The Lord Is Near | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 16, 2007 | From the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Third Sunday of Advent—December 16 | "A" Readings: Isa. 35:1-6, 10 | James 5:7-10 | Matt. 11:2-11
Title: John the Baptist as our Advent guide
Purpose: (1) to describe the fearless honesty, humility and discipline of John the Baptist; (2) to encourage those virtues in our lives and during this Advent.
Halfway through Advent we celebrate "Gaudete" Sunday. That is the first Latin word of the Entrance Antiphon for today's Mass and it means "rejoice." So as Christmas approaches, the liturgy emphasizes joy. With the birth of Christ, God comes near to us, and there is an intimate connection between the presence of God and joy, because joy is the feeling that fills the heart in the expectation and possession of any good. God is the supreme good in himself and also for the finite, created spirit--namely, for us.
The Bible, especially in the words of the prophets, is full of calls to joy, to rejoice, to clap hands in joy at the presence of God in his mighty work and in his daily dealings with believers.
The theme for today's Mass is: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. The Lord is near" (Phil. 4:4-5)--he is coming to save us and we all know that we need salvation. The readings today speak of joyful hope, of the bright future those who believe and trust in the Lord will have.
We celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas as the Light of the World. "Light" here means the truth of God about the meaning of human existence and the right way to God. We rejoice because he has come in the past, is coming to us now, and will come in glory in the future. In each case he is our light and our salvation. Thus, the brightly colored lights of Christmas symbolize or stand for the spiritual light that is Christ. He lights up the way for us to eternal salvation.
Last Sunday we considered the stern message and warning of John the Baptist: "Repent." This Sunday he appears again. John is now in prison and has heard of Jesus' good works, and he wonders, "Is this the promised Messiah?" So he sends his disciples to find out and Jesus replies to their question by citing the prophet Isaiah to show that he is the Messiah. This means that the Messianic Age has already arrived.
John was not a self-appointed, vacillating prophet, a "reed swaying in the wind." He was not a dandy or playboy. He is a true prophet with a special message from God--to prepare the way for the Messiah (see Mal. 3:1). Jesus praises him highly by saying that history knows no one greater than John the Baptist. Nevertheless, Jesus says that the least born into the Kingdom of God is greater than he. Here Jesus is pointing out the difference in the ages--the time before Christ and the time of the Church. John stood at the gates of heaven but could not enter because the gates were closed; now they are open because of the sacrificial death of Jesus, so the least member of the Church--through baptism and grace--is better off than John was.
In the second reading St. James advises patience--we must wait for the coming of the Lord. The fullness of the Kingdom will come only on the other side of the grave. Now we must endure many sufferings, so be patient, he says. The Lord is coming, as surely as the harvest the farmer waits for. Now is the time to live a life of virtue--especially love of God and love of neighbor. The prophets of old suffered hardships in patience and we should take them as models for our own lives.
Joy is one of the fruits of the possession of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Also, we should not forget the joy of the Beatitudes. The Christian is urged to rejoice in adversity because he then resembles Jesus and the prophets: "Happy are you when people abuse you or persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).
The coming of God--the Advent of Jesus--for those who desire him is a cause of great joy. Let us beg the Lord to come into our hearts this Christmas more than ever before and to fill us with his joy. Then with St. Paul we can sing: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near."
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 523, 608, 719.
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The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton
Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.
He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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