Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, which in days gone by was commonly known as “Gaudete Sunday,” the Sunday of Rejoicing. It is one of the two Sundays of the church year when the priest may wear rose-colored vestments, the other being the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
What we are “rejoicing” about, today, is that the coming of the Christ Child is getting closer and closer.
Today, we are treated to a selection from the Book of James. Of all the books of the Bible, this one is one of the easiest and most practical ones to understand.
In this selection, James reminds the Christians to bear with each other while waiting the coming of the Lord (James 5: 7-10). He says that just like the farmer waits for the coming of the new crops after sufficient rain, Christians must be patient with one another. He ends his message by saying, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of Jesus” (James 5: 9-10).
Before discussing what we can learn from St. James’ words today, I present some ideas that came from a sermon by Michael Luke.
In Michael’s sermon, he reflected on what authors Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg call the “contagious Christian.” In fact, they advocate in their book, “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” that all Christians should become contagious. In other words, they should spread their faith to others.
As Michael Luke was reflecting on this idea, he came across a letter from a relatively new Christian to a Christian who had influenced her faith greatly. This is part of the letter that reflects some of what St. James is talking about today.
“You know when we met; I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth, and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit—no signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you lived by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain. And I had never met anyone like that before. I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn’t judge me. You tried to understand me, you sympathized and you celebrated with me, you demonstrated kindness and generosity—and not just to me, but to other people, as well. And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believed to be true, no matter what people said, and no matter how much it cost you. And for those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you I’m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian life in front of me.”
I’m sure each of us would be delighted to receive such a beautiful letter one day that how we lived our lives made an impact on another’s faith. At least, I know I would.
From St. James’ words today, and the concrete example from this letter, we can glean many things. Here are just two.
First, James reminds us that we need patience when we have to wait for some anticipated event, an event such as the coming of the Lord. It is helpful to know that in the early days of the Church, Christians thought Jesus’ Second Coming would occur in their lifetimes. Therefore, they didn’t expect to have to be patient for too long.
Second, note that James connects complaining about others with being judged by God. In other words, when we complain about others, we are actually judging them. And as we judge others, that is how God is going to judge us. This idea is found in many parts of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. One of the most profound teachings of the concept comes from Jesus himself when he said, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7: 1-2). Since I don’t know anybody who wants to be judged harshly, I think Jesus’ words are incredibly sobering to consider before finding fault with our neighbor.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to do an examination of conscience on just how well we are being patient with one another, and how well we are at avoiding judging one another. In both instances, I am sure we can all find room for improvement.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday of Advent, 2016.
Story source: Bill Hybels, “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” from a sermon by Michael Luke,
“Discussing the Deacons,” May 5, 2011, in Sermon Central.