Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent – a day meant for rejoicing because the Lord is near.
At mass these words were proclaimed at the beginning of the First Reading: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted…” Isaiah 61:1-2
If you have not heard the story of Helen Johnson and police officer William Stacy, the link is right here. In a world full of seemingly bad news – death, destruction, devastation and more – we are given this story at a perfect moment. Who needs a homily? This is it.
As we make our way around the bend in the road that is the Third Sunday of Advent, we change our liturgical color from violet to rose, and we are reminded to rejoice. This rejoicing is our fuel as we watch and wait for the Lord. In our rejoicing however, it is important to remember just what glad tidings might mean.
We start out with this word…. εὐαγγελίζω. What? OK, fair enough, Isiah would not have been speaking Greek, but if we transport ourselves to first century Palestine, the place where Jesus is about to be born, that is how we might hear “glad tidings.” This is important in the context of today’s Gospel, in which John the Evangelist speaks to us about John the Baptist. Yes, the scraggly looking dude who ate locusts and honey, walking around the desert in a shmatte, was bringing εὐαγγελίζω. He foretold Jesus from before his birth and he did it in his adult life – and most people did not pay attention. Many of us may believe, with all good intentions, that we would certainly notice Jesus, but do we?
Bringing glad tidings to the poor is not only to shine the light of Christ to others, nor simply to be Christ for others, but it is to meet Christ in all those we meet. Many times, far too many times, material poverty is where we need to shine that light most powerfully. And the light of Christ that we shine, may reveal the One whom we await.
In the story of Helen Johnson and Officer Stacy, we find a woman stealing eggs to feed her family. It is worth pointing out that she was stealing three eggs that cost $1.75; she only had $1.25. Let’s not even discuss how and why three individual eggs cost that much; they did. Helen lacked the funds, but Helen had hungry kids, and in a move that might remind us of Jean Valjean, she did what she had to in order to feed her children – she stole the eggs. Helen got caught, and the police were called. Officer Stacy arrived and when he understood what happened, he hugged her. And bought her a dozen eggs.
Glad tidings. Rejoicing. Announcing the coming of the Lord. This is not the work of only a certain group of people. Whether it is your parish priest opening his wallet to give a $20 to someone with no good or gas, or a St. Vincent de Paul Society assisting those in need, or a soup kitchen, any time that the poor are helped the rejoicing light of Christ shines on in the darkness.
Today’s Gospel has John the Baptist saying, ““I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” Officer Stacy made straight the way by helping Helen Johnson instead of arresting her. Many other anonymous people make straight the way of the Lord as you bring glad tidings in the form of your life.
So what’s the point? Although we are all constantly invited more deeply into the mystery of the love of God and the realization of the Kingdom, at this time of year, perhaps things are made more clear to us. As that third candle is lit, with three quarters of the Advent wreath illuminated we see with more light. Instead of getting lost in theological pondering for a moment, what if we looked up and saw someone in need before us – and then helped them.
We can look for these moments, but we can’t simply seek them out. They appear, and then they are gone until the next time. Luckily for us, God offers near constant next times! We can’t say there is not enough light yet, the light is brighter. We can’t say that we could not see the road ahead, as it is made more straight. God asks us to pay attention and respond, just like Officer Stacy.
Let’s not get lost in the darkness of opinion, judgment, and hopelessness this Advent. Let’s use the available light to bring more light. I’m willing if you are. Let’s go, glad tidings await. And in the end, we may receive many of them ourselves.
(I mentioned Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in the post because Helen Johnson stole to feed her family, just as he did. Officer Stacy’s response reminded me of the bishop in the story. Here is a video clip to remind us all of the Light of Christ. Rejoice!)