3rd Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is Gaudete Sunday–“rejoice” Sunday.
And today the first and second reading tell us:
“Rejoice heartily in the Lord,” and “Rejoice always;”
and the psalm tells us “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
It is a day of anticipated joy–the Messiah is coming soon,
and we can hardly contain ourselves.
He comes with bringing tremendous gifts,
like rich jewels to be given to a beautiful bride.
But as Isaiah and St. Paul tell us to rejoice
at the great gifts we are about to receive,
St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist remind us that
greatest gift we receive is the gift we’re most prone to overlook,
because it involves what seems to be
the exact opposite of greatness.
The gift of the humility of Jesus.
Now to some this might seem a little strange.
You might say the most important gift is joy, or peace or love.
Or you might say: Father, I’m ashamed of you,
the main gift is the coming of the Son of God
All these things are true–especially the last one:
the coming of the Son of God is the real gift of this season.
But what is it about the coming of the Son which makes it so special?
It’s that he comes not in all his heavenly glory,
with all his angels surrounding him and worshipping him for the king he is.
But instead, its that he empties himself to take on the form of a slave
–of a mere human being.
And not only a mere human being
–but a tiny, innocent, fragile, defenseless and completely dependent baby.
The thing that makes this coming so powerful
is that the all-Glorious Son of God humbles himself before us.
Humility is the key to Christmas,
and the key to preparing for Christmas in Advent.
And this is the key also to our rejoicing today.
The prophet Isaiah tells us to “rejoice heartily”
because the Lord God has sent the anointed one
–the Messiah–to “bring glad tidings to the lowly.”
It is the humble that truly rejoice in the Lord.
–why would the proud, or the self-satisfied or self-righteous
rejoice in the coming of the Messiah
–they don’t even recognize their need for a savior.
Its only the lowly of heart, the humble,
who can even begin to recognize that they are in need of the Messiah,
and only they have cause to rejoice.
Today’s readings present us with three key figures of Christian humility.
The first appears in our Responsorial Psalm, which is really no Psalm at all.
Its the “Canticle of Mary”–the “Magnificat” taken from St. Luke’s Gospel.
In response to her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting to her,
“Blessed are you among women,”
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed.”
Elizabeth rightly declares that Mary is uniquely blessed by God,
but Mary responds with purest humility.
And she rejoices in God, because she is aware of her lowliness before him,
and yet he blesses her
–here is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of God–
and even she recognizes that any worthiness she has before God
is itself a gift from God.
In today’s gospel we encounter the second figure
–the one person who was sent by God
to publicly prepare Israel for the coming of Christ–John the Baptist.
Here is this magnificent saint,
this bold prophet, this charismatic leader and preacher
–one whom the Son of God himself said:
“among those born of women there has risen no one greater
than John the Baptist.”
And yet, when the leaders of the people come to him to find out who he is,
thinking that he might be the Messiah, or Elijah returned from heaven,
He says: no, I’m simply a voice crying in the desert.
The last and greatest prophet of the Messiah, and he demurs: I am only a voice.
But still, they want to know who he is and why he baptizes?
And so he tells them:
“I baptize in water.
[But] There is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is to coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
John’s response is one of humility: I am not significant–the one I prepare for is.
“Who are you”, they ask him
Who is John the Baptist?
–he is the one called to publicly recognize their lowliness,
to publicly call them to be humble before the Lord.
And why does he baptize?
–he baptizes to call others–especially the proud and self-righteous
–to join him in humility by confessing their sins
–their unworthiness before the Lord.
Every year at this time I spend a lot of time going from parish to parish
helping to hear Advent confessions.
And although when I first started this as a new priest
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to
traipsing all over our Diocese, and the Archdiocese of Washington,
I’ve come to see it as a tremendous gift
—one of the greatest of my priesthood.
Because this is the best possible preparation I could ever have
for the coming of the Lord.
Because as I’ve listened to confessions from Springfield to Alexandria,
to out to Front Royal, to up in Rockville to down in Chancellorsville,
I’ve seen the great gift of Christ’s humility in action.
As I’ve heard these confessions its struck me how beautiful it was that
John the Baptist’s call was being answered by so many.
How humbling it can be for a grown man or woman,
an adult with and years of education and a responsible job,
even jobs of great importance and prominence,
to come before a lowly priest–another human being no better than they
–and confess that they have not been all that they should be;
that they are not worthy to receive the coming of our Lord.
But what better way to be a Christian waiting for their Lord
–the Lord whose prophet humbles himself before the Pharisees
–the Lord whose Mother humbles herself before all generations,
–the Lord who humbles himself
by emptying himself of divine glory and becoming a vulnerable baby.
This is the 3rd figure of humility we encounter in today’s readings–Jesus himself.
John tells us: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.”
They don’t recognize Jesus,
because he has not come riding in on the clouds
with his armies of heavenly hosts,
but instead stands among them as a humble carpenter.
He is the Humble Lord that we prepare to receive
on Christmas, at our death and at his second coming.
But this is also the humble Lord that is in our midst even today,
and still we don’t recognize him.
Because he is here humbly in the poor,
humbly in this assembly of sinners—you and me–
and humbly in the inadequate preaching of his minister.
But most especially, this is the Lord that every Sunday
we prepare ourselves to receive sacramentally,
as he makes himself truly present
as we struggle to recognize him
under the very humble signs of bread and wine
–and before whom we humble ourselves saying:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
As we continue with this Mass, and as we continue with this Advent,
let us ask our humble Lord Jesus
—whom we so vividly see this time of year
in the form of a humble baby in a dirty cold wooden manger—
to give us a share in his own humility.
Because the gift of humility is the greatest gift
we can receive during this season of Advent.
It is the gift that prepares us to receive all other gifts.
It is the gift that allows us to appreciate the great gift of the Messiah
–the one who is perfectly humble, the one who is the giver of all good gifts.
And it is the gift that enables us to join with all the angels and saints in heaven,
including Isaiah, and St. Paul,
and most especially St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary,
in proclaiming on this Gaudete Sunday:
“I rejoice heartily in the Lord!”
“Rejoice always;” “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”