December 14, 2014

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

John the baptist
(Click here for today’s readings

The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” It comes from the first word of the “Entrance antiphon” or “Introit” of the Mass. “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice,” and the text of the antiphon is from Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” It appears in a shorter form in today’s second reading: “Rejoice always.” More on this later.

Television shows have gone through many fads and phases. There was the age of quiz shows, the age of westerns, of variety shows, of situation comedies, of detectives, and so on. Today we are in the age of “reality shows.”

They are of two types. There are those where we simply observe people: litigants in small claims court, women buying a wedding dress, survivalists, home buyers, you name it. Others are competitions, in which each week someone wins and someone is eliminated.

Some of the competitions involve fashion designers. At the beginning of each episode they are given a challenge; they have to make a garment either using specific materials, or inspired by a work of art, a city, an animal, a famous person. In today’s first reading there is a text that would provide just such a challenge. Here it is:

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.

The designers’ challenge would be to create that “robe of salvation,” that “mantle of justice,” which at the same time would express the soul’s joy in God. I think it would make a great show.

As interesting as that might be, however, they could never come close. The robe and mantle in question are God’s work. He designed it special for his people. His inspiration was his own promise to restore them to their own land after the time of exile, and to make them faithful to him once again.

John the Baptist, featured in today’s Gospel, would not have fared well in one of those competition shows. He stated clearly and emphatically that he was not the Messiah, not Elijah (whose return was expected “before the day of the Lord,” according to Malachi 3:23), not “the Prophet” (perhaps the one promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15). And later on, when his disciples told him that Jesus had begun baptizing, his reply was: “He must increase, I must decrease.” In effect he was saying, “My work is done here.” It was a recognition that his work wasn’t really his work at all. He was just “a voice,” an instrument for announcing God’s word.

The same reality applies to our spiritual life. Sometimes when people seek spiritual direction they are under the impression that a spiritual director will simply tell them what to do in order to make progress in their life of faith. Actually, it is more like what St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “Test everything.”

I usually put it this way: follow what inspires and attracts; if that isn’t what God is calling you to, you will find out soon enough. In other words, as in John the Baptist’s case, it isn’t our work. It’s God’s work, God’s grace, God’s gift. St. Paul goes on: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”

We don’t make ourselves holy. We can’t, on our own, preserve ourselves blameless. But God, who is faithful, will accomplish it.

He will—he really will—clothe us with a robe of salvation. He really will wrap us in a mantle of justice. He really will make us rejoice heartily in him, and, as St. Paul says, “rejoice always!”

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