This Sunday is a day of rejoicing for the Lord is near.
The vestments of the clergy may still be Advent purple but commonly are rose or pink this day. The colour is brightened by joy.
The Latin for the first word of the Entrance Antiphon ‘Gaudete/Rejoice’ gives us a common name for the Sunday: Gaudete Sunday.
The words of the Steeleye Span song Gaudete may anticipate the birth of Christ somewhat more than does the Liturgy of this Sunday – but it always comes to my mind this Sunday and gets the feet tapping.
For those who would like a setting of this Sunday’s antiphon, this setting by Purcell ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’ offers delights too.
The focus of the Sunday readings shifts from consideration of the End Times and the Lord’s Second coming towards the coming of God in flesh. We are not yet hearing of the ‘Christmas story’, that is still to come, especially in the readings at weekday Mass from 17th December. The Gospel today tells of a time shortly before the baptism of Jesus (the feast of which event ends our celebration of Christmas): and it has John the Baptist speak of how we might prepare ourselves to meet the Lord.
He does not ask anything truly exceptional. Simply honesty and decency. We do not save ourselves, but we are asked to live justly.
The Prayer over the Offerings and the Prayer after Communion this Sunday highlight that we may have begun with such things but the flourishing of goodness and grace is still to come, through the Lord’s mercy. Good News is preached, but Good News needs to take flesh in us.
This saving work – God’s work since the beginning of time, the object of continued longing by the Jewish people, and now by Christians too – is indeed God’s work. And so with Isaiah – his words are source of the Responsorial Psalm this Sunday – we can sing in joy and with confidence: “Truly, God is my salvation, / I trust, I shall not fear.”
The first reading exposes the passion of the God of Israel for his people. If we rejoice on this day, our joy will surely by outdone by the love of God for us.
St Paul – as so often – helps bring out the ecclesial and missionary dimension of all this. Our joy is not just for ourselves, this is no exclusive love-in between God and his people. Paul has care for those to whom he writes. Wee are to have care for others too – in our Church, in our world. And if the needs we see close at hand and far away are beyond our capacity to deal with, then we pray, with thanksgiving: confident that the Lord is near and, if we let him, he will bring everything to a good end.
The Introduction to the Lectionary (in yellow box below) provides a useful guide to the readings of Advent.
93. Each gospel reading has a distinctive theme: the Lord’s coming at the end of time (First Sunday of Advent), John the Baptist (Second and Third Sunday), and the events that prepared immediately for the Lord’s birth (Fourth Sunday).
The Old Testament readings are prophecies about the Messiah and the Messianic age, especially from the Isaiah.
The readings from an apostle serve as exhortations and as proclamations, in keeping with the different themes of Advent.
94. There are two series of readings: one to be used from the beginning of Advent until 16 December; the other from 17 to 24 December.
In the first part of Advent there are readings from Isaiah, distributed in accord with the sequence of the book itself and including salient texts that are also read on the Sundays. For the choice of the weekday gospel the first reading has been taken into consideration.
On Thursday of the second week the readings from the gospel concerning John the Baptist begin. The first reading is either a continuation of Isaiah or a text chosen in view of the Gospel.
In the last week before Christmas the events that immediately prepared for the Lord’s birth are presented from Matthew (chapter 1) and Luke (chapter 1). The texts in the first reading, chosen in view of the Gospel reading, are from different Old Testament books and include important Messianic prophecies.
A more general guide to the season of Advent can be found at http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Calendar/Seasons/Advent.pdf