When I was working for the U.S. Army, it was a common practice when one sent an email or called another to request something to end the request with the words “thanks in advance.” When I first received an email signed that way, I remember thinking, “why would they thank me, I haven’t done anything yet?” As time went on, I began to understand it as a way of saying “thanks” for considering my request and the time they were about to take to answer it. It was in a way a “leap of faith” that the person would take your request seriously and answer it.
On this Gaudete Sunday, we are only half-way through the Advent season. Christmas is not yet here, yet we are asked to rejoice because we know the joy that does await us. Gaudete Sunday is a way of “lightening the mood” as we rejoice in the midst of our eager anticipation of the coming of the Savior. We are invited to praise God for the fact that no matter how long our wait seems, no matter how dark it may feel as we wait, we never wait without hope. We are in a way invited to “thank God in advance” for the many ways we know He will fulfill His promises in our future.
“Hope is a necessity for us in these days of exile from heaven. It is our consolation on the journey. When a traveler gets tired of walking along the dusty road, he puts up with fatigue because he hopes to arrive home. Rob him of any hope of arriving and immediately his strength for walking is broken. So too, the hope for heaven which we have now is an important factor easing the pain of our just exile and sometimes harsh journey.”Saint Augustine (Sermon 158, 8)
Both our first and second readings therefore invite us to praise.
In Zephaniah 3:14-18 we see an exhortation for the people of God to praise the Lord who has freed them from judgement and removed all reason for them to fear as they wait for their restoration. In the meantime we are invited to not be discouraged while we wait, for there will be a day in the future when there will be much rejoicing.
In Philippians 4:4-7 we are once again invited to avoid the trap of anxiety as we wait by rejoicing in the promises we have been given and to turn all things over to God in prayer while we wait for the fulfillment of those promises. When we do, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds through the gift of Jesus Christ who will come and who will come again.
As we continue our journey through Advent, there is a lot going on in our world and lives that cause us to fear and feel anxious. A lot of our prayers may feel as if they remain unanswered. But we do not have to wait for these answers without hope. Just as Jesus has come on that first Christmas to free us from condemnation, despair, fear, and anxiety; He will come again to make all things right.
This Sunday is an invitation to give God “thanks in advance” for the hope we have in the promise that He will indeed come again and guard our hearts while we wait for Him to do so.
How will we respond to this gift of hope that we have? How do we continue to prepare the way of Christ’s second coming as we “thank God in advance” for all the ways He promises they will be fulfilled?
That is where our Gospel (Luke 3:10-18) comes in. Three separate people ask John the Baptist this very question. The crowd is encouraged to share their goods with their neighbors in need. Tax collectors are advised not to collect more than the prescribed amount. The soldiers are to be satisfied with what they have rather than fall into the temptation to exhort from others.
As we “thank God in advance” for all that He has promised to do, we are invited to help prepare, like John the Baptist, the way for His coming through acts of justice.
Is the way we treat or help others a sign of God’s coming into the lives of those we work and live with? How might God be inviting us to be a sign of hope for others? How might others who help us be a sign of God’s presence in our lives?
The Lord comes to us each time we gather for Mass, hear the Word proclaimed, experience Him in each other, and most especially in the Eucharist.
As we prepare to receive Him next time we attend Mass, may we “thank Him in advance” not only for the hope we have that our desires, our longings, our prayers will not go unanswered forever; but also “thank Him in advance” for all that He will do through us as the gift of the Eucharist and our hope of the second coming all lead us to prepare for His coming through works of charity and justice.