Reflection from Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom, O.P. for the Third Sunday of Advent

The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally Gaudete Sunday. Liturgically, the Church explodes in a festive and lighthearted rose that rejoices with expectation as we draw nearer to Christmas. Yet nothing feels festive lighthearted or remotely right about rejoicing after yet another senseless, semi-automatic slaughter of innocents. When I woke up Sunday morning, I stared out my window at nothing and said, “Lord, where are you in this senseless violence? How do I find you? Where do I find a God of peace in such a cruel, inhumane act?” And as I looked out at the pouring rain, I felt the answer, I saw the answer. Every drop of rain was from the litany of His tears upon the earth. God was crying right along with us. God is heartbroken right alongside us.

But what do we do? There are already discussions about greater gun control and being more alert about the mentally disturbed and greater security efforts. Certainly there are calls for prayer for the families and to be more appreciative ourselves about the fragility of life. But what can I do, here and now? John the Baptist gives us a clue when people came asking him the same question in today’s gospel: “What should we do?” For them, the context was “How should we prepare our hearts for the one you say is coming?” And for us it is similar, but with the nuance dictated by tragic circumstances: “How do we bring you, God, into this world especially in these darkest moments when the world so needs you. How do we bear your presence, Jesus, like Mary did?”

Does John answer the people by giving them something radical or over-the-top or extraordinary to do? No. He sends them right back into the circumstances of their daily lives and basically says: “Do what you can do. Start with yourselves. Clean things up! If you have plenty of something, whether clothes, food or money, give some of it away; if you are being dishonest like the tax collector in some area of your life, stop it; if you are a person in authority like the soldier, don’t abuse your power and stop complaining; be happy with what you have. To really “get and receive the One who is coming”, to prepare ourselves to be bearers of his presence more faithfully each day, especially in these darkest of moments, what most of us can do is be all the more intentional in taking on the mind and heart of the Emmanuel we profess to believe in; to bear witness to the hope of that divine presence in all the encounters, events and efforts of each day; to be peacemakers in our own time and place.

My favorite definition of Advent is, “a time of hope totally intent on the joy to come.” Just as Zephaniah reassures the discouraged Israelites in crisis that God is in their midst, so we hear this gospel today in a context of a crisis in violence. St. Paul’s exhortation Gaudete in Domino, semper (Rejoice in the Lord, always) can only be heeded when we realize joy is a not a cheaply purchased over-the- shelf commodity, but the fruit of a disciplined exercise of hope in the joy to come, Emanuel, God with us.

Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P., is vicar for mission advancement for the Dominicans, Province of St. Albert the Great in Chicago, IL. Over his decade in the vocations ministry, he has served on advisory boards and committees for the National Religious Vocations Conference (NRVC), the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, and the National Catholic Student Coalition (NCSC). His book, Tuning Into God’s Call was published Summer 2012. He also wrote Advent and Christmas Wisdom From St. Thomas Aquinas (Liguori, 2009).

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