The Third Sunday of Advent

posted in: Advent, Homilies | 0

Today’s readings

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.

That quote, from the fourth chapter of Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is also the proper entrance antiphon for today’s Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent.  That focus on joy and the nearness of the Lord is the reason for the rose colored vestments and candle that are emblematic of this day of the Church year.  We are reminded that, even in this semi-penitential season of waiting and preparation, there is joy because the object of our hope is arriving soon; our Lord is near and nothing will stop his entrance into our history, into our world, into our lives.

And that, I think, is very welcome news.  Into a world that has historically and often been marked by sadness, our Lord comes with his Divinity to take on our humanity, and raise it up to glory with him.  Our God who, as the Psalmist says, keeps faith forever, has turned to us in our need and become one of us, giving us a completely new life, where sin and death and disease have no power over us.  Our God remembers his promises: he “gives food to the hungry.  The LORD sets captives free.  The LORD gives sight to the blind; the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.  The LORD loves the just; the LORD protects strangers.”  Our God is not a god who sets events in motion and then steps back to see them all flounder in desperation, but instead, he is a God that cares for every one of us as if we were the only one on earth.  Our God would have come to save us even if we were the only one who needed saving.  Let that sink in for a minute: if we were the only lost one, God would come looking for us!  Indeed we ought to rejoice!

We know our need for a Savior, for sure.  We could mention all the strife in our world that certainly causes us anxiety, as well as our own personal sadness: sin, family troubles, illness, death of loved ones, employment difficulties, and so much more.  We often get caught up in all that this world brings us, and we forget that we are meant for so much more, that our God created us for reasonable happiness in this world and joy forever with him in the next.

But as much as we know our need for joy, it’s so difficult for us to truly experience it.  We look for it in all sorts of ways: social media, binge watching television, overindulging in food and drink, and so much more.  When we can’t find joy we get depressed and think we’ve been abandoned by God.  But, friends, joy isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision.  Our entrance antiphon doesn’t tell us to feel joyful, but to be joyful: rejoice! 

So how do we do that?  Well, as I said, joy is largely a decision.  We rejoice because the Lord is near.  He is with us in our sadness, he is with us in our joy, indeed he brings the joy of his loving presence to all that we are going through.  He does not abandon us in our anxieties but instead listens as we pray to him.  Our Lord is as near to us as our next quiet moment, our next embrace of someone we love, our next act of kindness. In a very real way, joy comes from bringing joy to others, or even just spending time with them.

I had a glimpse of this the day before Thanksgiving this year.  We were having my aunts and uncles over to the house for the big feast, and I was doing a bunch of cooking.  My Aunt Marilyn volunteered to come over and help me get ready, and Mom was sitting in her wheelchair at the table, peeling potatoes.  As I stood there working with them, I was just taken by the joy of being with them.  I’ll always remember that.

In these later days of Advent, people of faith light a candle of hope and rejoice in the light of Christ!  People of faith can rejoice because even in times of sadness and despair, the presence of our God is palpable, realized in stories of heroism and seen in acts of charity and grace in good times and in bad.

And so today we rejoice because our Lord is near.  We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath.  We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith.  That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice!  Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in the worst of times – THE LORD IS NEAR!

These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth.  They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a dark and scary world.  These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly and do not delay!

In our silent time after the homily today, I invite you to pray with me.  I want you to picture Jesus coming to you, approaching you, and extending his hand to you.  He wants to give you a message of hope and encouragement.  He wants to tell you that you are important to him, that he came to save you.  What is he saying to you as he approaches? What is hopeless in you right now that he offers to sustain you through?  What is he saying to you on this day of rejoicing?