Sunday Sermon for December 17, 2023, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

In the readings for today, as well as throughout the whole Mass, the constant reminder is to rejoice.  When we look around at what is happening in the world, and in many ways, in the Church, we might have trouble finding things to rejoice in.  However, St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are to rejoice always and to be thankful in every circumstance.

When we hear about the cause for rejoicing in the first reading, that is, the many positive things Isaiah points out, we can easily agree that these are good reasons to rejoice.  Any of us can rejoice when things are going well.  But when we look at the reasons Isaiah gives for rejoicing, while they are all positive, they all transcend the particular circumstances of our lives. 

Isaiah rejoices because God is the joy of his soul.  He has clothed Isaiah with a robe of salvation and wrapped him in a mantle of justice.  These are indeed reasons for rejoicing.  However, we must ask ourselves if God is the joy of our soul.  If God is the joy of our soul, He is with us even in our worst moments.  When everything around us seems to be crashing down, when we are feeling downtrodden and defeated, we can still enter inside ourselves and find the peace and joy that comes from being united with the Lord. 

However, if God is not the joy of our soul, we will find nothing to rejoice in when we are feeling crushed.  In fact, we will only be able to rejoice when something that is a joy to our soul is present.  This may be money, material possession, friends, events, etc.

We can easily see the difference between these two situations.  When God is the joy of our soul, then the joy comes from within us because God remains with us at every moment that we are in the state of grace.  He clothes us in a robe of salvation and wraps us in a mantle of justice.

When God is not the joy of our soul, then our joy is found in something outside of ourselves.    Then we find ourselves in a situation similar to what we hear about in the Gospel reading.  St. John the Baptist told the priests who came to question him that there was One among them Whom they did not recognize.  If we find our joy outside of ourselves, then we are failing to recognize the One Who is within.  What is more, it is said of God’s Wisdom that He found His joy to be with us.  So, we are His joy and He desires to be our joy.

This is an amazing thing!  We wonder, as sinful as we are, how could we possibly be our Lord’s joy?  The answer is quite simple: because He loves us.  This means that if we love Him in a way similar to the way He loves us, He will be our joy.  This is what we see in the Psalm for today, which is actually taken from St. Luke’s Gospel.  In the Magnificat, our Lady says that her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. 

Our Lady loved the Lord and He loved her; this was the cause of the joy for each.  Now, we might say that this was our Lady and she was different from the rest of us, but remember what we saw above: God’s joy is to be with us.  It does not say that He found only one among us in whom He could rejoice, but that His joy was to be among us.  The same holds true when we think of our Lord’s coming into the world.  Undoubtedly, His greatest joy on the natural plane was found in His Mother, but He did not come just for her, but for all of us.  Therefore, He finds His joy to be among us, not only to be with our Blessed Lady.

This means half of the equation is already addressed, the other half has to do completely with our response to God’s initiative.  God loves us.  To make it more personal and more accurate, God is in love with you!  Love, as we know, is a two-way street.  The only proper response to love, is to love in return.  If God is in love with us, we need to be in love with Him. 

As we know from our human relationships, we can still love someone even when times are difficult.  But when we are in love with God, we can rejoice in all circumstances because our peace and our joy are from within where we are united with God, where He rejoices in us and where we rejoice in Him!

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