Sunday, December 14, 2014

HOMILY - Third Sunday of Advent (Year B) (2014)

My three-year-old son, Owen, will often ask me: “are you happy?” Inevitably maybe intuitively, he will ask when I am most consumed in my own worry or pity. And in those moments, the honest answer is “no” – I am angry, frustrated, hurt, embarrassed, tired, or impatient and I am not happy. But his question is just that jolt I needed to remind me that I am truly happy or at least I should be, and that I have much to rejoice about. And so maybe after a few-second pause, I respond to his question with: “yes, Owen, of course I am happy!” In a similar way, this Third Sunday in Advent is intended to have that same effect. The readings and prayers should cause us to pause and recognize that while our lives are messy and complicated, that we are at times weak and sinful, and that we experience too often loss and pain in our lives, there is a reason to rejoice. Really there are two reasons. First, we joyfully celebrate that our God became man in the person of Jesus Christ - born of a woman at Christmas - to teach us how to love by what he said and did, and ultimately he suffered and died on the Cross to restore us in relationship with God. Second, we joyfully anticipate Jesus’ second coming when he will defeat evil and sin in the world and return all things to his Father – and then, there will be eternal peace and joy, no more suffering, pain, evil, violence or sin. This is truly Good News and reason to rejoice! It is with such faith that St. Paul, in today’s second Reading, instructs the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always.” Unlike some of Paul’s other letters, this one is not in response to an immediate crisis. Rather he tells them that they have done well to live good Christian lives so far and that they must remain strong and focused as they await the fulfillment of Christ’s promised return, which they thought would happen at any time. So, what I especially like about Paul’s instruction is that he does not just tell the Thessalonians to be happy, empty of any meaning or context – as if they or we are robots or puppets blindly following orders. Rather, he instructs them to rejoice always and then gives them seven more directives. As much as they are general Christian principles by which to live, these directives can also lead us to a deeper faith as well as a joy that is sincere and complete, lasting, and will sustain any Christian in difficulties and adversity. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to not only rejoice always, but to 1) pray without ceasing, 2) to give thanks at all times and places, 3) to not reject or resist the Holy Spirit working in their lives to help them and guide them, 4) to not despise prophetic utterances – in other words listen to what others say, 5) but also to test everything, 6) retain what is good and 7) refrain from every kind of evil. This is good advice – the same advice we would gladly accept if we were buying a car or a house, seeking a new job, or beginning a new relationship, even marriage. Why not do this or even more for the most important thing/relationship in our life – that is also the one thing that will bring us the greatest joy?! This Advent rejoice in God’s love. Rejoice in a love that became human like us to restore us in relationship with God; rejoice in a love that will come to restore peace and joy eternally. This Advent rejoice always, AND 1) pray without ceasing, 2) to give thanks at all times and places, 3) by open to the Holy Spirit working in your life, 4) listen to what others say, 5) test everything, 6) retain what is good and 7) refrain from every kind of evil. This Advent, if asked by someone: are you happy? Pause and then answer with a faithful, joyful, hopeful, thoughtful YES!