FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 12, 2021:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” These words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians are what give our celebration today its theme and focus. 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.”
Sometimes I think we minimize the power of celebration when we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, every year at this time, I like to go to the Holiday Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston. I really enjoy that. I also really enjoy the nice dinner we usually go out for after the concert. This is the time of year that 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 this level are many and great.
But, somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our “rejoicing” 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.”
I was thinking of an example of what we’re really meant to get at. A few years ago, I celebrated a funeral for a parishioner of one of our parishes. 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 more than 40 years ago, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old.
But, just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about this woman and her family. When her husband died so suddenly all those years ago, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his bones that even though it was a tragically sad moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; that Jesus is real; that all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. His Dad’s passing would be a sadness of separation for him and his family – but it was also a moment of profound rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God – the best thing we can ever experience. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead from Dad’s funeral to Mom’s and the rejoicing in the Lord that this family lived so well, was still very active. At Mom’s 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 prepared to deliver, 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 Mom’s favorite color?” I know the family did not intend all of that pink to be a reflection of 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, rejoicing, is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner and we might get nice things.
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 or so 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 family faced as they lost loved ones. “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
This time of year we like to be reminded that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus isn’t a pile of material gifts and extra portions of food. 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 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, comforting and making sense of our tragedies, multiplying and magnifying our loves and our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – the salvation that the little Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. 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.
My friends, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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