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3rd Sunday of Advent (Ages 9-12): Gaudete!

(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)

This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means "Rejoice!" Why are we being told to rejoice? In the middle of this Advent season of preparation, why do we pause to rejoice?

The Gospel for this Sunday takes place once again on the banks of the Jordan river. Although both Jesus and John the Baptist are grown up, only John the Baptist is preaching. Jesus has not yet begun.

Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash

People are coming from all over Jerusalem to repent and be baptized by John. Now they stand drying off by the side of the river and they have questions for him.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

All these people are asking John the Baptist what they should do. Why? We remember that they have just repented of their sins and have been baptized. They know themselves forgiven. They know they are returning to the Lord.

And they know that this is a huge gift. This is mercy.

In the face of this great gift that they have done nothing to deserve, the people want to respond. They want to show that they are grateful, they want to continue on the path to the Lord, so they ask John the Baptist, "What should we do?" John the Baptist gives them penance. He gives them something to do to continue on the path to the Lord. Give to the poor; show them mercy. Act justly. Be kind. Always be grateful for what you have.

Mercy. Justice. Kindness. Gratitude.

Sounds like the Kingdom of God.

No wonder the people begin to think that John the Baptist is the Messiah!

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.

John the Baptist wants to be clear. He is not the Messiah. He has not forgiven their sins. He does not want the people to lose sight of the gift given by the One who has the power to forgive. He does not want the people to think that penance erases the effects of their sins. John the Baptist does not have the power to do that.

But he knows the One who does.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

What is all this about wheat and chaff and fire? Sounds a lot like a parable of the Kingdom of God.

Wheat. (Photo by Avinash Kumar on Unsplash)

Wheat, we know, is a grain that can be ground into flour—flour that can be baked into bread, bread that feed the world. Wheat is useful; it is needed. Who could the wheat be? Who is needed to feed a world hungry, not just for food, but also for mercy and justice, for kindness and gratitude?

Chaff. (Photo by Utsman Media on Unsplash)

But wheat grows within an outer casing called chaff. Chaff is indigestible. It cannot feed the world. While the chaff remains, the wheat cannot become what it is destined to be. What can the chaff be? What holds us back from being all that we are meant to be? We can think of the sins of others that have harmed us; we can think of our own sins that have harmed others. Regrets, shame, pain, sorrow. Indigestible. We cannot get rid of it on our own no matter how much penance we do.

The wheat needs help. It needs the One who can winnow away the chaff, who can burn it completely so that the effects of the chaff are gone forever.

There is only One person who can do that.

Thank God for him. Our hearts open to receive him; our penance helps us take steps to follow him more completely. And why wouldn't we? He burns away all our chaff and makes us become who we were always meant to be.

The church does not need to tell us to rejoice! Gaudete. Our hearts are glad.

Flour for the Kingdom of God! (Photo by Olga Kudriavtseva on Unsplash)

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