Sunday, Dec. 16, is the Third Sunday of Advent. Mass Readings:  Zephaniah 3:14-18A; Isaiah 12: 2-3, 4, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18.

On the Third Sunday of Advent in 1944, a young priest painfully wrote, while handcuffed, a smuggled reflection from his prison cell in Berlin. It would be Father Alfred Delp’s final Advent. Just months later, he was executed for his faithfulness to the Church and his opposition to Nazism.

Even while in solitary confinement, under the threat of death, this priest found joy as he reflected on Gaudete Sunday.

“Man should take joy as seriously as he takes himself,” he wrote. “And he should believe in himself, believe in his heart and in his Lord God, even through darkness and distress, that he is created for joy. … We are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent and touched at its deepest center by God himself.”

This week, in the midst of a penitential season, the Church lights a rose candle — symbolizing joy — and gives us a burst of exuberant expectation in the readings.

We have a God whose word is true, and we have every reason to rejoice in the fulfillment of all his promises beyond all our hopes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you; he has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you have no further misfortune to fear.”

The enemies crushed by Christ are spiritual ones: Sin and death cannot stand against him. What he came to claim for us are eternal victories. And this is the secret of Father Delp: that while earthly enemies may take even our lives, they need not steal our joy and our hope in God. We have been released from the chains that keep us from eternity. God’s gift to us, by removing his judgment through the sacrifice of Jesus, is his mercy.

This “good news” is proclaimed by John the Baptist in the Gospel. The crowds, “filled with expectation,” instinctively know that a response was required of them. They ask him, “Teacher, what should we do?” Three times the question is asked — a number in Scripture that always underscores the importance of something and which suggests we pay close attention to the answer.

In this case, John is clear: Detachment from the things of  this world, in the form best suited to one’s station of life, is necessary to receive the One who is coming, who will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Those who have plenty, John says, must share with those who do not. Tax collectors must stop cheating the people, and soldiers must deal honestly with others and be satisfied with what they have. Only by releasing our grasp on the world’s excesses and our insatiable desire for more can we be emptied enough to receive the gift of the King who emptied himself of heaven itself to be one with us.

What it comes down to is this: True joy is not found in anything of the earth. No money, no connections, no power, no pleasure, no position, no worldly sense of freedom can take the place of the happiness of knowing God. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). This was the secret joy that enveloped Father Delp — and it is the joy we celebrate this week.

Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred

everyday. She is  editor of 

SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,

where she lives with her husband and

their six children.