Sunday Sermon for December 16, 2018, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a, Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

In the first reading today the Lord instructs Zion to shout for joy, Israel is to be joyful, and Jerusalem is to be glad and exalt. The reasons for this rejoicing are threefold: Israel’s judgment has been removed, God has turned their enemies away, and the King of Israel is in their midst. Beyond the earthy rejoicing of the Israelites, we are also told that God would rejoice over them, renew them in His love, and sing joyfully over them as one sings at festivals. God is going to rejoice because His people have abandoned their sins and have chosen to follow Him.

God does not change, so what He did with the Israelites of old is what He is going to do with people in the ages that follow. From what we read in Zephaniah, we can easily infer that Israel was crushed, her enemies devastated her, and it seemed that God had abandoned His people. In other words, a time of purification had taken place before the call to rejoice. Now that the people and the land had been purified, not only could they rejoice, but God could rejoice over them!

This is important for us, not only because Advent is a time of preparation and, therefore, a time of purification, but because we are now living in the time that precedes the rejoicing. We look around and see the problems in the Church and in the world and we wonder where God is. Why has He not intervened to put an end to the evil? Why has He allowed the enemies of the Church to infiltrate and destroy the Church from within? Why has He allowed the secular authorities to have such sway in the Church? Another way of looking at this is we are crushed our enemies are devastating us, and God seems to have abandoned His Church.

It is true we are being crushed and our enemies are wreaking havoc, but it is not true that God has abandoned us. Indeed, our Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. The fact this needs to be said suggests that people are going to think hell has won. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, God is going to use the devil against the devil’s own self. He will use the devil to purify those who remain faithful and those who are purified will, in return, crush the vile creature.

Zephaniah prophesies a time when judgment will be removed. I think we have just begun to enter into the time of judgment. Jesus told St. Faustina decades ago that we were in the time of mercy, but when the time of mercy ended, the time of judgment would begin. However, for those who remain faithful and use this time of purification to grow in holiness, the time of judgment will be seen as a time of mercy because we will know God is in our midst.

St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us to rejoice always and to have no anxiety at all. The reason? The Lord is near. In the Gospels Jesus tells us that when the signs He describes begin to happen, we need to stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is near at hand. Notice He does not tell us to stand up when these signs have come to an end or when we see the Son of Man coming in the clouds. No, we are to stand up when the signs begin.

Our Lady’s work has begun. It has a long way to go, but it is moving quickly. The enemies of the Church will continue to wreak havoc and things will seem hopeless. We are told to rejoice and to have no anxiety. How? By keeping our eyes on our Lady. Our enemies may attempt (and even succeed) in causing great destruction, but their time is limited. Our Lady’s work has begun and they are done!

In the Gospel we are told people were filled with expectation. St. John the Baptist told the people to practice charity, to be honest, and to be content with what they had. He then spoke of our Lord Who is coming to gather His wheat into His barn and burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire. This is coming. We are seeing the beginning of our Lady’s work: stand up, raise your heads, your redemption is near at hand!

St. Paul told us “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then, he said, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. If we are praying, trusting, and growing in holiness, we can be at peace and we will see the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart!

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