Every year, the challenge of the third Sunday of Advent is to rejoice. Such is the exhortation of today’s entrance antiphon, which we sing as a traditional round, and of the letter to the Thessalonians. As in last week’s scripture, joy springs from a commitment to justice: lifting up the poor, healing the depressed, liberating hostages, ministering to the imprisoned, assuring all that God has not abandoned them. We might even sum it all up as “making spirits bright,” but for the fact that that phrase has been co-opted for commercial ends. All of this arises from a hearty sense of joy in God, rejoicing that runs deep in the soul. Today’s psalm, the Magnificat, applies as much to the mission of John the Baptist as to Mary, and the same is true of the passage from Isaiah. His picture of one “clothed in a robe of salvation, wrapped in a mantle of justice, adorned . . . , bedecked . . .,” evokes the image of Mary as she appeared at Guadalupe, and we celebrate that feast on Monday. We will sing the blue-sheet “Song to Our lady of Guadalupe” as we did for the holy day last week. Also repeated will be “Canticle of the Turning,” based on the Magnificat, and at 10:00 “Days of Elijah,” with its references to today’s gospel. And again, we go out of church to the Baptist’s cry, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”
The deep joy described by Paul and Isaiah stand in counterpoint to the frenetic partying and compulsive shopping that sneak up on us in the run-up to Christmas. Real joy requires us to slow down ands take the time to be in touch with what see and hear: the sight of a cardinal or a bluejay in the backyard. Besides prayer and thanksgiving, Paul advises us to have a keen ear for prophecy, to test everything, to discern the good from the bad. We must take care not to stifle the spirit, and that implies giving worship the time it needs, especially with our revised liturgy, not rushing through the prayers or songs, paying attention, listening closely. In contrast to the instant gratification of the commercial Christmas, Advent demands waiting, patience and time. We are given “time-outs” during this busy season, like the holy day last week, and Monday’s feast of Guadalupe. These are heaven-sent opportunities to “smell the roses” — or to “wake up and smell the coffee,” as the case may be!
We need to appreciate what a precious gift time is. Someone attributed to Thomas Merton the saying: “Life and time are our only real possessions.” Death is no respecter of seasons. My father’s cousin was a Trappist monk at Our Lady of the Genesee Abbey. Br. Henry died on December 1, “a good day to die,” said the abbot in his eulogy. He baked Monk’s Bread, kept the bees that provided the honey, and, true to his roots, if not to Trappist spirituality, collected stuff. As Christmas approaches, some of our families will lose a loved one. The antidote to our loss, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of our joy is the bottomless generosity of our parishioners, who manage to provide the requests from two Giving Trees and bags and bags of groceries for local food pantries.