“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1). Today, the third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday. Since Advent is not a penitential season but a season of hope and expectation, today’s celebration reminds us that we have ample reason to hope in view of our experience of God’s goodness.
The note of joy and hope is especially marked in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Addressed to a people newly released from exile in Babylon, and coming back to Israel to find their cities in ruins, its beloved capital, Jerusalem, and its Temple, gutted, Isaiah proclaims a coming restoration, healing and blessing to them from God. In the part of this prophecy not quoted in today’s reading, he looks forward to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and all the other cities, and the re-establishment of their status as “favored of the Lord” and a “royal priesthood” (cf Exodus 19:5-6). God will once more broker a covenant relationship with them, but this time the covenant will be everlasting.“They shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs” (Isaiah 61: 7).
The Church understands itself as inheriting Israel’s mantle as a “chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood” and therefore the recipient of God’s blessings. Jesus himself takes these words from Isaiah’s prophecy and applies them to himself, in his inaugural sermon at Nazareth in Luke 4:18. We, as followers of Jesus, are now the ones to whom Jesus brings good news, ministers healing to our brokenness because of our sin, and proclaims liberty to us who have been held captive to Satan, and the fear of death and hell our whole lives long (cf Hebrews 2:15). We have been called by him into a new and everlasting covenant with God by his blood sacrifice on the cross – note the words said by the priest over the chalice at Mass.
And we now are the “Bride” of Christ, following up the second part of Isaiah’s prophecy today. Jesus, who loves us, his Church, as a husband is meant to love his bride, with total unconditional love, is coming back to claim his bride at the end of time and usher into the everlasting marriage home of heaven (Ephesians 5: 25-27). This is what Advent point us to- not so much his first coming 2000 years ago, but his second coming at the end of all things. He expects to find his bride “sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Let’s try our best not to disappoint him!