Third Sunday of Advent
November 16, 2018
From the way he is described in the Gospels, one wouldn’t expect John the Baptist to be the grand marshal of the Christmas parade. He is not portrayed as particularly jolly. If you happened to find yourself in a one-on-one conversation with him at a Christmas party, you would most likely be looking frantically around for an excuse to free yourself. It doesn’t seem like he was the type to engage in a little light-hearted conversation. Yet, the Church has chosen to make him the spokesperson for this third Sunday of Advent. What’s that all about?
The first two Readings certainly set the right tone for Gaudete Sunday, which is meant to be an expression of the mounting sense of JOY as the arrival of our Savior draws closer. But JOY…is NOT the reaction one would typically expect to this harsh voice crying out from the banks of the Jordan River. Some might even consider The Baptist a “killjoy.” It makes you wonder why The Church decided to proclaim this particular passage from Luke’s Gospel, even as excitement builds and anticipation intensifies. This is not a penitential season. Our first two Readings are certainly in keeping with the spirit of Advent. So, why complete the Liturgy of the Word with John the Baptist on Gaudete Sunday?
To better understand this unusual pairing, it might help to go back to the beginning. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is in harmony with the Prophet Zephaniah, because each, in its own way, points out that when we place all of our trust in God’s mercy and love, we find that our lives are much more JOYFUL. Underlying that message is the observation that when our spirits are JOYFUL, we are inclined to share that JOY. Think about it for a second. Don’t you feel more generous when you are happy? And doesn’t that sense of satisfaction, contentment, peace, JOY intensify when you share the good things with which you are blessed?
Keeping that in mind, take another look at John the Baptist — certainly an unusual pick to lead the Christmas parade. But the fact is that is exactly who God chose to announce the arrival of the Messiah. The Baptist was the grand marshal, leading all humankind in the most JOYFUL of all celebrations…welcoming Jesus Christ as Savior.
While he might not be the kind of person you seek out for some light conversation at a party, our Gospel begins by telling us that he attracted a crowd. The passage concludes by explaining why: He preached good news to the people!
And what is this “good news” that enabled him to capture and hold the attention of his audience? Simply this: “Pay it forward!” When you place your trust in God’s mercy and love, you will find JOY. And when you are filled with JOY…”Pay it forward!”