Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Below is my homily for today's readings, the Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday

At Mass today, we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known by it’s Latin name Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” which is the fist word of our Entrance Antiphon: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” This is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In all of our readings today we see woven through them the thread of Joy. Listening closely to the unity of the readings our Mother Church gives us can provide the key to understanding what she wants to teach us. I think the key this Sunday is Christian Joy that is ours when Christ is near. Our penances, prayers, and fasting this Advent in preparation for the coming of the Lord is almost over. There is cause for great Joy! Soon, our Lord will be born again in our hearts, bursting forth with the light of day.

You know, in our society today, Joy is an elusive virtue. We always tend to either undercut it, by defining it too superficially, or over-emphasize it by making it too proud. In undercutting it we equate it with that sort of fake happiness that is simply the feeling we get when things go our way. In over-emphasizing it we turn it into haughtiness or giddiness, like when we exclaim "It can never get better than this!" Either way, we base this happiness on our circumstances which are always fleeting or on some future condition: Like, “If I could only get a different job, then I’d be happy. If I could only get a new car, then I’d be happy. If I could only get a raise, then I’d be happy. If I could only get over this illness, then I’d be happy.” But too often, what we find is we get the job, the car, the raise, and the health (maybe even all together!) and still are not satisfied. That is because the world’s allurements are all too attractive but can never bear the weight of our happiness, a happiness that should never fail, the happiness we all seek in every action that we make. Everything we say or do, from the mundane to the profound, is done to attain happiness. This is Good because it is in our nature to do so. But, we must base this happiness on a foundation that will not fade away or let us down. Only Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, can bear the weight of our unquenchable happiness. Our infinite desire for happiness, rooted in our immortal soul, can only be satisfied by he who is all in all, the Alpha and the Omega, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Soon he will come and true Christian Joy can be ours once again.

Now that we have addressed what Joy is Not, let us take a brief look at our readings again to see what real Christian Joy is all about. In our first reading, Isaiah writes a beautiful poetic description of Joy. First it is characterized by closeness to the Lord. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he says, “he has sent me to bring glad tidings.” This Joy leads him to serve his fellow man, “the poor”, to “heal the broken hearted”, to “proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” Who in our family, at our school, or at our work could use glad tidings brought to him? Whose day could we make a little easier this Advent? Who do we know that is broken-hearted, that could use a visit, or a phone call, or a letter from us to assure them that Christ, our Rock, will never leave us. Who do we know that is being held captive and prisoner to addiction or to unhealthy relationships? These too could use our help to free them from the tyranny of fake happiness in this world.

Also in Isaiah, see how deep-seated his joy us, it is not superficial, it is not easily lost. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” he exclaims, “in my God is the joy of my soul.” He then compares this joy, which is rooted in and springs from his immortal soul, to the joy that is present among a new bride and groom who are nearly bursting with joy as they prepare for their magnificent wedding: “like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” This too is a source of true joy my friends. One of life’s true pleasures is to behold the joy of a couple on the cusp of the Wedding Mass. They cannot wait to receive the blessing of the Lord on the great love and sacrifice they have been called by God to share. When weddings are true to this form, we can see Joy beaming from their faces. This joy is true because is mirrors the Joy that wells up in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord in his Marriage to the Church.

But, there are still more other beautiful ways in which Joy is laid out for us, the Joy to which we are destined. Our Responsorial Psalm, taking a different turn this Sunday, is taken from Luke’s Gospel rather than from the body of Psalms in the Old Testament. And this happens to be one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, Mary’s Magnificat. “Magnificat, anima mea Dominum,” she exclaims! My soul “magnifies” or “proclaims the greatness” of the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Mary proclaims this moving Canticle out of the Joy she has in visiting her cousin Elizabeth who gave homage to our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Here too the spirit of the Lord is upon his chosen one. Here too closeness to God leads to service. This time God rests in Mary’s very self, under the light of her Immaculate Heart. The overwhelming Joy of this fact moves Mary to make a no-doubt treacherous journey alone to Elizabeth who was pregnant in her old age, “for nothing is impossible with God.”

When true Joy seems impossible to find, know that in a heart properly disposed rests the same Lord in our daily Eucharist who rested in the womb of our Blessed Mother. This too should bring us much Joy. And Elizabeth too is a great example, for she who could not see her Lord believed and “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” In the face of such joy we must do what St. Paul instructed the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” And this is precisely what the word “Eucharist” means; it comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” A heart filled with Christian Joy can do nothing but give thanks to God. And this is a thanks that St. Paul always gave God, even in the midst of intense suffering, because he knew and believed that his Joy is not founded on his circumstances but on the Lord who will not change, who will not waver, who will not flinch in his faithfulness to us. During these times of suffering, Joy remains not in the outward signs of laughter or cheers but in an internal Peace and Consolation that refuses to let suffering rule the day.

But, what about our Gospel? There are no words in it like “glad tidings”, “rejoice heartily”, “spirit rejoices”, or “rejoice always.” What does it have to do with Joy? It’s just about the unbelieving Levites and Pharisees interrogating John the Baptist to find out who he is, right? But, therein lies the answer: Belief. Faith. Listen again to the beginning of our Gospel: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” So, our thread of Joy continues right through to our Gospel after all. It is Faith in Jesus Christ, the Faith for which John paved the way, that will end in unimaginable Joy. With Faith, Joy is empowered not only to satisfy our deepest human longings but to blow them away ! Faith brings to mankind a Joy he could never have imaged, never could have fathomed. And this Faith is not in a set of principles, not in a list of rules, or a decade of commandments. Our Faith is in a Person, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father… And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14-16)

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