The Third Sunday of Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:6-10
Second Reading: Letter of St. James 5:7-10
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 11:2-11
The list of people in the arts who can claim a Catholic upbringing is impressive in both its length and its breadth. It seems that everyone from Andy Warhol and Jack Kerouac to Bruce Springsteen and Martin Sheen have been influenced in one way or another by the Faith of their childhood.
One such artist who grew up as a Catholic is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, former front-man of the band The Police and known to the world as Sting. His solo work is infused with the themes and images of his Catholic youth, especially on the albums Nothing Like the Sun and Soul Cages. In 2009 he issued what has become de rigueur to the point of cliché for everyone from Barbara Streisand to Billy Idol – a Christmas album.
For Sting there is no “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bell Rock,” but only traditional songs from his native British Isles with a few wild cards, like the Basque carol “Gabriel’s Message,” thrown in for good measure. Another song from the Continent is the German classic Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.”
The text of the song takes its inspiration from the prophet Isaiah, and is directly related to the opening lines of this weekend’s first reading: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
The flower – the rose – of the carol is the Blessed Mother, and because of the northern European nature of the song Isaiah’s desert imagery has been replaced by a climate familiar to its German audience: “A rose has sprung up…in the middle of the cold winter.”
A rose blooming in the dead of winter, whether in snow or in a desert, should be a cause for joy, and this Sunday is fittingly known both as Rose Sunday, indicating the color of vestments and the candle to be lit on the Advent wreath, as well as Gaudete (Latin for “Rejoice”) Sunday. This focus on joy is related to the anticipation of the coming Nativity – there is only one Sunday of Advent remaining before the celebration of Christmas.
Liturgically we are called to be like children who need to be sent back to bed over and over again by their parents on Christmas Eve – “true believers” for whom the anticipation seems to be almost too much to handle. In the weekend’s second reading St. James pleads with his listeners: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord…Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
For Isaiah, James and the author of the German carol, the joy anticipated has nothing to do with presents under the tree on Christmas morn’, but with the true Gift of Christmas – the Babe given by the Father for the eternal joy of the whole world.
As we advance towards the one event that forever changed creation we would do well to keep in mind the words sung by Sting and other Catholics – lapsed and devout and everything in between – for hundreds of years, “true man and true God! He helps us from all trouble, saves us from sin and death,” and thus remember the true cause of our joy.