Advent is a time we look backwards to the First Coming of Jesus Christ. It is time we imagine what it was like for the shepherds who left their sheep and ran to the manger. It is a time we ponder on what was foretold by the prophets and how at the appointed time, God fulfilled His promises. It is a time we reflect on the experiences of those who witnessed His First Coming.
It is also a time we look forwards. It is a time of expectation. We confidently expect His Second Coming because He keeps His promises. Our memory of His First Coming gives us that confidence. So, we are excited. We become a people filled with hope. And where there is hope, there is life. Not any kind of life, but the life of the Spirit that bears the fruit of joy, that rejoices.
There is another way of looking at Advent. It is a time of looking at the here and now. The time of the present moment, when His coming is urgent. This “Coming” is daily. It is a coming that arouses the same kind of expectation. In fact, it is the coming that defines us an Advent people. It is a coming we expect at every Mass, when He comes to give us Himself – the word and the bread of life.
The Third Sunday of Advent captures and expresses the three Comings of Jesus Christ with the command to rejoice. Why? Because He has come, He is coming, and He will come again. With this in mind, we don’t need to worry, nor be anxious of anything. All we need to do is to rejoice, to let the Holy Spirit live in us and bear the fruit of joy, a joy the world can’t give.
This understanding takes us to the time when the Virgin Mary was expecting the birth of her Child. Remember, the Word took flesh in her and she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. From that time of conception to the time of birth, Mary was expectant. She wondered who this child would be. But her expectations were joy-filled. They even aroused John the Baptist to leap for joy in the womb.
This is the kind of life Paul wanted his followers to live that is why in the Second Reading from Philippians 4:4-7 he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.” “The Lord is at hand” reveals the urgency of His Coming. It probably refers to His near presence at all times rather than to His Second Coming.
It is important to note here that Paul wasn’t just writing a theological exhortation to pacify the Philippians who were struggling with all sorts of issues at the time. He was speaking from his own experience. He was writing from prison. He knew what it felt like to be in trouble, to be anxious. But He also knew the Lord is at hand, his deliverer is coming. So, he rejoiced.
Paul’s imperative to rejoice despite our troubles sits well with the Prophet Zephaniah’s (3:14-18) call on Israel to sing aloud. Zephaniah said, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgement against you, He has cast out your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear evil no more”.
Again, notice the nearness of the Lord. He is in their midst. They are not to fear nor worry, Zephaniah assures them. But they are to rejoice. John the Baptist pulls all this together in the Gospel reading from Luke 3:10-18, when in the midst of growing expectations from his followers that he is the Christ, he simply stated the fact “He who is mightier than I is coming.” Therefore, rejoice!
Fr. Francis Afu