The liturgical readings for the third Sunday of Advent are Zephaniah 3: 14-18a, Philippians 4: 4-7, and Luke 3:10-18. You can view the readings here http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121612.cfm .
How long must we wait before the entire church, including the hierarchy, treats LGBT people as equals? That question has been put to me many times in my years working here at New Ways Ministry. It is usually asked in a despairing tone, with no expectation that a positive answer will be offered.
The readings from today’s liturgy, however, do offer a positive answer to that question of how long we must wait. The answer is we don’t have to wait. The reign of God is already here. It’s up to us to recognize and live that reign of justice and equality, and one way to do that is simply to rejoice!
Rejoicing is what today’s readings urge us to do. Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete (Latin for “Rejoice”) Sunday. Why should we rejoice, especially when we see so much injustice surrounding us? Because, as Christians we believe that God is already with us in the struggle for justice. In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says:
“Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.”
And in the second reading, St. Paul exhorts us:
“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all. . .”
We are faced here with one of the great Christian paradoxes: we are awaiting God, yet God is already with us. The appearance that God is not already with us makes it tempting for us to despair. The fact, revealed by faith, that God is indeed with us causes us to rejoice.
Rejoicing can help our spirits. It can remind us of God’s presence with us even when empirical facts seem to proclaim an absence. Rejoicing helps us to believe: it strengthens our faith that God’s reign has come. And with our faith strengthened, we can start doing the works of mercy and justice that will actually make our faith in the reign of God more manifest to others and to ourselves.
In the Gospel, the followers of John the Baptist, who has been preparing people for the reign of God, ask him “What should we do?” John tells his followers (and us) that we need to start acting out the reign of God: act justly, live mercifully, do the things that you expect to see when God’s reign is in effect. In effect he is telling them the same message from the much-quoted saying of Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
For those involved in the work of justice and equality for LGBT people, today’s readings challenge us in two ways. First, we must not give into despair, but, instead, rejoice. God is already with us! Others in the church may not yet see it, but we know that it is true. The glass is half-full. Already wonderful things are happening in the church that reflect God’s reign of justice for LGBT people.
Second, to hasten God’s reign and make it more evident, we need to live as if that reign already existed. So many of you already do that: you act with justice and equality towards LGBT people and you continue to struggle for their rights. Those are the kinds of actions that make our church and society more welcoming places. Those are the kinds of actions that are more powerful than any homophobic nay-sayers. Those are the kinds of actions that make God present in the world and call for even greater rejoicing!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry