Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent (12/3/17)

In the Name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, whose oracles and prophecies are featured prominently in the liturgical services of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church during the season of Advent. The reason for this is that many of Isaiah’s prophecies point forward in time to the coming Messiah, who is the “Anointed One.” In fact, that Isaiah’s words are fulfilled in Jesus Christ is made explicit in the Gospel of St. Luke.

In Chapter Four, it is recorded that Jesus was in Nazareth and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath. During the liturgy, Jesus was handed a scroll of the Book of Isaiah to read from before the assembly. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

After finishing the reading, Jesus explained, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In other words, Jesus was telling the assembly that the scripture passage has been fulfilled in Him. In the ministry of Jesus, we see Him doing all that Isaiah prophesied. Jesus “brings glad tidings to the poor,” “heals the brokenhearted,” and “proclaims liberty.” With Jesus, the Messiah, ‘justice and peace spring up before all nations,” for he opened the door for the proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles (i.e. “nations”). Thus, Jesus Himself fulfills the profound and hope-filled words of Isaiah.

The oracles and prophecies of Isaiah give us cause to rejoice, for we anticipate the coming of the Messiah. That is why we call this Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday.” We rejoice that the Messiah is coming to us, so we take a short break from the reflective and quiet nature of Advent to rejoice and to celebrate the nearness of the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

Just as the reign of Christ broke into the history of mankind by His birth in the flesh, so too, the anticipation and joy of His expected coming breaks into the silence of our time of reflection and preparation. We cannot contain our joy, so we are given to express it in signs and symbols.

While not departing entirely from our Advent observance, we “lighten” it that we may express our joy and rejoice in the fact that Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, is coming to be born in the flesh and dwell among us. That is why we change from the liturgical color of violet (not purple, which we use for Great Lent), to rose. Rose signifies joy, and Orthodox Catholic Christians are called to rejoice always. Christian joy goes beyond mere emotion and, therefore, supersedes circumstances. The joy we have in Christ remains regardless of what challenges we are facing in life. That is because God is in control of our circumstances.

St. Paul tells us that God is always faithful. He always keeps His promises. Therefore, we can “rejoice always” and “in all circumstances give thanks” because we have hope in God. Still, to experience the fullness of this joy, the Apostle Paul tells us that we must obey God. We must listen to the Spirit of God and “refrain from every kind of evil.” We are called to be “perfectly holy.” This is the true path to joy; sanctity.

Following God’s will and allowing His grace to transform us leads to true happiness. Let us, therefore, seek Him, trust Him, and obey Him, that we may find the deep joy that can only be found in God.


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