3rd Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 61.1-2, 10-11; I Thes 5. 16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas
Rejoice always and pray without ceasing! On this Rejoicing Sunday: are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord?
“I give up! Go ahead!! Put out the plastic Santas and put on the Perry Como Christmas CD! I guess we’ll be putting out the Easter bunnies and the marshmallow chicks half-way through Lent next year too!”
No doubt you, like me, are exhausted from resisting the pressure to launch into the coming feast of Christmas. You’re tired from arguing with roommates, friends, family about when to put up the tree, when to play those catchy little carols about snow and reindeer and jingly bells.
The other friars at the priory and the student workers in Campus Ministry call me the Advent Nazi b/c I resist the predictable encroachment of Christmas into our Advent season. We have four weeks to wait, four weeks to walk that thin line between the promise of salvation and His coming. We have four weeks to sharpen our sense of anticipation, our sense of hunger for the Lord before He arrives. Jumping ahead is cheating; it spoils the delight of Christmas by peaking the season too early. Arriving at the Christmas feast bloated from stuffing ourselves during Advent is not only sad but sorely lacking in gratitude!
This is why, in an earlier time in the Church when Advent was celebrated as a truly penitential season, the Third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, was a sort of release valve, a kind of moment of reprieve from Winter’s Lent when the anticipated joy of Christmas was let loose for a solemn celebration, just one day of rejoicing to better sweeten the wait for His coming. This Sunday picked out the joy of our wait, the delight in our slow progress toward salvation and holiness.
And so, on this Rejoicing Sunday, I ask you: are you joyful? Do you truly delight in the Lord?
John the Baptist is pelted with questions from the priests and Levites sent to pester him from Jerusalem. They want to know who he is, what he is, exactly who does he claim to be. They want to know what he has to say for himself so that they can report back to their superiors. He denies being a prophet. He denies being Elijah for whom the Jews still wait to return. He denies being the Christ. And says simply, “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” And then he tells the Pharisees that he comes before one whose sandal he is not worthy to untie.
John is one who walks before, announcing in his life and with his voice the arrival of the Lord, and trumpets the advent of Christ, heralds the coming of the world’s salvation and rejoices in the Word made flesh. He is Joy in filthy sackcloth, joy with matted hair and locust wings stuck in his teeth. He is Joy with honey-sticky whiskers and unceasing prayer on his aromatic breath. Without pride or ambition for exaltation, John steps up and walks ahead, witnessing for the Lord his arrival, washing clean of sin anyone who comes forward to submit themselves to the long wait for paradise, the lengthy road to perfection. John delights now as he did when he leapt in his mother’s womb when his mother met Christ’s mother. He delights in being the one to show the way, the one to ring out the good news, the one to see the Lord first and point to him as Savior, King. John is joy, and he delights in Christ his Savior.
Are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord? I do not ask this lightly. All of us are here this evening because we have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, to offer Him praise and thanksgiving, to hear His Word proclaimed and preached, and to celebrate the sacrament of our salvation in the sacrifice of the altar. Whatever push, pull, lure, divine seduction or bribe got you here, you’re here, and I want you to ask yourself: Am I joyful? Do I delight in the Lord?
I’m not asking you if you’re giddy-happy all the time. I’m not asking you if you are a happy-clappy, sugar-sweet, Christian smiley face 24/7. To be joyful is to find final satisfaction, the end of longing, the consummation of desire; it is to live as fully in the Spirit now as is possible short of heaven itself; to live as fully in Christ now as is possible before His coming again. To be joyful as a Christian is to be satiated with the love of God, stuffed to the brim with the peace that surpasses all understanding, wringing wet with the waters of baptism and downright greasy with the oils of anointing. To delight in and to enjoy Christ is to see, hear, taste, feel, smell, think, emote, live through Christ, in Christ, with Christ. To rejoice always and to pray without ceasing!
Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely—spirit, soul, and body—be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord.” God can make us perfectly holy, wholly, completely perfect and preserve us entirely, fully without blame, without guilt while we wait on the coming of the Lord. For this blessing, we need to pray in thanksgiving, in humility, we need to pray the will of God for us. We feed the Spirit, delight our souls, and know better and better what is good and what is evil.
And we need, want to show our joy, witness to our delight out there. Like John, our joy, our delight shines out, attracts, seduces, lures; our joy, our delight raises questions among the doubtful, nurtures worries among the ungodly, and frightens the self-righteous. Our joy in the Lord and our delight in our Savior draws people to God, brings them to His mercy and forgiveness, and shows them the Way to salvation, to Jesus Christ. Our joy, our delight is the word spoken in the wilderness of our world, the shout of glad tidings in the desert of our culture’s deathwish. When we bear witness to the Father’s free offer of healing, of liberty and release, of favor and vindication, we step up as ready voices, eager tongues to proclaim His coming again.
Are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord? On this Rejoicing Sunday, we are given the quick chance to dip our fingers into the coming Christmas feast and to taste just a bit of what’s coming. Resist the temptation to move too quickly, to gallop to the feast. Rush to repentance, of course. But do not wallow in a morose preoccupation with your sin. Name it! Confess it! Be done with it. And wait and wait and wait, joyful and delighted, filled to the top with the mercy of God, with the blessings of the Spirit. Rejoice always! And pray without ceasing!