In this beautiful homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, Father Hanly helps us understand the importance of Gaudete Sunday.
First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Second Reading: First Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
I had a homily opening, and I look down at these four candles and I realise that there’s a little difference here. This is a big problem now.
You all know the Advent wreath. You know it’s made from a circle and the circle is the symbol of God – no beginning, no end, and taking within itself the wholeness of all life. It’s usually covered, as ours is, with evergreen branches.
And there’s an old story, there’s stories about everything, there’s an old story that says that God came out one day and He looked at all that He had made, and He realised that there was one part that was really not too good. And that was in the wintertime, because in the wintertime all the trees, they lost their leaves, and all the plants, they died and left the whole place desolate.
So He called His angels together and they came up with a solution: that you should take those green trees and make them green not only in the summertime, but also all through the year. And they could be sentinels of hope, where people could look out at all the darkness at the winter and see the evergreens forever shining around them.
Nice story. I don’t know what we’d do without stories. And it’s true. So we have the evergreens here, and they are signs of God’s constancy: that He is with His people, not only through the beauties of spring and fall, but also through the desolation of winter.
But there are always four candles. Now, in general, in most places that I have noticed, three candles are kind of a purple, a light purple, and one candle is rose. And now I’m looking at this and I can see the tall one looks rose, but the other two aren’t too purple.
Anyhow, why would that be in a set of four?
The four, of course, are the four weeks of Advent. There are four Sundays of Advent. And each Sunday, after blessing Advent wreath, the symbol of the season, we also light one candle. And you can see the third candle, this one, is more pinkish, it is kind of pinkish. And that is why we have lit it today, because today is Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete is “rejoice,” and the idea is the pink is a little bit lighter and more joyful than the purple.
Does this have any importance?
Well, it does, because the idea of the pink candle, the idea was not that it should be pink, but it was to sign and signify that the coming of the dawn was not far away, because we’re halfway through Advent and only one more Sunday, next Sunday, which is Our Lady’s Sunday, when Gabriel comes to tell her she is going to be the mother of the Messiah.
And because of that, the candle is supposed to show, today, that the end of the penitential side of Advent is giving way to the joy and hope of the newborn child being born in Bethlehem in a very short time.
So with that short resume, what does it mean?
Well, for us, it means that this is a time that is very joyful.
At the same time it’s a penitential season.
But the penitential season, for instance, of Lent, can be very, very, very difficult. Why? Because it ends with the crucifixion of our Saviour, and there’s a lot of pain and wonder about how this could have happened.
But we are in a penitential season that is recalling, at the end of it, the birth of the child, the birth of the baby, and this, of course, is something to rejoice and be happy and be filled with wonder and joy.
So we begin, even during this penitential season, to celebrate all these kind of Christmas parties and that. And every year, the pastor might say, “Well, you’re not supposed to celebrate those things at this time.” But it’s okay.
Because we can’t, we’re so excited about Christmas coming, and everyone has these incredibly happy feelings about Christmas, that we just have to let everyone express it, maybe with a little bit more joy than, say, Lent and fasts.
What are we celebrating?
Basically, John the Baptist. John the Baptist comes out of the desert. The desert hones people, the desert takes away from all the unnecessary things that may clutter our lives and makes it clear and simple. If you come out of the desert, you’re coming out of an area where life is very strong, but it also has to be tough, and all the extras are kind of cast away.
So John is someone who’s coming and saying, look at your life, now, look at your life. Don’t get caught up in the kind of incredible amount of nonsense and celebration. Look at your life, because your life is the key to your joy, and the joy is the joy of welcoming Christ himself into the world, you see.
So what we are asked to do at this time is to take our lives seriously. It seems a bit odd to have to say that, to take your life seriously, but in many ways, I’ve often said this, there are two things that we are most afraid of, the two gifts of God that we are most afraid of.
And one is our freedom, nobody really likes to be free. And the other one is the revelation of who we really are. We are free, and we are shaped by God Himself. And so it is these two wonders that go down with us through the ages, but we’re frightened of them, we’re afraid to be what God wants us to be.
He says, go out and love — love the whole world, embrace it, praise it, sing for it, and work for it.
But we hesitate. We think of what everybody else is doing and whether they’re going to do it, or whether I’m going to do it, or what somebody’s going to say.
