Following the sequence of the Catechism in this ‘Year of Faith’ does mean that sometimes there will be occasions when the season and the readings are covering very different aspects of our faith. Nevertheless, I think that it’s important to be able to cover the essentials of the Catechism this year in a meaningful and a consistent way. So, today for example, it’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — and we have heard the practical advice of John the Baptist as he helped the people to know their sins and confess them, and avoid them in future. That focuses us for our Advent reflection on the need for personal forgiveness from our sins, and our proper, inner, spiritual preparation for Jesus’s coming at Christmas.
But our theme for today is the life of Jesus … those years that fill in the gap in the Creed. The Creed jumps from “he was born of the Virgin Mary …” to “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Today we want to fill in that gap … it includes the wonderful mysteries of the infancy of Jesus, His hidden life of some 30 years in Nazareth, and His public ministry of maybe 3 years’ preaching and journeying around the towns and villages of Israel. Ultimately He will enter triumphantly into Jerusalem and begin those days of giving up His life for us in the sacrifice of the Cross. It is, of course, all this that Advent and Christmas is for … Just as preparing for a wedding is not about preparing for a single day, but for a life of marriage; just like my going to seminary for 6 years wasn’t about preparing for my ordination day, but for a lifetime of priesthood, so these weeks of Advent are not just about preparing only for Christmas Day, but for participating in the whole life of Jesus, following His example of family life, living by His teaching. We all enjoy the delights of the build-up to Christmas, the lights, the plays, the carols … but we must not just stop at the superficial enjoyment. If we are to enjoy Christmas honestly, the coming of baby Jesus, then we must also hold fast to the Son of God as He grows up, and continues His earthly ministry as it heads towards the Cross.
Perhaps the greatest mystery, in a way, as that He spent the first 30years in relative obscurity; 30 years in the family home with His Mother, Mary, and foster-father Joseph. By this wonderful example, He sanctified the life of the home — He made it clear that we can live a holy life, a life heading towards heaven, by living well an ordinary daily life of love for God and neighbour.
Once Jesus had come out into the open, beginning with His Baptism at the Jordan, His life was very different. He entered into a busy three years which were marked by the crowds of believers, and the opposition of the authorities. His actions and teaching spoke eloquently of His being divine. Gradually the apostles and others came to see that the only way to interpret Him — to understand His miracles, and His words — was to see that He was truly the Son of the Living God. Events such as the Transfiguration, when He let His glory be glimpsed, reinforced their belief. The whole mystery of the person and teaching of Jesus can only make sense if He is indeed God Himself, God the Son come to earth, taking on our human flesh so as to teach us and save us, guide us into His Church, the community of believers where we can find our home and the grace of His sacraments.
So, a key part of those 3 years of ministry were the forming of the early Church. Beginning with His 12 male apostles and the wider group of disciples, both women and men (which was a radical departure from the norm of the day for a rabbi’s companions) Jesus established His ‘new people’ — the ‘new Israel.’ Taking them aside often, so as to deepen their understanding; helping them to pray, and to see His inner life as Son of God; building them up into a people of mission, ready to spread the Good News, and to suffer for it if necessary: these were the actions of Jesus so that His life and His grace — His transforming power as Lord — would reach out into the years and centuries to come, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the Catholic Church, founded by, and held in truth by, God Himself. Gaudete Sunday today signifies ‘rejoice’! — there is no better rejoicing in this life than in knowing and following all that the Lord Jesus has given us. So as we continue our preparations for Christmas, let us make sure that we look beyond the one celebration of Jesus’s birth, and promise Him the rest of this Year of Faith as well: if we are to rejoice in this season, then we have to be bearers of the Good News. If we are to leave the Good News well alone, and not carry it in our hearts and in our actions to others, then in fact we cannot celebrate Christmas honestly at all.