“Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. … Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates” (Jas. 5:8-9). We hear these words in the second reading for the Third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday, which comes from the Latin word for joy. We are now more than halfway through Advent, and we are joyful that Jesus, our Lord and Judge, is near.
In the first two weeks of Advent, the most important theme has been that God’s grace leads our way, and it gives us the opportunity to respond to Him. This truth is echoed by the prophet Isaiah during this Third Week. On Thursday, we hear, “The Lord calls you back.” When we respond rightly to God’s first movement, we hear Him say, “with great tenderness I will take you back” (Is. 54:6-7). God is ready and waiting to greet each of us with a tender embrace, if only we will repent and commit to a life of intimate relationship with Him and following His commandments.
Following God’s movement, our response to His grace can bring us to great new horizons, and it can bring about great things in the world. This is why Isaiah, on Friday, remarks that all who join themselves to the Lord and love His name will be brought up the holy mountain, and will be made joyful in His house of prayer (Is. 56). From this mountain top, we can see that there are “abundant flowers” where the desert used to be; we can hear rejoicing song where we once thought there was sorrow.
This pilgrimage up the Lord’s mountain, the transformation of life and action, involves the development of virtues. On Tuesday, the message of Zephaniah is clearly about humility before God, who is the only savior. Throughout the week, Isaiah calls continually for justice, which is right relationship with the Lord. On several days throughout the week, the Psalmist calls for justice, compassion, and humility. Even the apostle James, a prophet of the new and everlasting covenant, exhorts his hearers to take up patience in the midst of hardship. Justice, compassion, patience, humility, and other virtues are characteristic of Jesus’ disciples. Further, this life of virtue is precisely the path by which God’s people will be “crowned with everlasting joy,” and how they will “meet with joy and gladness” while sorrow and mourning fade away (Is. 35; Sunday). We should find time to ask ourselves: “How has God granted me opportunities to lift up others and lower myself? How have I been able to restore relationships through compassionate works? How has the Lord been with me during my suffering?”
There are particular actions that mark the lives of those who seek to live virtuously as disciples of Christ. In the Gospel passage for Sunday, Jesus remarks that the works of the Messiah are to give sight to the blind, to help the lame walk and the deaf to hear, to cleanse lepers, to raise the dead, and to proclaim good news to the poor. These are nothing other than the works of mercy. While it may not be possible for every one of us to grant physical sight to a blind person (and probably none of us can raise someone from the dead), these all can happen on the spiritual level, which is ultimately most important.
We are called to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in every season, but Advent makes a great time to build new habits. We can lead others to see and know the Truth of the Gospel. We can help those who are spiritually or socially lame to walk again as equals among their brothers and sisters. We can witness to Jesus’ power to cleanse our souls from the death of sin, and to bring us to new and everlasting life.
It is important for us to reflect on this reality during Advent and beyond. We must ask ourselves how we have lived out the clarion call of the Gospel for justice and mercy. How is God calling me to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? How has the Lord equipped me to instruct the ignorant? Surely all of us can pray for the living and the dead.
The most transformative of all the works of mercy are to forgive others and to bear wrongs patiently. During these last two weeks of Advent, each of us should pray for God’s grace to forgive someone who has harmed us, whether they know it or not. As Christ’s disciples, we will find freedom and joy in that.
This is the third of four weekly reflections on the Advent season. Check back each Friday throughout Advent.