Rejoice! Because our God is near!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, GAUDETE SUNDAY, December 15, 2019:
The entrance antiphon for our Mass today is what gives today’s celebration its theme and direction. The antiphon, taken from Philippians, says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” We call this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice and it takes its name from that first word of the antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
We can really minimize the power of this celebration if we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, this week I had the chance to go to the Holiday Pops concert at Symphony Hall in Boston. I really enjoyed that. I also really enjoyed the nice dinner we went out for after the concert. At this time of year, we rejoice in and enjoy Christmas parties, and holiday sweets, and Christmas music, and so many of the other traditions that are popular and typical at this time of year. We enjoy many things at this level – we enjoy music, art, entertainment, food, casual friends and acquaintances. This list could go on and on because the things that we enjoy and rejoice in on a more superficial level are many and great.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our celebration today. Somehow, I think Jesus is calling forth something greater from us then these things which are, in the end, really trivial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
This actually came into crystal clarity for me just yesterday. I celebrated a funeral yesterday for a parishioner at St. Stan’s church. This parishioner was 92 years old and a woman of deep joy and deep faith. She had a hard life. Born during the Great Depression, she lived through the Second World War. She got married and started a family with five children, then 42 years ago, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old.
But, in the sacristy, just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about this woman and her family. When her husband died 42 years ago so suddenly, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his very bones that even though it was a tragic moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; Jesus is real; all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. It was a sadness of separation for him and his family – but it was a moment of profound rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead 42 years to yesterday’s funeral and I was moved again by the faith of this family. When I entered the church for the funeral Mass, the church was full of pink flowers and just about everyone on attendance was dressed with some pink – a pink scarf here, a pink flower on a lapel there. Shirts, jackets, and more. The church was filled with the color pink.
When I approached the ambo for the homily, I had a whole text that I had prepared to deliver at the funeral, but instead I felt like God was asking me to say something else. I said, “I don’t think I am going out on a limb today if I would suggest that pink was Emily’s favorite color?” I know the family did not intend all of that pink to be a reflection on Gaudete Sunday, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make that connection for them. What I realized in that moment is that our celebration of Gaudete is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner.
Our pink flowers and pink vestments and the pink candle of our wreath are not meant to give us the message that there are only 10 shopping days left! No, these things are all meant to speak especially into those profound moments in our lives; the moments that define our lives, define who we are; the moments that form us and shape us – like the one that Emily’s family faced yesterday and surely today and for many days ahead, “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
We all see the bumper stickers, posters, and memes on the internet that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus is the forgiveness of our sins. The reason for Jesus is to open the gates of paradise. The reason for Jesus is to show us how to live in harmony with one another and with our God. The very reason for Jesus to let us know profoundly in our hearts that our God is with us – right near us, by our sides, in our hearts, making sense of our tragedies, multiplying and magnifying our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – not presents and parties and the Christmas goose! What is close to us is the very salvation that the little Babe of Bethlehem came to inaugurate. This is Advent. This is Emmanuel – my friends, God IS with us! And He wants to speak to us not only in the joy and enthusiasm of the season – He also wants to speak to us in the sadness and loneliness and challenging moments of our lives. Especially when our hearts are heavy with grief or closed in anger or wounded by the words and actions of others – Jesus wants us to know how close He is to us in all of those moments. It is there and then that He wraps us lovingly in His strong and comforting arms.
So my friends, today above all days, we rejoice in the Lord because our salvation is at hand. We rejoice in the Lord because our God is ever near. We rejoice in the Lord because He is with us in our sadness and grief; He is with us in our sorrows and pains; He is with us in our joy and triumphs. He is always with us.
Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” All because our God is near.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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