Back to Blog
3rd Sunday of Advent B
Today, the third Sunday of Advent is also known as “Gaudete Sunday.” As noted last week, Advent was a penitential season before it became a time leading to the observance of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The word, Gaudete, is taken from the opening lines of the Entrance Antiphon at the beginning of Mass, “Rejoice in God Always.” Like Laetare Sunday in Lent, Gaudete Sunday was a day off from the rigors of fasting and doing penance.
We remember, too, that the Latin title for the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) is “Gaudium et Spes.” The opening sentence reads, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
These are such important words to remember these days. During this season, more so than in others, we wait with joyful hope amidst so much grief and anxiety. We want to defeat the pandemic, stimulate the economy for everyone, return to work and school, and reunite with loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals. Rejoicing these days requires determination.
From the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) we read something we know well, that the pandemic is “having a negative impact on the well-being of Americans.” According to the study we are the “unhappiest” we’ve ever been in fifty years. So what do we do to “rejoice” now, especially since in the words of the reading from Isaiah “we dare not ask how much longer, O God!”
Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones, assistant professor of African Studies at Boston College recalls how the Israelites were despairing. And then, she wrote, “God snaps them back into hope and promise.” She suggests that while we are desperately holding on “we must also desperately hold on to the echoes in our heart, no matter how faint.”
Adkins-Jones calls this aphorism a Sankofa  moment. Sankofa is a movement that focuses on issues of injustice that, in her words “disproportionately affect disenfranchised, the oppressed, and the underserved, which left unaddressed will continue to impact the lives of too many individuals and remain a scar on our nation’s moral character.” This is what the NORC study is saying about our country.
Perhaps the mission of the Sankofa movement and the words of “Gaudium et Spes” are telling us that we must serve as moral beacons to recover our way back to more civil and equitable times envisioned by God and revealed in the face of Jesus whose birth we celebrate soon. Our guiding light must not be shrouded. If we are to be effective in our mission to end oppression, we must be spirited.
From the gospel of John, we read that John the Baptist was testifying to the light, the Coming One who would map out a strategy for bringing peace and justice to all people, everywhere. In noting how much of a rogue preacher John was, John Pilch wrote, he “presents himself more like a prophet, a spokesperson who declares the will of God for the here and now.”
The Catholic vocation is similar to the practices of many religions. We start out by finding ways to preach prophetically the four basic principles of our social doctrines — the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. If we can proclaim these benchmarks publicly and give witness to them in our everyday lives the lights of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza will brighten the horizon.
On this Gaudete Sunday the response to the first reading is from the Gospel of Luke instead of the Psalms. It is the Song of Mary, words she uttered when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth. Both women were very pregnant.
Mary addressed God with revolutionary language that turns any status quo upside down. The proud will be scattered. The lowly person will be lifted up. Hungry people will be filled with abundant goods. Tyrants will be toppled. Greedy pockets will be emptied. A mighty God will be merciful to all.
In a sermon written in 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented on these words: “This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”
I want to add my own words to Mary’s Song and invite you to do the same. Black Lives will matter. Women will be recognized for who they are. Immigrant children held in detention centers will be freed. Prisoners will be treated with respect. Sick people will be well again.
On this Gaudete Sunday, we who are rooted in faith, filled with hope and eager to assist others, can count on help. Here are more words from Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
God, in us, and around us, gives us something to be joyful about after all.
1. Sankofa is from the Twi language of Ghana and translates to “go back and get it.” The movement was started by Harry Belafonte.