Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is Gaudete Sunday: rejoice Sunday.
In one sense, with all the festive atmosphere around us at this time of year,
being joyful today makes a lot of sense.
But part of me struggles to rejoice today, because the fact is,
the world is becoming a crazy place, and there are troubles all around us.
I won’t go through the list, you know it too well,
and sometimes I feel like I talk about it too much.
We try to ignore it, but the reality is that in this world there is a lot of evil
and far from causing us to rejoice, it causes us a lot of fear and anxiety.
The outward festivities of this time of year help to lift or mitigate all this a bit.
But the problem is, that’s only temporary, and it only goes so far:
the Christmas trees, and lights and presents are wonderful,
and all the warm feelings and memories are beautiful,
but in the end, they just ease the pain for a little while,
while underneath the fears and anxiety are still there,
and in a few weeks when the season passes, the troubles will still be there.
Then again, as strange as it may seem,
this is actually exactly what Gaudete Sunday is all about.
And it’s exactly what Advent is all about.
It’s about the permanent, total solution to all of our problems.
About the irradiation of evil and pain.
About replacing anxiety with peace, and fear with joy!
Not just on the surface, but in the depth of our hearts.
And not just for a few days or weeks, but forever, both on earth and in heaven.
Our faith teaches us that there will be no real abiding justice in this world.
Because Man continues to perpetrate injustice against man,
and yet man continues to think
that man and man-made things and man-centered ideologies
are the solution.
But man is not the solution.
He can be part of the solution, but only when he—we–admits his role
in contributing to the evil in the world.
As scripture reminds us, in the beginning,
tempted by the devil and accepting his lies,
Adam and Eve chose to put themselves first, above God.
The creature rejected the Creator’s understanding and plan and design
of what He had created,
and man tried to make himself, not God, the center of all things.
And of course man failed, but in doing that,
he brought evil into all of creation
—both the moral evil of sin,
and the physical evil of sickness, natural catastrophes and death.
Man rejected God’s loving and perfectly ordered design,
and replaced it with the devil’s hateful confusion.
But God loved man too much to let it stay that way.
So He promised that He would send a savior, born of a woman,
who would crush the devil and all his offspring,
and save mankind from himself.
Friends, this is what Advent is all about.
Sometimes people get upset with me
because I fret too much about the way our culture turns Advent
into an early celebration of Christmas
—and a secularized Christmas at that.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things—I get it.
Santa’s great, Christmas trees, and lights and all,
they have their special place.
It’s just not enough, in that it tends to the superficial,
and tends to ignore the enduring.
And that’s not Advent.
Advent is about really thinking through—contemplating—
the real meaning of Christmas
so you can celebrate for what it really is it when it comes.
Advent means asking:
“Why did God become a little baby?
What difference did it make?”
Advent means remembering that baby grew up
to teach us some very hard sayings,
and to die on the cross for our sins.
Advent means remembering that sin is in the world,
and man is not the solution, but part of that sin,
unless and until he accepts the fact that Christ is the only solution,
the wonderful and joyous news
that Christ came and did crush the serpent’s head,
He has conquered evil,
and brought His kingdom of justice, love and peace
to the world.
Of course, some say, well if Christ crushed evil,
why are there all these troubles today?
Because most people have not accepted Christ,
and not joined Him in HIS battle against evil.
They—we—all too often want to fight evil on our terms,
with our own solutions,
and many times we simply want to ignore it all together.
Because, in a sense, my friends,
people ignore the importance of something like Advent.
Advent is a season of expectant joy, but not to pretend that all is well.
A season of hope in Jesus, but not of simply dulling the pain with
hot butter-rum punch, or spiked eggnog.
A season not of ignoring evil, but rather of recognizing it,
but not so we can feel dejected or afraid,
so that we can truly rejoice that with Christ we can overcome it all.
Things can be as they should be:
there can be peace on earth, and goodwill among men,
and you and I can be the truly good persons,
the good fathers and mothers,
the good children and friends,
the good priests we long to be.
Because Advent is the season of mentally, spiritually, and morally
wrapping our minds and hearts around the fact
that God the Son came into the world 2000 years ago,
as a real human baby, and so
entered right into the middle of our anxiety-, fear- and despair-filled lives,
and conquered it all.
And it is the season of recognizing that that all too often
we simply reject His coming, and do not let it transform our lives.
So Advent is a time when we should be like the crowds in today’s gospel,
asking John the Baptist: “what should we do?”
And a time to listen and take to heart John’s responses.
To the Crowd he says:
“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none….”
He calls us to be kind, charitable, patient.
To be generous, especially to those in need.
But most especially to be like Jesus who gave Himself to us on Christmas:
we need to be generous in giving of ourselves, self-giving.
So many of us focus on ourselves, but John says, focus on others,
beginning by focusing on Christ, placing Him at the center of everything,
and then that will always lead you to focus on your neighbor.
And to the tax collectors he said:
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
There is so much greed in the world, and dishonesty, and lying.
And we all get caught up in it, both the rich and the poor.
Especially, amazingly enough, at this time of year.
To the soldiers he says,
“Do not practice extortion…”
Or we might say, stop taking advantage of people when they’re vulnerable.
He says: “…do not falsely accuse anyone…”
How easily we blame others for our faults and sins—especially those we love.
He says: “…and be satisfied with your wages.”
Envy, or jealousy, eats away at so many,
especially in America, especially in Northern Virginia,
especially, again amazingly, at this time of year.
Today’s reading stops there,
but if we’d read on to the very next verses in the Gospel of Matthew
it tells us that John the Baptist also told King Herod
to stop committing adultery with his brother’s wife.
Today our society has practically elevated adultery and sexual depravity
to an Olympic sport.
Advent must be a time of renewed chastity and purity.
All around us we see signs of the good cheer of the “holiday season,”
but we don’t have to look to hard to see all the evil.
But during Advent Season we see this evil, and know its cause,
and we know that 2018 or so years ago,
Jesus Christ was born to save us from all that,
if only we will accept His coming.
And so even in the middle of all the troubles that surround us
today’s teaching from the prophet Isaiah still rings true:
“On that day, it shall be said …:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior…”
“That day” is Christmas Day.
The day our mighty savior came to crush the serpents head.
So that today, on this 3rd Sunday in Advent, Isaiah insists:
“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!
and St. Paul joins him telling us:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
…Have no anxiety at all…”
“….The Lord is near.”
As we continue our Advent season,
let us do so filled with joyful expectation
that evil, in the world, or in our hearts, cannot triumph
against the power and love of our Savior.
So let us repent, and rejoice, for the Lord has come, Our Savior is in our midst.
And He can and will change us, and the whole world, if we let Him.
This is the meaning of Christmas,
and it is what we must contemplate and act upon
in this holy season of Advent.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”