Gaudete! Rejoice! The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, reflecting the joyful entrance antiphon that instructs us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”(Phil 4,4f) The nearness of God to all of his children is a cause for joy. In Advent we celebrate the “Emmanuel” or “God-with-us” who comes into the world and shares in our human condition through the Incarnation. Jesus, the pure Lamb of God, is sent into the world by the Father to heal the brokenness of the world, to drive out evil and to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. He will purify the world in the fire of his love, through the sacrifice of the cross, so that we might see the world in a new light, the light of mercy, peace and joy. Pure life is joy! Pure life is abundant life. If life could be purified of all imperfections, impurities and dross, what would be left would be a pure life of joy. St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians gives us a formula for a pure life. He simply states, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” (1Thes 5,21f)
If you desire a joyful life then your life must be sorted. Spiritual sorting is known as “discernment of the spirit” and involves testing everything to determine whether it has its origins in a good spirit of truth or whether it comes from a spirit of deceit. The light of Jesus the Christ leads us in our discernment and allows us to see the Way of Jesus and to walk in that Way. St. John tells us, “If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (1Jn 1,6f) To walk in the light of Christ is to be cleansed and purified from sin. St. John will go on to advise us, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world…This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.” (1Jn 4,1) Everything must be tested. Testing leads to purification which leads us to joy.
Much of our lives are tested and purified passively in the fire of suffering through various trials. St. Peter tells us, “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1Pt 1,6-9) Also, “Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” (1Pt 3,13f) and “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” (1Pt 4,12f) There is often a passive purification going on in our interior lives through the work of the Spirit in our lives that purifies us in the fire of God’s love. John the Baptist affirms that the one who is coming after him will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself says that he has come to bring fire to the earth.(Lk 12,49) Our faith is tested and purified through trials that we must endure, in the fire of God’s love, as our share of the sufferings of Jesus, so that one day we may also share in his joy and glory.
Besides the passive purification in which we are tested in faith we also must engage in an active testing and sorting of all things. St. Paul gives us this simple formula: Retain and refrain. Retain every thing that is good in your life. Refrain from every evil. This is very similar to the parable that Jesus tells about the dragnet (Mt 13,47-50) in which, “When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down and put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” (v. 48) A simple formula for a joyful life is to retain what is good and to refrain from what is bad! Be a hoarder of the good and throw away the junk. Sit down and do this in your life right now! What do you need to retain and from what do you need to refrain? A well developed conscience is able to help us to sort out the good and the bad.
John the Baptist is an example of a pure life that leads to pure joy. John speaks of the joy of his life to his disciples, “John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3,27-30) John has been molded and perfected by the fire of the Holy Spirit and the asceticism of the desert. Everything that was not of God has been eliminated from his life and everything that was of God became a source of joy that he shared with others. This pure life and pure joy attracted great crowds of people as attested not only in the gospels but also in the writings of Flavius Josephus in his Jewish History, written in the first century. John knew who he was (the Lamp, the Voice, the Best Man) and who he wasn’t (the Light, the Messiah, the Bridegroom) and he found a deep peace in this. John was “sent” by God as the first apostle and he was called to “testify” as the first martyr of faith. His testimony was given not only with his words (his Voice) but more importantly in the purity of his life and the quality of his joy. Everything about John pointed the way to Jesus.
Advent prepares us for a pure life of joy. St. Paul sums up this life is a few strokes, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thes 5,16) God is the “joy of my soul” who clothes me “in a robe of salvation” who wraps me “in a mantle of justice” and adorns me “like a bridegroom…with a diadem…”(Is 61,10) and makes me “perfectly holy…for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thes 5,23) God is faithful in accomplishing this in our lives through his Spirit; may we remain faithful in testifying to Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives, who will come again. Indeed, the Lord is near. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!