December 17, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we gather on this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, we are invited to rejoice amidst life’s complexities. The lighting of the rose candle on our Advent wreath and the rose-colored vestments symbolize joy, gently reminding us of the hope and peace promised by Christ’s coming.

Today’s readings offer powerful insights into hope and resilience in faith, the virtues which enable us to rejoice even amidst trials. The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, speaks to the exiled Jews in Babylon, offering a message of liberation and return to their homeland (Is 61:1-2a, 10-11). This echoes in our lives as we seek liberation from various forms of bondage and long for spiritual homecoming.

In the second reading, St. Paul encourages the early Christians to find joy and wait patiently for Christ’s return (1 Thes 5:16-24). This guidance is incredibly apt as we confront today’s intricate challenges and the heightened stress as the year ends. During this period, feelings of being overwhelmed are common, with stress building up and relationships often feeling the strain. With the holiday season fast approaching, a sense of entrapment in life’s difficulties can grow. It’s crucial at these times to recall the core of our faith: the promise of liberation that Christ offers.

In the Gospel, we see John the Baptist, imprisoned and grappling with uncertainty, sending his disciples to Jesus with a pivotal question (Jn 1:6-8, 19-28). Although John had previously baptized Jesus, recognizing Him as the Messiah, his circumstances led him to seek reaffirmation. This reaction symbolizes the dynamic interplay of doubt and faith within us all. The Jews’ anticipation of a political Messiah contrasted starkly with Jesus’ arrival as a humble proponent of peace and love, upending conventional expectations. John’s profound query, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” mirrors our own moments of questioning and spiritual seeking.

Pope Francis reminds us, “Even the most fervent believers go through moments of doubt and questioning about God, and it is a good thing, because it helps one see that God does not fit into the little box people make for him. Doubt helps us understand that God is always greater than we imagine him to be. His works are surprising compared to our calculations; his actions are different, always, they exceed our needs and expectations; and therefore, we must never stop seeking him.” (Angelus Message, December 11, 2022). This perspective is essential as sometimes people find themselves in an “inner jail,” unable to recognize the Lord or even trying to hold him “captive” to preconceived ideas about who God must be. In reality, “One never knows everything about God. Never!” the Pope said. The Holy Father adds, “It is a temptation to think one knows everything about other people, too, using one’s prejudices to attach rigid labels to others, especially those we feel are different from us.”

Advent, therefore, is a time to let go and allow oneself to be surprised by God. Like John the Baptist, we may question God’s presence and actions in our lives, especially during difficult times. However, it is in these moments that our faith grows.

As we conclude, let us embrace the essence of Advent—a time of joyous expectation and steadfast faith. May the assurance of Christ’s imminent arrival, which brought hope to John the Baptist, also comfort and uplift our heart in these days!

Rejoice in the Lord always,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham