My homily at the 8:30 and 11:00 Masses at Our Lady of Fatima on Sunday, December 16, 2018.
Today you’ll notice that this is a special day in our Season of Advent. This Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing. You’ll notice that the Advent candle we light today is rose colored, and so are the vestments we wear.
I don’t know about you, but to my eyes these vestments look pink. When I think of a rose I think of red, although I know roses come in many colors. But the PC term for this color is “rose”. My wife Christine likes to say that the way to remember this is that Jesus did not “pink” from the dead, he rose from the dead.
It’s so good to be here with you today. I rejoice that I am now part of this wonderful faith community of Our Lady of Fatima. You have all been so welcoming and kind to your new deacon and his wife. We are so grateful to be here and we look forward to becoming long-time members of this parish. For the record, we have no intention of going anywhere else. I guess you’re stuck with us.
Once again today, as happens so frequently during Advent, St. John the Baptist takes center stage in our gospel reading.
- The main point of his message is that salvation is at hand!
- This message, when we truly understand and accept it, it is the source of a deeper joy than any other happiness or pleasure we can experience in this life. And that’s the whole point of today’s celebration.
- Today’s message is about salvation and friendship with God, the fullness and security of living in communion with our Creator and Redeemer, and the joy of being “gathered into the barn” of his eternal and sublime Kingdom.
This friendship with God is the message of Christmas, the message we have been pondering during these weeks of Advent as we prepare for Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, to come into the world as one of us … and to come into our hearts in a fresh and powerful way.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah urges the people of Israel to fear not, not to be discouraged, in spite of his pronouncements against them earlier in this chapter for their great rebelliousness.
- Why? Because Zephaniah understands that the Lord is coming to live our our midst and he will remove his judgement against us.
- Zephaniah was prophesying about the coming of God into the world as one of us, who would save us and restore us to friendship with God. For this we should be full of joy!
In today’s Second Reading, St Paul actually commands us to “rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.”
- And just in case we thought he was exaggerating, in the very next sentence he says, “I say it again, rejoice!”
- We can only rejoice “always” if our joy is based on something that goes deeper than the passing pleasures of this world.
- So what is that deeper thing?
It is nothing less than salvation! Friendship with God! A relationship that never ends, and something no one can take away from us. This is the source of a Christian’s joy, the gift Christ gives us.
The joy of Christ is different from the joys of the world in three ways.
1. First, the joy of Christ doesn’t fade. It is vibrant and ever new. And it is not dependent on external circumstances like happiness or pleasure are.
- This is because this joy comes from something that is alive: it proceeds from our relationship with Christ.
- This is why the Christmas tree is an evergreen tree.
- In winter, the other trees are leafless and dormant.
- But the evergreen tree is still green and fragrant, symbolizing hope amid winter’s lifeless, dark days.
- In contrast to the emotion of happiness, the joy of Christ is never diminished, even when we are disappointed or saddened by the circumstances of our lives.
2. Second, Christ’s joy is different from the pleasures of the world in that it gets more and more intense as we advance in our journey of faith. It never gets boring, never ceases to satisfy. Christ’s joy only gets better with time!
- This increasingly intense joy is symbolized by the rose-colored vestments we wear for today’s liturgy.
- They remind me of the color of the sky at the very brink of morning, when the sun is just beginning to rise. I’ve experienced this a few times in the last few weeks on my way to morning Mass as the sun begins rising over our distant Smoky mountains.
- The sky takes on a pale rose color that gradually gets redder and brighter, increasing in the intensity of color as the sun slowly rises. It’s beautiful and is a wonderful reminder of the joy our faith brings us and how it becomes more intense with time.
3. The Third way the joy of Christ is different from worldly joy is that the more we give this joy to others, the more we have for ourselves. This is a spiritual law we can always count on.
- And this, of course, is why we have the tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas.
- Jesus himself told us that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- We have all experienced that when we do something for others with no expectation of repayment, even if it is costly or uncomfortable for us, we experience true fulfillment and satisfaction.
- This is the opposite of our selfish, self-centered tendencies, which never bring us joy. These selfish tendencies may bring fleeting pleasure, but never true joy.
If friendship with Jesus Christ is the source of lasting joy, then the deeper and more mature this friendship is, the more fully we will experience lasting joy.
The Church’s best spiritual writers all agree that this friendship depends on three things: knowing, loving, and imitating Jesus Christ.
- The fact that we are here today shows that all of us, at least to some extent, already know and love Jesus Christ.
- But what about imitating him?
- If someone were to follow us around with a video camera from the moment we left today’s Mass to the moment we arrive for next Sunday’s Mass, what kind of behavior would they record?
- Would our daily, weekday lives reflect a conscious, concerted effort to imitate our Lord’s honesty, integrity, purity, and self-forgetful, self-sacrificial love? Or would our video show something else?
There is still over a week remaining in Advent. Let’s make this our goal: to strive to be imitating Jesus better when Christmas arrives than we are today. And I think we all know exactly how we can make that happen:
- First, we need to start out each day in prayer, because without God’s help, we can do nothing. May I suggest that you try to make it to a couple of weekday Masses this coming week?
- Secondly, resolve to get to the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Christmas, and experience the joy that comes from the having our sins forgiven, removed from us as far as the East is from the West, knowing that we are loved and treasured by our God; that our relationship with him has been fully restored.
- Next, make an effort to treat our neighbors as we would like them to treat us – family members first, then friends, colleagues, teammates, and strangers.
- We wouldn’t want others to criticize and gossip about us behind our backs. We wouldn’t want them to ignore our needs and problems. So let’s not do this to them!
- We wouldn’t want others to harbor anger and resentment against us, even if we deserve it. So let’s forgive others as we hope they would forgive us.
- Finally, we must do as St. John the Baptist commands in today’s gospel when the crowds ask him “What should we do?
- If we have two cloaks, we should share with the person who has none
- If we have food, we should share that too with those who are in need of food
- We should not cheat in our business dealings
- We should never practice extortion or falsely accuse another
- We should be satisfied with our wages, with what we have.
- Finally, I would add to this list that we should do our best to practice as many of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as we can. In doing so, we will grow in our friendship with Christ as we encounter him in those who are in need, those whom we visit and serve. Perhaps some of you would like to join us for our monthly Bridge Ministry next Sunday morning where we feed lunch to about 200 people at KARM in Knoxville. See me after Mass if you’re interested in learning more about this.
As we receive our Eucharistic Lord today, let us ask him what changes we need to make in order to imitate him a little bit better each day so that, little by little, we will come to experience more of the true Christian joy that comes only by living in communion with him.
May your hearts be filled with joy as we wait for the coming of our Infant King. May you use the remaining time of your Advent preparation wisely and well.
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!