Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, 2012
It is hard to even comprehend the horrible tragedy that occurred in Newtown Friday. Certainly we must all pray for the families and the whole community that is wracked with unfathomable pain and suffering in the face of such a horrendous and senseless act of violence and hatred.
I think many of us have wondered what could ever cause someone to do something so profoundly evil. How could a human being be so messed up, so horribly disturbed, and obviously so profoundly miserable?
This is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday characterized by hopeful expectation and rejoicing as the date of our Lord’s birth draws so near. The theme seems so out of place in the wake of such a horrible atrocity committed against the innocent, almost inappropriate.
Certainly this is not the time for joking and revelry. But there is room today, and I think the need, to reflect on the sources of joy and misery.
Where does joy come from? While I am and have been for the most part pretty happy, there are a few times that stick in my mind as high points. Certainly there have been joyful moments as a seminarian and priest, but as I was reflecting on our readings I was thinking about a particular happy time when I was 19: when I found out that a girl I was infatuated with liked me too. I was working one of the more unpleasant jobs I have had: huddled in a dark room washing printing screens with a power washer all day by myself. But those chemicals could not wipe the smile off my face – for days. That she actually liked me seemed like a miracle from heaven, and every time I thought about it again, I would just smile. She likes me. Smile.
In a recent talk given about the New Evangelization, Archbishop DiNoia remarked that the great revelation of Christianity to our world is this: that God loves us. No other theistic religion has understood this truth about God as profoundly as we do. Other religions teach about a God who is a disinterested force in the world, perhaps a pure or good kind of force, but one who is for the most part unaffected by our little lives that pass by so quickly.
What we hear in our readings today is nothing short of the greatest revolution in the understanding of God that has ever occurred in the history of the human race. Something no human being would ever have dared to dream, that we still can hardly get our minds around, was being announced by the prophets who speak to us through in the readings today.
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.
The creator of the universe who is all-powerful and all-knowing and the source of all goodness and life: this God, they said, had made all things and holds them in existence with one end in mind: to love us. He wills our good personally, each of us, he knows us and seeks our benefit, constantly is at work to draw us into his own love so that we can find the peace and joy we long for.
When I was 19 I was overwhelmed with happiness because a girl liked me too. That revelation changed my world for the better, at least for a few months until she dumped me. It was a young experience of affection and it was good for then – but how it pales in comparison to the love of God that we know in Christ.
If we really took to heart the words of the prophets, if we really thought for some time about what it is that they are announcing to us today – I can’t help but think that there would be very few flat or discouraged expressions in this church. We might not be jumping up and down – but the knowledge of the love of God that we carried within us, of his love for us, that he has chosen us to be his own… it would just warm us right up from top to bottom all day long like a nice cup of tea on a cold day. He loves me – God does. He has chosen me for his own, he gives his life to me and feeds me and forgives me and walks beside me. Of all the things that have characterized the saints over the years, it has been a deep and abiding sense of peace and well-being, a profound and mysterious source of joy animated them and could be seen by all who knew them.
Many of us have, at different times in our lives, been able to get a momentary glimpse into this joy and peace that the saints live: in those rare moments when we have been clear-headed enough, have been able to stop for a moment and experience God loving us. But most of the time we are entirely oblivious. Why?
St. Paul at one point told his people they were bewitched.
We live in a fallen world, a world that wants to be the center of the universe, that doesn’t want our universe to revolve around God. A jealous world. All day long distractions, anxieties tug at us, like false suitors trying to keep us from our true love. And how often we just go with them, we don’t respond to God’s invitation to love him, we ignore his love and instead become increasingly preoccupied with the passing things of this world. And they enslave us.
I think it is safe to say that the young man who committed such evil in Newtown was entirely bewitched, was overcome by darkness. We have to pray for him and for his family. Fortunately it is not often that evil gets such a firm hold on a person. But it is always lurking, this world is always tugging at us, trying to make us forget who loves us and who we belong to and the purpose of our lives. The evil one, St. Peter says, prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Gaudete is a command. Not to put on a happy face or throw a party, but more in the sense that we who have heard the good news of Christ’s coming must hold fast to him. Must hold fast to this incredible revelation of God’s goodness we have received in faith and be witnesses of it to our children and to a world that is often overcome in darkness. The Lord knows and loves us. He does not remained silent or distant, uncaring. No, he comes to be with us, he works for the good of his people, for our good. Gaudete. Hold on to this knowledge of God’s immeasurable love, treasure it, protect it, today and always.