The Scripture selections for this Advent Sunday capture the double-edged message of this compelling liturgical season: joyful hope and a call for renewal of life.
This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called "Gaudete Sunday"-the Latin word "rejoice" taken from the opening lines of both the first and second readings today. In the first reading we have the exuberant message of the 6th century B.C. prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah lived in tortuous times as Israel attempted to get out from under the violent oppression of the Assyrians who had subjugated Israel. With the coming of the new king Josiah and the apparent weakening of the Assyrian grip on their land, the prophet calls on the people to rejoice because God is about to deliver them from the scourge of their enemies.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we have already sung this most familiar Advent hymn:
"Oh come, oh come Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel Will come to you oh Israel."
The meaning of this refrain is rooted in the history of Ancient Israel, whose people were taken into Exile in Babylon when Israel was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzer in 597 BCE. Our Advent hymn could easily have been theirs.
I love the signs and symbols of our church. As a young child with my parents on Sunday, I can remember the bells, the incense, and the colors of the liturgical season. All these pointed to the mysterious reality of our faith. They reminded me to pay attention to the mystery of God's presence in the world, to the mystery of our faith- the Paschal Mystery. In a homily I recently heard, the deacon began by snapping his fingers. He said that when he was a young child, his father would snap his fingers whenever he wanted to get his attention. Today, we are entering the season of Advent. Advent is the season that calls us to pay attention to the mysteries of our faith and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in our hearts and minds.