Fr. Matthew Charlesworth, S.J. | Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Sunday, 15 December 2019 | Advent
Third Sunday of Advent
Year A | Roman Missal

First Reading Isaiah 11:1–10
Response Psalm 72:7
Psalm Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17
Second Reading Romans 15:4–9
Gospel Acclamation Luke 3:4, 6
Gospel Matthew 3:1–12

Preached at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg.

This third Sunday of Advent is often referred to as Gaudete Sunday. It takes its name from the first Latin word of the entrance antiphon, ‘Gaudete’ which means “rejoice.” It is why we light the rose-coloured candle and why I am wearing these rose vestments – because rose is seen to be the colour of deep joy which is the grace we pray and ask for today. Our attention is starting to shift away from the second coming spoken of last week and begins to focus on the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas. This is a mystery and a joy we can always joyfully celebrate. Last week we heard how God would send the messiah to bring salvation as both a judgment on the present age and as the beginning of a new age, an age of the sending of the Holy Spirit for all of humanity’s salvation. But beyond judgment and salvation, our readings for today focus on the blessings brought by the messiah who is coming.

And I think that ‘coming’, the ‘near but not yet’, the imminent and expectant sense contained in the word “come”, courses through all our readings today. If we listen closely, we would hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim in our first reading that God “comes” to save us. In the psalm antiphon we prayed: “Lord, come and save us.” In our 2nd reading we heard how James admonishes us to be patient “until the coming of the Lord.” Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus is questioned: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” We are waiting for Christ who will come at Christmas.

When we wait, we can do so in two ways… expectantly, hopefully and vigilantly, which I think is the right way, or at least the way we are encouraged to wait during Advent; or we can do so without hope, in a resigned or tired or even despairing way, as many of us do in this time of load-shedding and uncertainty in our country.

And if we’re honest, many of us have come to Church today with some degree of discouragement. Many of us feel betrayed by our leaders and overwhelmed at the scale and severity and sheer complexity of the problems we face in our country. The weakening economy is causing us stress in our companies and work environments, that is only exacerbated by the impact of load-shedding and with no one taking responsibility. And then we have the ever-present reminder of a looming climate crisis, as we saw so many last week losing their homes and all their possessions when the Jukskei River flooded. There is a lot of fear in the world, but when we give into fear, we end up institutionalising it and this has consequences for all of us, not least the many migrants and refugees who will face not just inhospitality but outright rejection because of our growing suspicions.

But as Christians we are called to continue to hope. We must resist the despair that is a temptation whilst waiting. I believe our faith in Jesus points us to a better way of waiting, and we hear it spoken of in our readings. Instead of becoming fearful, we must remember the blessings we have already received. Instead of giving into discouragement we should remain joyful and patient. We must see the signs of his presence in our own lives.

Most prophets in the bible talk of an age of prosperity and peace that will accompany God’s victory over his enemies. Other will speak of how the land will be restored to Israel: But there are two ways in which Isaiah describes this promised future that are unique in our first reading, and different to our own time, because whilst we see a 1% who is prosperous, there is growing unrest and anger at the inequality in our world. Isaiah offers another vision: Firstly he describes it with reference to the environment, with an abundance of watered streams and blooming trees. This is an environment that is flourishing.

And secondly, he points out the benefits to the handicapped and the helpless: the weak-kneed, the blind, the deaf, and the lame. The poor and the marginalized. This is a society that leaves no one behind.

In a way it reminds me of Pope Francis’ concern in Laudato Si’ about an integral ecology, that encapsulates the economy, the environment and every human being. In our times of fading hope, I encourage you all to read Laudato Si’ and be encouraged to act to create the world we hear of in Isaiah’s vision, so that flourishing and healing can occur in everything and everyone. It’s a most beautiful vision, and one we have to work towards.

Our psalm today echoes the thought of Isaiah in his promise of salvation to the helpless and disabled. It also calls for total trust in God’s saving actions in our lives and not to rely on our own human strength, and so it links nicely to the two major points of today’s gospel: Jesus’ statement that he is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy and his invitation to have faith in his message rather than in that of John the Baptist.

In our gospel Jesus is actually questioned by John the Baptist himself, who is now in prison and awaiting death. And in this dark place, we see that even John doubts. He wonders if Jesus is really the messiah John had been preparing the world for. But Jesus sends messages to John to announce that his mission is that of being the salvific messiah promised in our first reading. He clearly defines himself as more than just a prophet. He is the awaited messiah.

I think what this tells us is reassuring. That in difficult times, even a prophet like John the Baptist can experience doubts and is in need of reassurance. This is good news for us as we find ourselves uncertain and wavering in our hope or in our faith. But then our challenge is how do we allow ourselves to listen to Jesus’ reassuring words? Because just as he spoke them to John, he is finding ways to speak the same love and reassurance to us too.

How can we live in our communities and families in a way that makes people question. Do we witness to the deeper level of reality in a way that is patiently trusting and faithful.

As we heard in the Gospel acclamation, we have all been given the Spirit of the Lord to bring good tidings to the afflicted; to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. In other words, to bring hope. To share how we have been liberated by knowing Jesus.

Advent is far more than counting the days to Christmas. It is a time to appreciate the age old desire for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Above all, it is a time to reflect on what God has done for us, and the extent to which we are the beneficiaries of his generous love.

Saint Teresa of Avila has some helpful words for us. Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God is unchanging. Patience gains all; nothing is lacking to those who have God: God alone is sufficient. Or, as we hear God say through Isaiah: Do not be afraid, for I am with you always.

Let us remind ourselves of the reasons why we can be joyful today. Let us think back and count the blessings God has given us. Let us wait, with joy, for the coming of the Lord – because he comes to save all of us. And isn’t that Good News today?

Let us spend some moments saying thank you to God for all God’s blessings to us. And perhaps we might consider how God has blessed those we love, and remind them of that blessing too today.

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Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A