The Third Sunday of Advent (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
When the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited this nation, he reminded us of what he wrote in his encyclical letter Spe salvi, that “the one who has hope lives differently.” Who, then, is the one who has hope and what does his life look like?
The hope of the Christian is not as Denethor said to Gandalf as the armies of Mordor encircled the city of Gondor: “[T]hy hope is but ignorance.” Such a hope is founded only on possibilities, the chance of victory, but the hope of Christians is founded on no mere possibility, but on a certainty. It is founded on the certainty of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and of his glorious return at the end of time. What is more, it is founded on the certainty that “the Lord is near,” present in the Scriptures, in his sacred ministers, in his people and, above all, in the Holy Eucharist (Philippians 4:5).
The one who has hope – true and authentic hope and not simply optimism – is the one who has God, or, rather, who is possessed by God and has known his love. The hope of Christians is founded on their union with Christ, who has baptized them “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). This is why the one who has hope lives differently. They are to live, as Saint John the Baptist teaches, lives of generosity, honesty and humility, in imitation of Christ Jesus (cf. Luke 3:10-14).
It is God himself who “is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety,” who was born at Bethlehem and placed in a manger, crucified for the sins of humanity, rose from the dead and will come again.
The one who has hope lives differently because he lives not only hoping in God but also lives in the joy of God’s love. On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This joy, my friends, comes from God who is our hope (cf. Psalm 71:5).
Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. Whenever we learn a loved one whom we have not seen in some time plans to visit us, our hearts rejoice at their expected return. So should it be with us who await the return of Christ our King.
Everyone who lives the season of Advent well cannot help but notice and be almost overwhelmed by the great hopefulness of these days as we await the coming of the Lord. This expectant hope produces within the soul a deep pocket of joy seemingly ready to burst forth and overflow. It is for this reason that the readings today are so marked by the themes of joy, rejoicing and gladness.
The prophet Zephaniah exclaims, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel” (Zephaniah 3:14)! Isaiah calls us to “cry out with joy and gladness” (Isaiah 12:6). Saint Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). Even the opening prayer, which collects all of our individual prayers and raises them before the throne of God, prays that we might “experience the joy of salvation.”
What is the cause of this joy, what is the reason for our rejoicing, if not the certain knowledge that “the LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals” (Zephaniah 3:17). This, brothers and sisters, is the hope of Christians, founded in the certainty that Christ has come “to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).
The glad tidings that he brought was the good news of victory over sin and death through his total giving of self that has won for us the forgiveness of sins. With the prophet Isaiah we can say, “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior” (Isaiah 12:2).
This same Lord who came among us so many centuries ago, who gives us courage and strength by his presence among us even now, will also come in his glory to judge the living and the dead. This realization gives the season of Advent a profound sense of joyful hope and at the same time it gives it a penitential character. It is, one might say, a spirit of joyful penance or of penitential joy, for while we know that he is coming we also know that not all of us are ready to receive him and greet him when he comes.
This is precisely why the Lord gives us these holy days to prepare for his coming and to meet him in the Sacrament of Penance to be reconciled with him and our brothers and sisters. This requires, first of all, an awareness of the reality of our sins. Each of us is sinful and has committed sin, whether great or small.
Too often today it is said, “I’m a good person. I haven’t stolen anything, killed anyone or committed adultery. I don’t have any real sins.” Rubbish! We have all sinned and are in need of his mercy, which he wishes to bestow upon us in the confessional. Let us hasten there that the words of Isaiah might be fulfilled in us: “With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).
Many will say that their sins are always the same and wonder about the point of going to confession, if it does any good at all. Pope Benedict once put it this way:
It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our
rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to
live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be
seen but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me
myself; If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am
pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to
improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus
gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more
alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human
By going to confession on a regular basis, even if confessing the same sins again and again, we are strengthened with the Lord’s grace, and this is always a cause of joy and gladness.
Let us seek his mercy so that we might rejoice always in the Lord, confident that he is near, and so celebrate the festival of his Birth “with love and thanksgiving.” Amen!