Sunday Sermon for December 14, 2014, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Readings: Is 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, the Church calling us to be joyful. Why, you might ask, should I be joyful in the midst of a world that has rejected Jesus and has given itself over to sin? Since you are in the midst of such a world and have witnessed firsthand the numbers of people rejecting the Lord, you need to rejoice that you have not rejected Him. You need to be joyful, as John the Baptist tells us in the Gospel reading today, that there is One among us, Whom we do not recognize. It is the Lord! He is with us; He promised that He would remain with us all days until the end of the world. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
Beyond that, we recognize in the first reading today that the first part of the text is the passage Jesus opened when He was in the Synagogue at Nazareth and told the people that this passage was fulfilled that day in their hearing. And what does the passage say? It says that He has come to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.
As it is in the Beatitudes, so it is here: unless we are among those named, we do not have a part in what our Lord came to do. We do not have to be among those who are financially poor, but among those who are poor in spirit; we have to be brokenhearted in the sense that we truly recognize our inability to be in control and understand that we need the Lord’s help; we have to admit that we have no power over sin and that we have become slaves to sin; we have to know that our idea of freedom meaning that we can do anything we want is really license and is from the evil one. In other words, we have to be truly convinced that we need Jesus and that we are willing to make ourselves dependent on Him. Remember, He told us that if the Son set us free, then we are truly free.
This freedom of which He speaks is the freedom to live as children of God. It is the freedom to become who God made us to be. It is freedom from sin and Satan. If we have Jesus then we have all riches, our hearts can be healed, our captivity is ended and we are no longer prisoners of the enemy of our souls. This is the favor of God. It is a restoration of grace and the spiritual gifts we had lost due to sin.
In this restoration, like the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father clothes us in the finest robe, puts a ring on our finger and shoes on our feet. This is what the Church gives to us in the second half of the first reading and shows us that it is the cause for our rejoicing. Isaiah says that we rejoice heartily in the Lord and that God is the joy of our souls because He has clothed us with a robe of salvation and wrapped us in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem and like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
Because this defines who we are as Christian people, it remains the truth regardless of our external circumstances. Everything can be going wrong around us, but as long as we remain united with Jesus as spoken of above, we can be filled with joy. Externally everything may seem horrible, but internally there is cause for rejoicing because we have been freed from the things that can pull us down. St. Paul understood this; it is the reason he says in the second reading that we are to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.
A person who was in a hopeless situation and is somehow freed from it by the grace of God, is not going to complain about petty things. Such a person can see everything as a gift. It is clear to the individual that he did not free himself from his circumstances, nor did he have the ability to do so. Because of this, the person will always give credit to the Lord and, hopefully, continue in dependence upon Him. That person is you! If you can live your life this way, rejoicing, praying and being thankful, like John the Baptist, you will give testimony to the Light. You are not the light, but you give testimony to the Light. Jesus is the Light. The darkness surrounds us, but we are freed from the darkness and rejoice to live in the Light.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.