17 Dec 2017
3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B
As members of the Church, we’re most often referred to as the “Body of Christ.” But we’re also more than just the Body; we’re also the “Bride of Christ.” Now that’s an image which men might have a harder time getting their heads around than women. But the image of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” simply means that our basic stance before God is a position of receiving, being loved by God...first.
As members of the Church, that’s who we are fundamentally; all of us make up the “Bride of Christ.” In fact, before we can even be the “Body of Christ” to the world and to each other, we have to be the “Bride of Christ” to God. And that just means that we can’t give to others if we ourselves don’t have it. If being the Body of Christ means sharing God’s love, compassion, truth, and so on, then we first will have to have received that ourselves.
I can’t share God’s love if I don’t know God’s love. I can’t share God’s wisdom if I’m not open to it myself. I can’t share the good news of Jesus if I haven’t really heard the good news myself. We can’t be the “Body of Christ” in relation to others if we aren’t first the “Bride of Christ” in relation to God. We can’t give what we don’t already have.
Now, in our readings this weekend, both the Body and the Bride are present. From the Prophet Isaiah we hear: “The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.” That’s the voice of the Body of Christ. We also heard it in the gospel: “John was sent from God; he came for testimony, to testify to the light.” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” That’s also the voice of the Body.
But we also heard the Bride speak: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” And then in the psalm we sang, “My soul rejoices in my God. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” In Saint Paul, too, he makes reference to the Bride of Christ. He says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks.” Those are all things we do and say within our hearts as the “Bride of Christ.”
However, the question is: Do we have those sentiments within our hearts? Do we have that “bridal voice” singing within us? Because—as we know, you can’t share what you don’t have.
In the Church today there’s a lot of talk about the “New Evangelization;” the need for a second Pentecost; the need to revitalize the Church and the world. It’s mostly a vision of what’s called “missionary discipleship;” believers going out again and sharing the faith. But, of course, before you go out and share...you gotta have something to share!
And so, the “New Evangelization” is also about internal renewal, spiritual renewal within ourselves. It’s about remembering to be the Bride of Christ. It’s about renewing the song that’s supposed to be at the heart of who we are and we’re all about; the song that goes: “My soul rejoices in my God!”
Advent and Christmas are times for us to remember that, fundamentally, we are the Bride of Christ—watching and waiting on the Lord, rejoicing in his goodness and generosity. It’s all about the relationship between the Bride and the Groom, between us and our God. And at the center of that relationship is the idea of “rejoicing.” It’s why these can be such joyful seasons; we’re focusing on the One who loves us.
Here on the 3rd Sunday of Advent we light the rose-colored candle. You know, if you take purple and add white to it, you get a rose color. And so, that candle is a symbol of our “rejoicing” that the Light (the white color of dawn) is lightening our darkness (the purple color). I suppose we could call that rose candle the “candle of the Bride,” the Bride who rejoices in her God.
This 3rd Sunday of Advent even has a special name; it’s called “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” means “rejoice!” And it’s the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass. During the Mass there are three antiphons (which we rarely hear, unless you go to the 6:00 Mass). The first is during the entrance procession, the second is at the offertory, and the third is at communion. They’re a regular part of the Mass but, as I said, we very seldom hear them.
“Gaudete in Domino Semper! — Rejoice in the Lord always; Again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” That’s the entrance antiphon for today: Gaudete, Rejoice! And it comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:4-5). Interestingly, though, and it’s directed not to the Body of Christ, but to the Church the Bride of Christ: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
The difficulty, however, is that “rejoicing in the Lord” isn’t always easy, and sometimes you just don’t feel like it. And that can be especially true for anybody who’s beyond his or her childhood years (which is most of us!). But it’s not so much about how old we are; it’s more about how we let life affect us.
Here’s what I mean (these are sayings I found on the internet): “Adulthood is like looking both ways before you cross the street...and then getting hit by an airplane.” “Being an adult is mostly being exhausted, wishing you hadn’t made plans, and wondering how you hurt your back.” And lastly: “My favorite childhood memory is not paying bills.”
With those sentiments it sounds kind of silly to say, “Rejoice in the Lord!” And so, as I mentioned before, the “New Evangelization” isn’t only about going out and spreading the gospel; it’s also about internal renewal, spiritual renewal...remembering what a joy it is to be loved by God, and to love God in return. And that means putting things in perspective. Yes, life gets hard sometimes; sometimes it’s downright nasty. But that shouldn’t stop our “rejoicing in the Lord.”
We can think of our Blessed Mother, “full of grace” and the peace of God. And, yet, she had to watch the horror of her Son being crucified. But she never stopped “rejoicing in the Lord.” Or we think of someone we know who has a serious illness. And yet, in spite of that, that person is at peace and even “joyful in faith.” How do they do it? How does the “voice of the Bride of Christ” remain strong in them? Well, we have something of a clue in the psalm.
Our “psalm” today is actually a portion of St. Mary’s magnificat; her song of praise to God. And she says: the Lord “has looked with favor upon his lowly servant; the Almighty has done great things for me; he has shown mercy on those who fear him; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty; he has remembered his promise of mercy,” and so on. The Bride of Christ has a very strong memory of all the good things the Lord has done. And so, when life gets tough, the Bride has a whole bank of memories to draw on as a source of hope and “rejoicing.”
A couple of months ago, I made a list of all the times I could remember where the Lord had very clearly done something good for me. And I came up with twelve specific instances, and then nine other recurring things I experience. Now, that’s covering forty-two years. So that’s about one time every two years where I very acutely felt God’s loving presence. So, in other words, not very often.
But that list is helpful to me in that, if I ever feel like I don’t have a reason to “rejoice in the Lord,” I only have to look at that list to remind me that I have plenty of reasons to “rejoice in the Lord.” In music, God has revealed his subtly, strength, closeness, and majesty to me. In times of being lost, God has given me a tangible sense of peace and security—not always, but enough times. Sometimes he speaks in words of Scripture that really resonate with me; not a whole book of Scripture, but just a phrase or an idea.
I have plenty of reasons to “rejoice in the Lord.” And that list of mine helps me to remember when I forget. God has been with each of us in the past and in the present. And part of “rejoicing in the Lord” is to remember that. Some people encounter God in the outdoors, or in the companionship of others, in the workshop, or in the peace of just sitting reading a good story.
We all have reasons to “rejoice in the Lord;” we just have to remember those specific reasons why. And that’s the stuff we treasure in our hearts as members of the “Bride of Christ.” That’s what inspires us to light the rose-colored candle, even though it’s surrounded by darker purple ones. That’s what inspires us to keep opening ourselves to God with hope and anticipation, with joy of heart and peace. It’s what inspires us to be the “Body of Christ,” to go out and share with others the goodness of our God.