Sunday, Dec. 17, is the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B). Mass Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.
We have all heard of “tough love.” This Sunday, the Church — and John the Baptist — offer “tough joy.”
Tough love is the kind of love parents show to a teenager when they deny him or her the privileges he or she has abused. It’s the love you show to a spouse by not enabling something that is harmful.
“Tough joy” and “false joy” work the same way in today’s readings.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist refused to take joy in other people’s high opinion of him. When important religious persons visited him, he not only “admitted that he was not the Christ,” but told them he wasn’t Elijah or even a prophet.
In other words, he took no joy in a false impression others had of him. His only joy was the truth.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” they asked. He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
By way of a pale analogy, think of the joy you feel when someone admires your home when you have hastily cleaned the mess by shoving it in a closet. Then think of the joy you feel when you have actually deep-cleaned your house. The first is false and fleeting; the second is hard-earned and deep.
John the Baptist draws joy from a real, honest deep-cleaning of his soul — “making straight” the paths the Lord can take to his heart.
This is the joy found in the first reading — from Isaiah who says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul” — and the Psalm reading, which is the Magnifcat, Mary’s prayer from Luke.
Ultimately, the only way to find that real, deep joy is through repentance and communion with Jesus Christ. That was the source of John the Baptist’s joy.
“I baptize with water,” he said, “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
John knew Jesus Christ personally. That same relationship is open to each of us.
“Rejoice always,” Paul writes in today’s second reading and then explains how: “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Gaudete Sunday — “Joy Sunday,” the Third Sunday of Advent — is the Church’s way of waking us up from the false joy of the commercialized “holiday shopping” season to remind us that a real joy awaits us.
The sparkling lights of Christmas will fade, the Christmas songs on the radio will start to annoy us again, and the “peace on earth” that consumerism brings is not really peace at all.
Long after it all fades away, real joy will remain — poor, in a manger, drawing heaven and earth to his side.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima