Sunday, December 15, 2013

Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Year A: The Advent of Meaning and Purpose



Today, this Third Sunday of Advent, is a day that the Church calls Gaudete Sunday. This comes from the first word of today’s Entrance Antiphon, “Gaudete,” which means Rejoice! The Entrance Antiphon is a short verse found in the Missal which can be chanted as the Entrance hymn. The full verse says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Against the backdrop of short, cloudy days and long, cold, rainy nights… against the backdrop of Advent violet symbolizing penance, preparation and good works … against the backdrop of a renewed awareness of our need for the Lord and the longing we have for his return… against all of these we have today a beacon of hope, symbolized by the rose-colored vestments we wear today. We can begin to see the rays of light beaming from the Star of Bethlehem, from the manger of the Son of God; it is Jesus Christ, the Light of Lights! He is near at hand! He is not far off now! Only two more weeks and we will experience again his first coming! And what beautiful gifts he has in store!

The prophet Isaiah foretold that even “the desert and the parched land” will exult. Even the dry land eagerly awaits the coming of the Spring of Living Water which is Jesus Christ. And when he finally comes, the land will exult and bloom! “Let the earth bless the Lord. Praise and exult him above all forever. Mountains and hills, bless the Lord. Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord!” How eagerly do we await his coming? If the earth and all of the Lord’s creation can be filled, in a mystical way, with joy at our Lord’s coming, we certainly can as well.

But, I realize that precisely this time of year, when the Church gives us a glimpse of joy in our time of waiting, can be a time of sorrow, of loneliness, of disappointment. For some of you this may be a time in which you mostly deeply feel the separation from a loved one who has died. Perhaps you may be feeling the stress of wanting to buy that perfect gift that you couldn’t possibly afford. Or a relative could be right next door but still distant and estranged. I think these feelings happen in all of us in some way or another. But how is it that some blessed souls are able to maintain their joy leading to, during, and throughout the Advert and Christmas seasons while others experience such sadness?
I think the way the world approaches Christmas contributes much to the malaise and discontent we can feel this time of year. There is no space for the preparation that Advent asks of us. The world begins the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, if not sooner, and ends it on Christmas day. We speak and celebrate Christmas as if it’s already here. We turn Christmas into a day when we can safely indulge all our materialistic passions – a day when we can morally accumulate more and more things that in a matter of weeks or months will fall apart or be forgotten. The coming of Santa Clause excites our children more than the coming of the baby Jesus. Is it Jesus that keeps them awake a night, excited and giddy with expectation? We cultivate materialism in our children and center their happiness on the toys they receive. There is outstanding pressure to keep up with the Jones’s, to spend money we wouldn’t dream of spending any other time of year. The drive, the competition, the pressure wears us out. I’ve done all of this myself! Heck, I have a LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar! No matter so many feel depressed during Advent. There was no room for Jesus.

Instead, if we are giving Advent its due, if we are focusing on remembering his first coming at Christmas and preparing our souls for his Second Coming (at a time we know not) then we will be prepared to meet the malaise that knocks on our door. In preparing for Christ, we will be spending time praying for our deceased loved ones and calling to mind the blessed times we had together. This prayer and remembrance makes us close again, and drives away the loneliness. In preparing for Christ, we will already be properly lining up our priorities, practicing self-denial and works of charity that drive away the temptation to make Christmas a day of accumulation instead of adoration. In preparing for Christ, we will be following the call of John the Baptist, the great Saint of Advent, to repent of our sins and follow the Lord. We will be working to mend the broken relationships in our families and calling them together.

So we see that the preparation that Advent promotes makes this time before Christmas one of deep meaning and purpose, one of repentance and reconciliation that cuts through the superficiality of the world’s approach. Then, at Midnight Mass, after the Christmas Proclamation, are hearts will be open and clear, ready to receives gifts that dwarf any notion of the Xbox One or PS4; gifts that bring a deeper, more profound happiness than $5 DVD’s at Wal-Mart; gifts of grace, of hope for healing and salvation, of deep and abiding joy.

Only then, for faithful Christians does Christmas begin! The world shelves the holiday for another year, but we will have only just begun! Only then does our celebration of Christmas really ramp up, with the Octave of Christmas, The Feast of the Holy Family on December 29th, The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on January 1st, the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3rd, The Solemnity of the Epiphany on January 5th, and ending with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th. It’s really on Christmas Day that we should turn on our lights, turn on the tree, and begin cooking Christmas foods and telling Christmas stories. “Be patient, brother and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” St. James wrote in our second reading, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

The miracle of Bethlehem, can be the miracle of our very own hearts. If at the coming of the Lord, “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them,” then our own lives too can be transformed to see more clearly, to walk more steadily, to be healed of the infirmities of sin, to hear more loudly God’s call, to have a heart raised up to him, and to know his peace and happiness. Today, let us put away all sadness, let us rejoice! For the Lord who has and will do these things and much more is near… is very near…

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