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Third Sunday of Advent – Year C

12 December 2021

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Third Sunday of Advent – Year C


[Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3: 10-18]


The summons that reaches us through the sacred texts this morning is to joy. One might reasonably wonder how we are supposed to be joyful when we find ourselves in the midst of so much in our country and world today that is filling us with deep worry. We know that mental health issues are increasingly prevalent, worry is everywhere, yet now from Sacred Scripture we hear the call to be joyful – always. Allow me to share with you a little story of an event that occurred in my life a number of years ago. I offer it as something that has since helped me to understand why and how it is that the Christian can be truly joyful in all circumstances, including the most difficult.

One day more than twenty years ago, I was alone in a large Church, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. All of a sudden I heard the voice of a little girl crying out “Daddy! Daddy!” I looked up and saw three little girls running into the Church. They ranged in age from seven to three, and they were looking for their Daddy. I happened to know their father, who did some work at the Church. He had brought his daughters with him that day and, somehow, they had become separated from him. They were pretty frightened and were on the verge of tears. They needed to find Daddy. So, I took them by the hand and led them to the office nearby where their father was working. I still remember the look on their faces when they found their father again. All the fear vanished! The look on their faces was no longer anxious worry, but sheer joy. The point to notice here is that all those little girls needed to know was that their father was with them. In their minds, he would take care of them, handling any difficulties that might come along. It was sufficient simply to know that he was near.

Let’s keep this in mind as we listen again to these words of St. Paul. “Rejoice in the Lord, always…. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything…” The Apostle was no stranger to danger and hardship. In fact, he is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison! St. Paul has every reason to feel anxiety and dread, yet here he encourages his readers – and us – not to fear but to be joyful. And the reason is simple – the Lord is near. For Paul, that is enough to bring him both joy and peace.

Motivating Paul’s exhortation to joy is his knowledge that the love of God, manifest in Christ Jesus, can overcome all danger, even death. There is nothing more powerful than the love of God, who has drawn close, and remains very near, in the gift of the Lord Jesus. His confidence in God’s love was shared from of old by Zephaniah. For that prophet, it was even enough to know that God would draw near at an appointed moment, sometime in the future. Although God’s promise of nearness was yet to be fulfilled, the mere knowledge that God would act in fidelity to his pledge was sufficient to leave him brimming over with joy and encouraging others to respond in like fashion.

Our appreciation of this biblical message deepens when we consider what the texts tell us of the nature of God’s proximity. In short, they teach that God’s presence is active, always at work to transform our hearts and turn all things to the good.

Zephaniah speaks of the deep healing that arises in our hearts when they are transformed by God’s forgiveness. In the canticle, Isaiah recalls the glorious might of God, which was always the rock of strength for his people against their enemies. And we hear John the Baptist use the metaphor of a winnowing fork to describe how the Messiah would act among his people. The winnower uses a large fork to toss threshed wheat into the air, thus allowing the wind to blow away the light and useless chaff while the heavier good wheat kernels fall to the floor for gathering. To put this differently, Jesus has come into our lives to sort things out. He is always at work, sifting through the circumstances of our lives to clear away the bad and leave only what is good for us, his beloved.

Now, this does not mean we remain simply passive. The biblical readings also point out what we must do to discover joy in the Lord.

The first thing is to pray always. As soon as those three little girls realized they were lost, they went instantly in search of their father, crying out his name. So, too, must we, aware of our need for him and from our desire to be with him, actively seek out the Lord. In the words of St. Paul, “in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We have to pray, to seek the Lord, on a daily basis, because we are never without the need for Jesus, and will surely become lost if separated from him.

Secondly, is repentance. When the people asked John the Baptist what they must do to prepare for the Messiah, he told those with means to care for the poor, soldiers to stop extorting the people, and the tax collectors to be done with corruption. The message here to us is: set aside sin and self-concern, turn your attention to the Lord and live as he teaches. The Lord is near and at work; by repentance we open our hearts to him and allow his grace and mercy to enter in and set things right.

So, rejoice! Whatever is going on, however difficult, rejoice! The Lord Jesus is very near, especially now in the wonder of the Eucharist. By the grace of communion with him, may we trust always in his love, have faith in his power to save, and be sustained in the joy that only he can give.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
December 12th, 2021