23 December 2018

Homily - The Third Sunday of Advent - 16 December 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

When it comes to celebrations of great joy we generally put on the finest we have. Gentlemen polish their shoes and don suits. Ladies put on their nicest dress and jewelry. The one exception to this societal norm these days seems to be the celebration of Christmas when instead ugly Christmas sweaters have curiously grown in popularity over the past several years. What is it about an ugly sweater that makes so many people want to wear them in a joyful manner? Is there not in them a subtle mockery of the ugliness and disorder brought about by sin, an ugliness and disorder which the only begotten Son of God comes to destroy? In a playful way, the ugly Christmas sweater can remind us that “the one who has hope lives differently.”[1]

Some claim the hope of the Christian “is but ignorance” and founded only on possibilities, but the hope of Christians is founded on no mere possibility, but on a very great certainty.[2] What is this certainty in which we have such great confidence? It is simply this:

God is madly in love with you. The God who is love, created you in his love, and has a plan for your life. He invites you to share in his love and, even though you turned away from him, he constantly seeks you, out of love, to restore you to himself. He is so in love with you he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you so that you can be reunited with him. He wants to forgive you, and to heal you of whatever wounds and burdens you carry. He wants a personal relationship with you and wants you to follow him so you can be happy in this life and be with him forever in Heaven.[3]

The joyful hope of Christians is founded on the certainty of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and of his glorious return at the end of time; it is founded on the certainty that “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). Does this hope live in you?

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.”[4] The one who has hope – and not simply optimism – is the one possessed by God, whose life is founded on union with Christ, who has baptized us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). They live lives of generosity, of honesty, and of humility, all in imitation of Christ Jesus (cf. Luke 3:10-14).

Everyone who lives this season of Advent well cannot help but notice and be almost overwhelmed by the eager and increasing 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” and Saint Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Isaiah 12:6; Philippians 4:4). Even the Collect, which collects our individual prayers and raises them collectively before the throne of God, prays that we might celebrate always “with solemn worship and glad thanksgiving.”[5]

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 on the certainty that Christ has come “to bring glad tidings to the poor,” the good news of victory over sin and death through his total giving of self that has won for us the forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 61:1). 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 to greet him befittingly 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 so that we might be reconciled with him and with our brothers and sisters. This requires, first of all, an awareness of the reality of our sins; to accept the good news of the Gospel, we must also accept the bad news of our sinful condition: each of us is sinful and has committed sin, whether great or small. We are all in need of God’s mercy.

Too often today it is said, “I’m a good person. I haven’t stolen anything, killed anyone, or committed adultery (which, today, is often untrue). I don’t have any real sins,” so many people say. Rubbish! We have all sinned, we have all failed to love God and to love neighbor fully, and so we are in need of the Lord’s mercy, which he wishes to bestow upon us in the confessional. Let us, then, 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, whether it does any good at all. The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once put it this way to a group of children:

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 persons.[6]

By going to confession on a regular basis, even if confessing the same sins again and again, the Lord changes what is ugly in us into beauty and brings order out of chaos; we are strengthened with the Lord’s grace, and this is always a cause of joy and gladness and a bolster of hope. While there is still time, let us live differently; 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 in nine days “with love and thanksgiving.”[7] Amen!

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 2.
[2] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 835.
[3] Edward Sri, Who Am I to Judge? Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 87.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 31.
[5] Collect, Third Sunday of Advent, Roman Missal.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to First Communicants, 15 October 2009.
[7] Collect of the Day.

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