Third Sunday of Advent
St. Joseph’s Parish, Emmitsburg
December 13, 2020
“Comfort and Joy”
First, let me say how happy I am to offer Holy Mass here at St. Joseph Parish. With you, I am grateful to Fr. Marty for his generous and loving pastoral service, and to the Vincentians for their continued presence here and elsewhere in the Archdiocese. Let me also thank all of you, the parish family of St. Joseph. Much of this past year has been extraordinarily difficult for you and your families, and for so many others in the cities and towns of the Archdiocese. In the midst of all, you have remained generous in your kindness to your neighbors and patient amid all the restrictions which this pandemic has imposed upon us. As Christmas approaches, may you experience true “comfort and joy”!
Indeed, the theme of today’s Mass might be described as “comfort and joy”. As you know, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday”, “Gaudete” being a Latin word that means, “rejoice”. Yet, the joy we celebrate today is not superficial. Nor is it meant to cover up our fears and anxieties. Still less is it meant to transport us to a place of illusions and unreality. Quite the contrary. This Sunday of rejoicing is all about finding true “comfort and joy” right in the midst of the sorrows and challenges we are going through collectively, as well as those sorrows and challenges you and I might be undergoing individually. The “comfort and joy” the Lord offers us is not an escape but rather a remedy, a remedy for the soul, a remedy for our heart of hearts. We can see this if we take a second look at the Scriptures just proclaimed, beginning with the reading from the prophet, Isaiah.
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
This reading begins with the words that Jesus would quote in his inaugural homily. Jesus will cite Isaiah’s prophecy not only to proclaim that he had come as Messiah, but also why he had come, what his mission was to be, and it was this: Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was sent to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation: good news to the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, release to prisoners, a time to experience the Lord’s loving kindness. But having been through such a difficult year, we be tempted to ask if this is not “pie in the sky” – nice to think about but unlikely to happen.
Perhaps … especially if we try to snatch happiness and peace on our own terms. But we really can’t buy or manufacture authentic joy. Instead, we must allow joy to find us and we can do just that when we give the Lord permission to enter into our hearts, so as to enrich our spiritual poverty, to heal our anxiety and pain, to free us from sin, and to help us understand just how much he truly does love us. Once we have invited the Lord into our hearts and given him permission to heal us, and once the Lord has touched us with his healing love, then like Isaiah, we can say: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Or … like Mary, whose hymn of praise we sang in our responsorial psalm, we can exult: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
Essentially, St. Paul gives us the same advice in his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, except that he provides us with additional guidance as to how we might give the Lord permission to heal us and touch us with joy. Here are Paul’s words: “Brothers and sisters, Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.” Paul goes on to tell us not to quench the Holy Spirit but rather to open ourselves to the prophetic Word, to test everything, to retain what is good, and to refrain from every kind of evil.
This is not the usual prescription for “comfort and joy”, and frankly, it may not seem like “eggnog for the soul”. But what exactly is St. Paul saying to us? He is telling us that unceasing prayer is the way we invite Jesus into our hearts – persevering in prayer, praying from the heart, punctuating every day with prayer. This is how we invite the Lord into our hearts so that he may lift us out of desolation, heal our aching hearts, free us from sin, and give us the joy of knowing his love, a love unlike any other.
Notice, also, that St. Paul encourages us to give thanks to God “in all circumstances”, not only when things are going well or when we feel like doing so, but especially when we find ourselves in times of difficulty and stress. When we pray and give thanks, whether at Mass or in private prayer, we are much more likely to see the hand of God in whatever besets us. So too, we are more likely to rejoice in the opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings, for we cannot be the Lord’s disciples unless we are willing to carry our cross, unless we are willing to bear witness to his saving death and resurrection.
St. Paul goes on to tell us not to settle for fool’s gold, that is to say, for versions of the faith that are watered down or falsified by ideology, right or left. There is no joy in that, but only in the Gospel as it comes to us through the Church, even when that Gospel demands that we undergo a conversion of mind and heart, repent of our sins, and live differently, as a people who truly hope in the Lord. Yes, when we pray, give thanks, and repent, then the God of peace draws close to us, and we begin to grow in holiness, that is, to participate more fully in his life and love. In fact, the “comfort and joy” which the Lord gives us is nothing other than sharing in his love, partially now, and fully in eternity.
Luke 1:6-8; 19-28
But let us give the last word on authentic joy to St. John the Baptist whom we met in this morning’s passage taken from St. Luke’s Gospel. The gist of this Gospel reading is John the Baptist’s clear declaration that he was not the light, that is, the Messiah, but rather, that he came to testify to the light, namely to Jesus. When pressed by the authorities to give an accounting of himself, John responded by saying that he was not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor a prophet, but rather, a voice in the desert crying out, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Pressed further, he said that he baptized with water, but one was coming after him, “whose sandal strap [he was] not worthy to untie.”
John the Baptist lived an austere life and died a martyr’s death. Yet, he found true joy in fulfilling his unique vocation as the forerunner of Christ, and in testifying to Christ as “the light of the world” … So, what is he saying to us? St. John is telling us that we will not find joy by putting ourselves front and center, by allowing egotism or self-centeredness to block the Lord’s path when he comes. No, like John we are to discern humbly the unique work the Lord has given us to do, and the unique and unrepeatable way the Lord wants his light to shine through each of us, the unique and unrepeatable way you and I are called to give testimony to our faith in the Risen Lord as members of his Body the Church. When our wills align with God’s will, such that the light of Christ shines through us – then do we experience a joy that nothing and no one can take away from us.
My prayer is that you and your families will indeed experience true “comfort and joy”, not in the final days of Advent, indeed at Christmas, and throughout the New Year. May God bless you and keep you always in his love!