Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Zep 3:14-18a / Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 / Phil 4:4-7 / Lk 3:10-18
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Good morning and welcome to Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin means rejoice. To help us understand that word, I would like you to recall a time in your life when you went from feeling incompleteness, or pain, or uncertainty, or loneliness, or boredom, or aimlessness to feeling whole and joyful.
Maybe it was when that person you liked asked you on a date or agreed to go on a date with you, or when your significant other first said, “I love you”, or when your boss, out of the blue told you that you are doing a great job, or when your doctor relieved your pain, or when your best friend or family member forgave you, or when you and your wife first realized you were going to have a baby.
At times like these, we feel boundless joy and our hearts soar, and our minds become Godly in their creative generosity. Our rejoicing at these moments expresses our joy in poems and song lyrics and amazing love letters and romantic or extraordinarily thoughtful gifts.
We can use that feeling of joy we recalled from our life to give us a touchstone with Mary, after the angel Gabriel tells her her purpose in life, the way God wants her to go. The joy this gave her compelled her to tell her friend Elizabeth, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Lk 1:47)
So then, rejoicing is an external expression of our interior joy. Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22) Now, if joy is a fruit of the Spirit, then conversion from our way of living to Jesus’ way is necessary to obtain it. Fr. Thomas Merton said, to get this right, we must come to know who God intended us to be and to be that person. For being our true self is required to become a saint, a person who knows joy.
We will not find joy by deciding for ourselves what we will be or what our role in life should be, what Bishop Barron calls the “ego drama.” Mary rejoiced because she finally understood what God wanted her to be about.
Discovering who we truly are or what God’s role for us is in this life is difficult. Our sin and the sin of others against us cause us confusion and mute God’s voice in our life. Our life becomes like a puzzle that we are trying to build, but pieces are missing. Trying to find and put those pieces in place can drive us nuts.
Ever put a puzzle together? Serious puzzle builders will sometimes take months to build a large puzzle. And if, when they are done, a piece or two is missing, they are in anguish. I did not realize that was the case until my wife and I asked a friend, who is a serious puzzle builder, if she wanted a really cool looking puzzle of ours that has a couple of missing pieces. She said that was a hard “no” because she cannot deal with missing pieces.
We become more aware that there are pieces missing from our life as we leave childhood and become a teenager and older. And sometimes, we feel like that puzzle-building friend and can’t deal with it. The world we live in, misled by Satan, sometimes uses our incompleteness, which manifests itself in various ways such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, addiction, poverty, sorrow, sickness, indifference…you name it, to shame us, to put us down, or to dismiss us, but not so with Jesus. He flipped the world view upside down, telling us that “Blessed are the poor, you who hunger, you who are weeping…” (Luke 6:20-21) Why are we in our brokenness blessed?
Fr. James Wallace explained this well, writing that “They are blessed in their very possession of a characteristic that speaks of a lack, an emptiness, a condition of incompleteness, which causes them to look to the only One who can complete and make them whole.” Therefore, we can “rejoice” in our incompleteness, IF we understand and act on the fact that only Jesus can make us whole. How do we get there?
We can turn to today’s gospel for an answer. The people were asking John the Baptist that same question, “What should we do?” They were hungry, like we are, for a life like St. Paul described in the second reading. A life in which they could “rejoice in the Lord always,” be known by all for their kindness, and have the peace of God protecting their hearts and minds. (Phil 4:4-7) Who doesn’t want a life like that?!
John’s answer to them and us is to get rid of the idols or things that rob us of God’s peace. He suggested they share their clothing and food, and that they avoid over-taxation, extortion, and false accusations. Some of these do not really apply to our lives now, but we have a God-given conscience and can probably hear what John would tell us to do.
John the Baptist is telling us that by giving away our possessions and serving others with our God-given gifts and authority (managers, teachers, nurses, parents etc.), instead of lording it over them, we in essence cast out those idols and rob them of their power. Once we empty our life of their influence, we make room, through grace, to receive the power of God which is love; a love that brings completeness, wholeness, and a purpose for our life.
The gospel’s last line today was that John “preached the good news to the people.” (Lk 3:18) The good news is that we do not have to make ourselves perfect to prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and at the end of time. We do not have to find the pieces to fill the holes in our life’s puzzle. Truth is, we cannot do either on our own. Jesus does this for us as long as we are faithful in seeking His grace by reading the scriptures and by seeking Him in the sacraments, like we did by coming to Mass this morning.
It is time well spent to prayerfully consider how the sacraments restore us and replace those missing pieces in our life’s puzzle. Indeed, each sacrament could be called a sacrament of restoration. Zephaniah, in the first reading, alluded to this, saying God will “renew you in His Love.” (Zep 3:17) How has Jesus restored and renewed us through the sacraments?
Baptism restores the divine life within us and restores us to eternal life. Confession restores that baptismal gift when we reject it with our serious sin. Holy Communion restores our friendship with Jesus and each other that is diminished by our venial sins and restores our spiritual strength, so we do not give up. Confirmation restores our ability to live life boldly in the Holy Spirit. Marriage restores the relationship between one man and one woman to be like that between Jesus and the Church, one of unconditional love, fruitfulness, and self-sacrifice. Anointing of the Sick restores us from fear of pain and death to peace and trust in God’s care. And the Sacrament of Holy Orders restores the men Jesus calls so that they can be recognizable servants of Christ, able to give His grace in His person.
I will close with a vivid image to help cement this in our minds. When we allow our neediness and incompleteness to turn us inward, focused on self, we strike a pose like one who is dead. If we do this for too long, we become spiritually dead. However, following John the Baptist’s proclamation, when we reach out to receive Jesus in the Sacraments and give to others what they need, we are with Jesus on the Cross.
But like Him and through Him, we move from our cross to a resurrection moment, those moments of immense joy like the ones you recalled earlier, where Jesus gives us the missing pieces to the puzzle of our life. And at those joyful moments, we can join Mary and rejoice in God our much-needed Savior. Not just our Savior at the end of times, in some far distant future, but our Savior at every moment of our lives.
Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to leave this Mass better able to rejoice in You, the only one who completes us. Amen.