3rd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Brothers and sisters: shout for joy! Sing joyfully! Be glad and exult with all your heart! Cry out with joy and gladness! Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name! Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement! Shout with exultation! Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Word of God proclaimed this evening could not be clearer. Despite our personal and communal troubles; despite the wounds of the world and the wounds to our Church; despite the scandals, the corruption, the deceit, and the betrayals; and to spite the Enemy who works day and night to tempt us away from the Christ – despite and to spite all the bad news: Rejoice in the Lord always! Why? Because the Good News is that our Christ comes as a Child at Christmas and as the Just Judge at the end of the age. Nothing this world can set against us will prevail. While we are here, while we remain members of the Body – priests, prophets, and kings in Christ – we are charged with bearing witness to the mercy of the Father. We are not doomsayers. We are not fanatics. We are men and women, boys and girls who have died with Christ and risen again with him. So, we give him praise; we offer thanksgiving; and we rejoice!
I have said to you many times over the last nine years that to follow Christ is to strive for holiness – to be in the world w/o being of the world. Like everyone else in the world we are affected by unemployment, inflation, political and social unrest, crime, disease and disaster, failed relationships, pot holes, bad knees, and hangovers. Being followers of Christ does not exempt us from the experiencing the fallenness of the world. Katrina and Ida destroyed the homes of Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians get carjacked and non-Christians get into car accidents. And vice-versa. We are not spared b/c we live in the world. What we are spared – if we chose to be spared – is the anguish and fear that goes along with living in the world. Whether it's a cancer diagnosis, or a failed marriage, or a child leaving the Church, or financial loss – we are spared the despair of ruin when we turn to Christ, put yourselves at his disposal, and carry out the mission we have been given: to proclaim the Good New, to bear witness in word and deed, and to rejoice always. God will do great things through us – if we let Him.
How do we allow God to do great things through us? First, we have to get out of our own way. My plans, my goals, my needs, my wants – all of these put Me first in my life. Me, Myself, and I can easily become an Unholy Trinity, building up of a Self-satisfied and Self-righteous ego. Such an ego sees the world as little more than a supermarket for my appetites. You people are employees in this marketplace, here to serve me. I can't cooperate with God b/c I've come to think of myself as a god. Second, we need to be genuinely humble. To combat the temptation to think of myself as a god, I've adopted a false sense of humility. I'm worthless. I'm not gifted. I'm nobody. Everyone else is better than me b/c I am a terrible sinner. Such a disordered understanding of humility will not allow me to receive God's gifts and use them to fulfill His ends. Third, we have to give up the lie that we are in control. Desperate to alleviate my anxiety about the swirling mess of my life, I've grabbed hold of the reins and will not let go. What I cannot and will not see is that my control is what's causing my life to swirl into a mess. How can I allow God to do great things through me when I can't trust that He will do what I want Him to?
Ego, false humility, anxiety and control. How do we remedy these spiritual diseases? Go back to the Word of God. “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Why rejoicing? To rejoice is to express our gladness. To give word to the effects of Divine Love. To rejoice to sing out, to shout out our glee. We know the Christ Child is coming. We know that Christ the Just Judge is coming. What's disease, disaster, or even death in the face of our beatific end? The Father's creation isn't about Me. I depend on Him entirely for everything I have and everything I am. And I have no control over disease, disaster, or death. I am freest when I surrender myself to His will with praise and thanksgiving and then do all that I've promised to do: bear witness in word and deed, proclaim the Gospel, and rejoice always! John the Baptist prophesies: “. . .one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Christ has come. Christ is here. Christ will come again. “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”