Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

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Today is the third Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is Latin for rejoice. This Sunday’s readings are noticeably less gloomy than the readings for the other Sundays of Advent—not a single mention of hellfire or the gnashing of teeth in the Outer Darkness. You will notice that the candle for today on the Advent wreath is rose-colored, not violet. And some parishes mark the semi-festive tone of the day by using rose-colored vestments and paraments. In my humble opinion, rose is just a fancy way of saying pink, and I don’t wear pink! But as you are probably not interested in my color preferences, let’s just move on and take a look-see at these “less gloomy” readings.

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The first reading from Isaiah has virtually no hints of gloom at all—just one brief reference to “the day of vengeance of our God”! This oracle is from the third section of the book of Isaiah and dates to the time of the restoration of Jerusalem, after the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. If you read in between the lines of this prophecy, you see that things were not as they should be. The prophet is commissioned by God to announce “good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, the people were suffering. But this situation, we are told, will not last forever! “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up.” And on that day, the prophet will “greatly rejoice in the Lord.”

I should say a bit more about this idea of “the year of the Lord’s favor.” It’s a reference to the Jubilee year of Leviticus. In the Jewish legal code, every 50 years the whole economy was rebooted. Debts were forgiven. Debtors were released from prison. And ancestral lands that had been sold to the rich to pay the family bills were returned to the original owners. Under this economic system, it would not be possible for eight people to have more combined wealth than half the human race, which is the case today. Something to think about!

The Epistle for today is from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. This letter is the oldest book of the New Testament. But its advice is just as fresh and pertinent today, as it was then. Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How appropriate for Rejoice Sunday! And it is undoubtedly good and wholesome advice. But it is also hard advice to follow—at least, I find it so! The news you hear on TV and read in the newspaper is almost always bad news. How can we rejoice? The people in this society are busy every moment of every day. We are so busy we can’t even turn off our cell phones while we are in church, lest we miss a critical robocall. How are we expected to have any time left to pray? And as for giving thanks? What is there to be thankful for? The President’s “giant” tax cut may very well turn out to be a tax increase for many Californians.

Well, rejoice always, because there is good news: the Good News of Jesus Christ. Make time to pray every single day, because prayer is how we unite our wills with the will of God. And give thanks even if your taxes go up, because God loves you.

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Finally, we come to the account of St. John the Baptist found in John’s Gospel. In the very first line of the reading, we are told all that we really need to know about this strange prophet: He was sent by God “to testify to the Light, so that all might believe through him.” The Baptist’s ministry bothers the Jewish authorities. He is attracting a lot of attention. He is making a big stir in Jewish society. And they want to know by what authority he is preaching and baptizing. They ask him the simple, straight-forward question: “Who are you?” He first responds by saying who he is not: “I am not the Messiah.” He goes on to say that neither is he Elijah reincarnated or the new Moses. Again he is asked: “Who are you?” Finally, he answers, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” The conversation with the Jewish authorities ends with John telling them that one more worthy than he is about to come on the scene. Of course, we all know of whom he speaks: Jesus of Nazareth.

On this Rejoice Sunday, the Old Testament prophet proclaims that he will “greatly rejoice in the Lord” and that his whole being will exult in his God. And St. Paul advises his readers to “rejoice always.” But in the final reading from John’s Gospel, there is no explicit mention of rejoicing. Instead, what we find is John the Baptist pointing us to the source of all joy and the ultimate reason to rejoice: The Light of God has come into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

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And so, on this third Sunday of Advent, amidst a rather depressing liturgical season, you are reminded to rejoice. Rejoice, for God came into the world some 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. Rejoice, because God the Father loves you so much that he offered up his only Son to deliver you from sin and death. Rejoice, because, on the Last Day, Jesus Christ will come again in power and great triumph to set things right: “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” On that great day, the Lord will declare one unending Jubilee, and those who now suffer in this world will rejoice forever in the world to come. Alleluia!

© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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