Third Sunday of Advent 2023 - Homily
Loyola Alumni Chaplain Rev. William Rickle, S.J., '70, offers the Loyola alumni community his homilies for Advent 2023. These homilies will be published the Saturday before the first three Sundays this Advent season. We invite you contact Fr. Rickle for reflection and discussion.
Readings: Is. 61:1-2,10-11; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
"Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This opening verse from the second reading, along with the introit prayer for today "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. The Lord is near," taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians give this third Sunday in Advent the name Gaudete Sunday. The elements of joyful anticipation, of mission and confidence in God permeate every aspect of our liturgy today. Rendering thanks to God is a central element not only of Christian faith, but also of the fundamental Christian stance toward life in general. The joy, the mission, the thankfulness is not the Pollyanna, rose tinted "nothing is wrong with the world that a teaspoon of sugar will not cure" attitude. It is much more human, much gutsier than that.
John the Baptizer can help us, as he helped his contemporaries, to recognize what true joy and thankfulness are about, to see how the joy is related to hope and how thankfulness comes from a profound realization of "the one who is in our midst." John the Baptizer is not a prelude to the Gospel story. He is part of it. We must realize that the Gospel story that we read is our story. In our imagination, in our fantasy and often enough in our reflection on our own personal stories, we find ourselves. We might find ourselves identifying with the Samaritan woman at the well with her shady past, with dishonest Zacchaeus scrambling up a tree making a fool of himself to see Jesus, with blind Bartimeus, with the sick and sinful people he touched and restored in body and heart. How do we also find in ourselves the likeness of other Gospel figures like John the Baptizer, or Mary or Joseph? These are the ones who ushered Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, into the world, into the consciousness of the people. These are the ones who helped, in God’s providence, prepare the way for the fullness of revelation to live among us. We do John and Mary and Joseph and ourselves, a disservice if we see them as flat, undeveloped, uncomplicated characters in a school play. They were real people with real questions, with lives to lead on a day-to-day basis, with commitments to make and to keep. If we see or allow ourselves to be flat, two-dimensional figures, just playing a role, we miss the big picture, too. There is no passion, no drama, no joy in our lives; and thankfulness escapes us.
So, the questions arise. Where did John’s vocation come from? How did he experience this mysterious call to follow the example of the prophets of his people's long, complicated, and often bitterly sorrowful history and seek God in the desert? What possessed him, once there, to break the silence of the desert, to burst forth in proclamation, to herald an intervention of God in our history that he himself did not understand, that he himself, as St. Paul says in the second reading today, had to "test?" Where did he get the audacity to say, "There is one among you whom you do not recognize" when he did not know himself the one who was to come? Likewise, where did our vocation come from? How have we found God in the silence and in the busyness? What are the ways that you and I are called to make him known to others, even if we don't understand all the details and implications of it yet?
The ways of God are indeed mysterious. They are not, however, vaporous, ethereal, or misty. God is hard at work. Grace affects real people and real people begin to understand themselves, ourselves, as instruments, as servants, of the mysterious God. This God is far greater than we can imagine, yet passionately concerned about the details of human history, of human love, of human infidelity, of human passion, and above all, of human desire for peace, a sense of meaning and final fulfillment. Jesus will call us his friends, his co-workers on the mission, laborers in the harvest. What could that possibly mean for us in the here and now and for the future?
In our saner and more sober moments, we know that nothing this world has to offer will truly fill us, will truly give us that deep sense of peace, of rightness with ourselves that we all crave. This is true no matter how much we try to numb the pain of the emptiness we all have. We may even try to deny the image of the divine that we are, always turned toward the infinite. But the infinite is revealed through the finite, the perfect revealed through the imperfect, the light sometimes only glimpsed through the shadow or the cloud.
Isaiah will speak to the brokenhearted, the captive, the prisoner, the people who simply do not count, with words of encouragement. He urges them to rejoice while still broken, while still in captivity, while still a prisoner. Why? Because God is the source of joy in the soul and soon God will make that joy manifest with salvation and justice for all those who have been waiting for deliverance. The call to be thankful comes most directly to us when things are not going well for us, when we are not getting our way, when it is easier for us to be pouty, cranky, and spiteful. Not that any of us have been tempted to be that way.
As we enter the third and last full week of Advent, this is the time for us as to reflect on our invitation to be part of the mystery of the Incarnation today. How is God calling us as a community, disparate and far-flung as we may be at times, to proclaim the mercy of God, to rejoice in God's goodness and to share that mercy and goodness with the rest of the world? How are we called to "test everything," retaining what is good and avoiding what is not? Let’s take some time this week to roll these questions around in our mind and heart, bring them to prayer, even to discussion with one another.
For the moment we still wait. Like John, we are not the Messiah and can't let others or ourselves be confused into thinking we are. Like Joseph we don't have a complete road map and sometimes we have to rely as much on dreams and visions as on our experience and feasibility studies or surveys. Like Mary, even in our joy we must wait for the right time for the fullness of the Word to come into the world. And that time might not be the most convenient for us. It certainly was not the most convenient time for John or Joseph or Mary. But the Lord is coming. God will act. Like the Christians at Thessalonika, we need to hear and to say to one another, "May you be preserved whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls us is trustworthy, therefore he will do it." (1 Thes. 5:24).
Questions for reflection and discussion
- Do I tend to see myself more frequently like Zacchaeus, the Man Born Blind, the Samaritan Woman, or like John the Baptist, Joseph, or Mary? What does that say about my relationship with God?
- How do I find ways to be grateful even in difficult and trying times?
- Do I see myself as part of the Gospel story today in my life? What am I “joyfully hoping for” this Advent?
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