By Fr. Glenn Jones:
My goodness … already we’re on the third week of Advent … and marking the fact that Advent is more than half over, the third Sunday of Advent is also known as “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoicing Sunday”, ever since the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 500s. In some Christian churches we light a rose-colored Advent candle beginning the third Sunday of Advent, as rose is the ancient traditional color of rejoicing … recalling the dawn and the coming of Christ.
In the Catholic Mass on this Sunday, we read that beautiful excerpt from the prophet Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.
As Christians know, the Hebrew-derived word “Messiah” and the Greek “Christus”, which we render as “Christ”, both mean “anointed”, or “poured upon”. The significance of the “the anointed one” is in recalling that both kings and priests were invested with their position and their attendant authority in a ceremony of anointing with olive oil. Thus, inherent in the concept of “messiah” is the idea of being gifted priestly and kingly authority.
Now, the remarkable thing that we Christians remember is that we, too, are “anointed”—we Catholics (and others) even literally with oil blessed by the bishop before Easter (the “chrism”, or anointing oil) both when we are baptized and when we are confirmed … and, for priests, when we are ordained.
So … what does this mean? That means that the baptized share in the priesthood and the kingship of Jesus—who is the “anointed” in the fullest possible sense of the word.
The book of Revelation makes this plain: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” (Revelation 1:5-6 RSV). And in 1 Peter we read: “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” And why are we so graced? The author continues: “…that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 RSV)
Now, with all going on in these days—the pandemic and its accompanying difficulties, added onto the normal seasonal hubbub of pre-Christmas, it can become difficult to find time to really focus on the meaning of the coming season—the coming of the Anointed One. Many times we’ll focus on having the perfect tree, the perfect gift, the perfect meal, etc. But the only thing that God wants from us is perfect love … and to strive always (however flailingly) to perfect the soul.
And thus we need to—as Jesus did with His apostles—“come away and rest awhile.” In the old West, along stagecoach routes there were “way stations”—places to rest and be fed, change out the horses, etc. Even today we have “rest areas” along long stretches of highway.
Likewise, in the journey of our lives, prayer, scripture and the church are always a “way station” on the way to our ultimate promised inheritance—to that sharing of the priestly and kingly heritage of Christ. It is in these that we receive rest and nourishment to continue determinedly. For some of us the journey is relatively short; for some of us, a long time. And yet … always the way station is well supplied with the strengthening sustenance of God’s grace.
But … we have to stop! If we don’t, we become hungry and weak … the outlaws of sloth and negligence always lurking, like wolves watching a herd of bison for weakness … looking to cull the tired and weak for the kill … all because we did not stop to be refreshed … did not “come away and rest a while” … and thus were not fed with the food that strengthens: the grace that comes through prayer and sacraments, good works and reading of scripture. Such grace not only gives us strength, but wisdom—wisdom, and realization that comes only from God.
We often remember Jesus’ prayer: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike…” (Luke 10:21) … “[for] no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27) But to whom will Christ choose to reveal the Father except those who keep company with Him? We need be near to hear.
Yes, Christ’s disciples share in that “anointing” of Jesus … and thus are called to walk with Him to bring glad tidings of discipleship to all in our lives—by word and example showing the love of Christ in a largely loveless world … bringing hope to a world largely devoid of hope.
God created each of us for happiness … both for our happiness, and for His happiness … happiness only found through mutual love. After all, what brings greater joy than shared and mutual love.
So … as we approach the memorial of Our Lord’s birth: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy, and may you entirely—spirit, soul and body—be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.