it is like having wings.” As Catholics, we are not offering joy in the shallow sense of that term, but rather, a joy expressed in the inner conviction that the Lord is with us…even in dark times.
It is like being home. There is a deep joy in being home: an assurance that even in dark times, our parents, brothers and sisters, will be with us. These are our stable relationships. No matter where we go, whatever problems we face, they will stay. Nevertheless, this deep joy must be rooted in the truth of who we are, what we are created for, and how we express ourselves according to our knowledge of ourselves. In other words, when we are disconnected from these sources, our ‘joy’ becomes just an empty, meaningless, dramatic sentimental expression.
Third, if we give ourselves in love and service, we will be happy, as Pope Benedict XVI says, “like having wings.” We know this: “Natutuwa ako kasi nakatulong ako. I am happy because I am able to help.” The joy that is rooted in love and service, and in the knowledge that we are doing so because we love Christ, is uplifting. And this is what Christians should feel: that being Christian is not about laws and rules that burden us; it is meant to be freeing, having wings, and flying high. So when we come to mass, when we pray, when we read the bible, it is not so much that we will gain something like a plenary indulgence (a reward), the reward is being with Christ--- Christ is the reward. As love is, the reward is being with the person we love.
How can we live Gaudete Sunday? The Gospel sets off with a question, "Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?" Christmas can be so commercial, that we have to reclaim it for us and our families as a holy time, a holy day, not just a holiday. So I have a slogan: "Put Christ back in Christmas." Put the belen at the center of our homes where all can see that the belen is makes all Christmas trees and lights meaningful. Give yourself the gift of time: a time to pray, time to reflect, and time to look back at the past year. A time to gather all your graces. Avoid expensive gifts: the more we take our attention away from the price, the more the recipient would see the personal love behind the gift. Whatever we do this Christmas, we should not remove ourselves from its faith-focus, the basis of the Christmas season. Our joy is ultimately rooted in our faith in the Lord Jesus and in His Church.