Today’s liturgical readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent can be found here.
REJOICE! … Really? It’s dark and damp outside, and daylight keeps dwindling. And never mind that: refresh the page of whatever news source you keep handy, and see a list of headlines that might make anyone want to just crawl back under the covers, rather than go outside and face the seems-like-about-an-hour-per-day of daylight. It is easy to be cynical, and ask, “With all the bad news, how can we rejoice?”
For regular readers of this blog, the “bad news” may include disappointment at the invisibility of the LGBTQ+ community and our concerns in the report produced after this fall’s Synod assembly in Rome (particularly after all the build-up: at least one person asked me if the Synod was going to be “about gay and women’s equality in the Church,” reflecting how popular media had conveyed the prevalence of these topics in pre-Synod listening sessions).
Now that I’ve gotten the Eeyore (look it up, kids) out of my system … Rejoice! Yes, really. The third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday,” the name being the Latin plural imperative simply meaning, “Rejoice!” That’s the first word of today’s second reading, where Paul tells the Thessalonians (and us) to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” The same word appears in some form a total of seven times in today’s liturgical readings, and Church tradition uses the symbolism of this third Advent Sunday to say, “Hang in there, we’re almost there, and that’s cause to celebrate!”
This Sunday’s readings remind us that the scriptural exhortation to rejoice is never a suggestion to indulge in silly, naive, pollyanna-ish pretense, closing our eyes and denying that there is anything wrong in the world. It is, rather, starkly realistic, radical, and even revolutionary: it tells us to acknowledge the darkness and difficulties, but to be joyful despite them, grounded in the faith and hope that our God is always working (and inviting us to help in this work) towards overcoming and eliminating these gloomy realities.
Our first reading is the one which Jesus himself (see Luke 4:18-19) proclaimed and expounded in the synagogue at Nazareth, telling his listeners that “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The “rejoice” comes in the second part, when Isaiah says he will do so because God “has clothed me with a robe of salvation / and wrapped me in a mantle of justice / like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, / like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” After pausing to relish the lovely gender-balance of the imagery, we should note that this rejoicing follows the prophet saying that he has been anointed and sent to “bring glad tidings to the poor, / to heal the brokenhearted, / to proclaim liberty to the captives / and release to the prisoners.” There is no denying that there are poor, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners: there is rejoicing at being made the vehicle for delivering justice to them all.
Similarly, today’s responsorial prayer is a gospel, not a psalm. It’s the Magnificat from Luke 1, where Mary proclaims “My soul rejoices in God my savior” as its refrain. Between the iterations of this cry, there is again the realistic acknowledgement of brokenness and imbalance, and the defiant shout of joyful hope that God’s intent is to right these wrongs. Were there no mighty on their thrones, were there no rich people, Mary could not celebrate God’s casting them down and sending them away empty. Were there no hungry, she could not celebrate God’s filling them with good things.
And finally, the Gospel passage from the first chapter of John (ironically, the only one of today’s readings that does not contain “joy” or “rejoice”) harmonizes beautifully with the others in two ways. First, it calls Jesus the light coming into the darkness of the world. Second, the Baptist insists on identifying himself with Isaiah’s prophecy, as the voice crying out to make straight the way of the Lord. John’s preaching is clear that ‘making straight’ was exactly the afflicting of the comfortable and comforting of the afflicted that makes other prophets rejoice. As the late South African scholar and activist Albert Nolan, OP, reminded us, Jesus aligned with John right from the start, showing that his priorities were just as radically dedicated to tearing down the structures of oppression as those of his cousin John.
All these messages should remind us that yes, our LGBTQ+ community may still be poor, brokenhearted, captive, and hungry, but we need to remember how astonishing it is that our concerns were in fact openly discussed at all during the Synod (seriously: under no other pontiff in my lifetime would I have even dreamt this could happen). Though distorted and oversimplified, popular media coverage gave the impression that the Synod would be ‘about women’s and LGBTQ+ rights’ precisely because these were constantly mentioned as concerns of those who participated in preparatory sessions, and this was not shut down or expunged from the summaries.
Even more, consider how amazing that during the month of the Synod assembly, Pope Francis welcomed and honored leaders of New Ways Ministry at the Vatican, as well as other advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics including the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, and Fr. James Martin, SJ.
It may not be fully here yet, but the light is indeed coming to dispel the darkness.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2023