December 11, 2017

Reflection for the Third Sunday in Advent: "Rejoice Always. Pray Without Ceasing and Give Thanks"

The Nativity of Christ

The Third Sunday of Advent [Year B]

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, 
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Rejoice ... pray ... give thanks. A great trifecta for the season of Advent! If there is any liturgical season that is countercultural, it is Advent! While the world is scrambling and shopping for perfect Christmas gifts, the faithful are asked to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. While gift giving and family feasts and traditions are all good in and of themselves, they pale in comparison to that greatest gift of them all, Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father who was made flesh and now dwells among His people (John 1:14). Yes, the very Word of God the Father has been united to human flesh, and now the human person can know and touch God! This is the mystery of Christmas! It is also a very personal feast. The Christian is called to invite Christ into his heart and soul, to experience salvation. It is a symbolic moment in which the person can feel the reawakening of Christ in his life. Christians need Christmas every year to remind themselves of the need of hope and new life, that life that can only come from Christ. That is Christmas!

The reality of Christmas is one of the reasons the Church rejoices during this Advent season. Advent is a time of joyful anticipation for the mysteries about to be revealed. Think for a moment of a child looking at a beautifully wrapped gift beneath the Christmas tree. It might be there for weeks prior to Christmas itself. The child (and some adults, too!) will look at that gift and try to imagine what it is. He can’t wait for Christmas morning to unravel it and learn its contents! It’s that same joyful, eager anticipation of that child that the Church wants to capture during Advent. For the greatest gift of them all, Jesus Christ, is about to make His entry into the hearts and souls of the faithful. Christmas is a new beginning in which the disciples of the Lord call upon His presence once again to guide, support, and inspire them in their journeys of faith. Rejoice always! Your Lord is coming to bring you the good news of salvation. You are now a person of hope. In these last days of Advent, one’s heart ought to beat just a little faster in anticipation of hearing those words at the Gospel of Midnight Mass: “ ... Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The anticipation and joy of Advent will drive the faithful into a life of prayer. In today’s first reading, Paul tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). During Advent, the faithful are asked to stop all activity and spend some extra time in prayer. Just be with the Lord, the One who is about to enter your heart and soul. How best to do that? In Advent, pray over the infancy narratives of Matthew (chapters 1-3), Luke (chapters 1-3), and the Prologue (chapter 1) of John. Read a bit each day, slowly, taking in all of the words and images. You will know Jesus, His mother Mary, John the Baptizer, and Joseph intimately by Christmas. This will help you welcome the Savior on Christmas day! Try and make daily Mass during Advent to hear the beautiful readings from Isaiah and Paul, which will help you find Christ. Receive His Body and Blood to be one with Him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will help you clean the slate of your soul from sin and darkness, to be ready for Christ.

Finally, in Advent, give thanks to God for all the gifts He has bestowed on you. As Jeremiah 1:4-10 states, He has known, formed, appointed, and dedicated you! In Advent, however, realize that you’ve been given the greatest gift of them all, the gift of salvation, redemption, and hope, all one in Christ Jesus. The time of prayer during Advent makes the faithful realize the need for Christ. Going it alone will not work; the human person yearns and pines for the presence of Christ in his life. There is no redemption outside of Christ, and the faithful Christian realizes during Advent the great need and hunger for salvation in Him. Give thanks to God for that gift! 

St. Paul gives a simple formula for Advent: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. All it will take is your time, energy, and dedication. Enter this holy season with eager anticipation, for the greatest guest of them all is knocking at the door of your heart—Christ, your Lord and Savior!

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