Reflection for the Vigil of the Third Sunday of Advent
Jeannine Neavitt, OSB | December 11, 2021
Pope Francis’ daily message for December 4th read, “We await Him with joy, even in the midst of tribulations, during life’s crises and the dramatic events of history. We await Him.”
This morning, his message reads: “In order to work marvelous deeds, the Lord has no need of grand means and our lofty abilities, but rather of our humility, of our eyes open to Him, and also open to others. . .”
Gaudete Sunday is our invitation to focus on the gratitude and joy in our lives. We are invited to open our eyes and hearts to see a broader vision of what might often first appear to us. Is there more to any situation beyond our sometimes-limited vision? We each come to Gaudete Sunday as who we really are before our loving God, with both our gifts and our limitations. This image of being who we really are brought to mind a time from my junior high years at the Methodist Church when those in my class were each awakened, including me, by a couple classmates in the wee hours early one morning. We were pulled from our beds and driven to a “Come as you are Party” in the Church hall, where a breakfast was prepared for us following the great fun we had viewing and laughing at each other’s sleep wear. What a vision that was! We came as we were, no time to create a better image. What a sight we were, just who we really were at that moment in front of each other.
Sister Molly commented after my sharing this memory one morning at coffee. She said it is sort of like when we all gather in the basement when we have a tornado warning during the night. Quite an interesting sight to behold, and as she said, one sister commented, “It is obvious we certainly don’t overspend on our night attire.”
Gaudete is about joy and hope. Because of the gift of our loving families, friends, and our community, we have reason to have experienced much joy and gratitude along the way as well as some needed growth and pruning in our personal lives, and, of course, some challenging moments to that Joy. I know I have.
How often we go from that joy to fear, to concern, sadness, feeling inadequate or alone, jealous of others’ recognition, upset with how someone spoke to us or about us, how what they did was not how we would do it, judging others’ motivations, and other situations that come before us almost daily, sometimes even hourly.
We live in unpredictable times with our various views and opinions of our government, Church, the pandemic, racism, poverty, our world, our families, other health issues or just daily living in our community, problems that often confront us from day to day. The Spirit of Gaudete Sunday is one of grateful expectation for good news, a good break that we all need. And so, we long for and continue our preparation for that joy of the Celebration of the birth of Jesus, which can become, if we let it, an experience of boundless joy and new hope.
The first reading this Sunday, Zep 3:14-18a, reminds us to rejoice for our Messiah is coming and, in our longing, we should sing joyfully for our God is in our midst. How much is this a realization for us in our daily life?
Our Second reading, Phil 4:4-7 reminds us to always rejoice as we already know our God loves us, hears us, already knows everything about us, and no matter how we might have strayed from that love, still loves us.
The Gospel of Luke, 3:10-18, calls us to face our fears, our sins, in an active way. So, what is causing us the feelings we have? Where do they come from? Why do they occupy so much of our time and our emotions?
I accidently tuned into a Super Soul Sunday TV show where Rev. Ed Bacon, a retired Episcopalian Minister who had been a Pastor of a Mega Church in Pasadena, California, and is a very sought-after presenter, was being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in October 2019. Rev. Bacon shared that the Spirit who lives within each of us, if we allow that Spirit to express itself through us, brings us the experience of feeling unconditional love, so great, so powerful, that we know it is coming from such a great source. It causes us to want to love others with that overpowering feeling of love. Haven’t we all felt that kind of joy bursting from us on occasion?
Ed Bacon says each of us have two cultures in our inner sanctuary, a Culture of Love, and a Culture of Fear. One coming from our loving God, the other from Satan. He reminds us that we can check ourselves daily by simply checking from which culture our words and actions are coming. He says if those words and actions are from the culture of Love, we will know it, as they will release harmony, peace, joy, and wellbeing for all. If they are coming from the culture of Fear, they will produce sadness, jealousy, judgment of others, feelings of inadequacy, not being recognized, etc. While we cannot help having those feelings or emotions, we can help the behavior that follows, although it is often a struggle to do so. We can make this effort to check ourselves, and yes it takes a lot of introspection until it becomes more a part of us. What a gift to be more aware of urging us closer to the path of inclusive love, God’s way. What a gift to truly want to share our forgiveness, our joy and love with others, especially those most in need.
Before Nelson Mandela left prison he said, “As I stand before the door to my freedom, I realize that if I do not leave my pain, anger and bitterness behind me, I will still be in prison.” So why do we let all our struggles of relationships, disappointments, anger, live rent free in our hearts and minds?
Gaudete Sunday offers us such a gift as well as time for reflection while we continue our Advent Journey with each other. It is a reminder to set our path on the way of love, forgiveness, and great Joy as we re-welcome our Christ, the way of inclusive love and insight into our midst. As we continue to clean our closets and drawers to share with others, let us also share our hearts, our love, and our joy. Christ, help us to open our eyes, our hearts, our blessings with all those, especially those most in need. Even the most despicable individuals are loved equally by God.
Through the life of Jesus, we have been given such a great example of the gift of love along with the ability to share and forgive. Let’s us make every effort to help one another grow in that love and ability this Advent, to share that Joy and forgiveness abundantly with all who are on this journey with us, so our celebration of Christmas becomes a true gift of love, of forgiveness and of deep gratitude, a more joyous and better way to live life together.