So that burst of joy that comes with being, in a sense, comes with being considered, in God’s eyes, as eternal and lovely and good and wonderful, kind of gets smudged around a little bit because we’re really not using our freedom well.
The other one, besides freedom, that God has given us, of course, is love. Everybody says, “Ooh, it’s wonderful to love this, love that,” but we’re frightened of love. We really are. We’re frightened, well, of maybe they’re going to ask too much, or, if I love that person, maybe they’re going to demand too much, or this or that. And so these are the two mysteries for some reason.
John the Baptist says, throw every… He comes out and he’s wearing almost hardly anything but the robe of a prophet, just one robe, and that’s all that he owns, faces the whole Roman empire and all of the scribes and the Pharisees and all the people that are important at this time, and he tells them, “There is one walking among you, one walking with you, one here and now, and you don’t even recognise him.”
And, of course, he’s talking about Jesus. And the reason we don’t recognise Jesus is because he doesn’t come as the saviour of the world, he’s born as a helpless little child, a helpless little child. It is God saying, “I need you, I need you in order that I might help you and teach you how to love.” This is an incredible thought, and yet we take it for granted.
The second thing that we have to remember, as we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas, is what John constantly is telling his people to do: turn back to God. That’s the message of this time: turn back to God. Give up chasing all those silly things that you chase around and think are important, and turn yourself back to God. And walk with Him, and talk with Him, and speak with Him, and make yourself one with Him.
We’re not supposed to read books and then put into practice what God says, we’re supposed to embrace Him and live the way Jesus lives.
Think of that now: embrace him and live the way he lives. He doesn’t care whether you believe in this or believe in that. He doesn’t have a whole list of things that you have to memorise, prayers to be said, all of this. He just says, walk with me, follow me, walk with me, and do what I do, and I will do what you do, and together we’ll create a whole new world, a world where people can actually authentically live as they were created to live.
We were created to love others, to forgive others, to care for others. How fast we run a race, how high we get in marks, how we pass exams, how we do this, that, it doesn’t mean anything. What really matters is: have I become a human being, have I actually experienced the life of Jesus himself?
Now, I’ll tell you just one story. You’ve probably heard it before.
I come from Brooklyn, New York City, and there’s kind of a famous church in New York City, very well-to-do, Fifth Avenue church, you see.
And there’s this kind of bum from the Bowery, very dishevelled, and he goes into the church to say his prayers and maybe look around and see what’s going on. And they throw him out, because he’s a bum from the Bowery.
So they throw him out, and he’s sitting outside on the steps. And he kind of feels very upset, being thrown out of the church, you know. And then another kind of dishevelled person sits down next to him, and so he tells him his story, he says, “You know I’ve been in that church and they’re supposed to accept everybody and they threw me out.”
And the other guy that he was talking to says, “Ah, don’t worry, don’t worry. You don’t need that church, you know. You don’t need that church, you know. You’re going to be alright. Everything’s going to be fine.”
And he kind of peps up with a little bit. “Gee, that’s really nice, you know,” he said. “How do you know it’s going to be fine?”
He said, “Because they do it to me.”
And he said, “What is your name, anyhow?”
And he said, “My name is Jesus.” (Congregation laughs) “And some people call me the Messiah.”
And the two walked hand-in-hand out of the church and into the big city.
Now, I don’t want to make you all feel guilty. The point isn’t feeling guilty.
The point is that if we’re going to find Jesus, we might not find him where we’re hanging around, (inaudible), you know. I don’t mean church. What I do mean is there’s a world full of pain, a world full of rejection, a world full of worry. This is the way Jesus comes to us, in the guise of these people. These are the people we are called…
Because these are his people and this is where he wants us to be. It’s not dramatic. It’s as good as visiting the blind man next door, or the old man or lady down the block.
But it does mean that, if we’re going to find the Messiah, we’ll find him in two places: in our hearts, and among the needy.
And so, during this time, when you’re kind of getting all your presents together and having a good time, think of that.
Jesus walks within your heart, and he needs your hands, and he needs your voice, and he needs you to bring him to where he hungers.
And that is because he is one with the poor, and the needy, and the displaced, and the unhappy, and those who feel that perhaps this life is really not worth living.
It is there that we will find him.
And, of course, when you find Jesus, you find the Messiah. And when you find the Messiah, you have everything.