Homily – December 2018

Zeph 3:14-18, Phil 4: 4-7, Luke 3: 10-18

On this Third Sunday of Advent the Church liturgically designates this day as “Gaudete” Sunday.  “Rejoice” Sunday!  The nearness of the coming of the Lord at Christmas is the cause of our great joy.

In the First Reading today the word “joy” is mentioned four times.

We are to “shout for joy”, “rejoice and exult with all our heart”, “God will exult over you” and “God will dance with shouts of joy for you.”

The cause of our joy is that God is with us…he is “Emmanuel.”

This is not simply something external.  It is certainly that, but it is even more so something internal, in the human heart.  “God is in your midst” …and no matter what our difficulties might be in life it is a joy that no one can take away from us.

The Second Reading today is from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Like the prophet Zephaniah, St Paul speaks from a situation of external oppression.  In his case, Paul is actually writing this letter from prison.  Yet, at the same time, he says the following “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.” 

Happiness and joy are cousins but they are not identical.  This came to my mind in more recent times.

Some weeks ago I lost a key to the security lock on my bicycle.  I searched for it for quite some time.  It was rather frustrating.  Even more so, because I had no secondary key as a back-up.  That had been lost a long time ago!  The next morning when I woke up I felt drawn to go to a certain part of my room, which I had examined many times before looking for the key.  Now there was a greater intensity in my inspection.  And there, believe it or not, was the key hidden in a dark corner.

I grabbed that key, sat down on the floor and thanked the Lord.  What I experienced was not so much happiness but sheer joy.  I had felt that God was looking after me even in this silly little detail of my life.  I felt that he had covered me with his glory, he was reminding me of his love and grace over me.  Then I understood what joy really means…J.O.Y. = Jesus Over You!

So, as we approach Christmas let us be reminded from these scriptures that Jesus is over us…Jesus is over me…Jesus is over you…J.O.Y.

In the Gospel today from Luke we are told of an important dimension regarding what “Joy” means. 

Three groups of people – the people in general, the tax collectors and soldiers ask St John the Baptist the same question, “What must we do?”  His answer is remarkably similar.  He basically says continue in your call of life, but do so without falling into the trap of the following two dangers!  The first, is attachment to wealth and possessions. 

St John the Baptist says to the people in general “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none”.  They also must share their food.  To the tax collectors he says “Exact no more than your rate.”

The second point is that there is to be no extortion, especially of the poor.  To the soldiers he says there is to be “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay.”

There is a social dimension to the gift of joy.  Joy is not simply a sentimental feeling, although there is an aspect of that in it.  It is also a real commitment to do the following…God who is joy in us requires that we be the instrument of God’s joy in others.

So here is another acronym!  Not only does J.O.Y. = Jesus Over You.  It can also mean…J.O.Y. = Jesus Others You.

As we now move into the hectic part of preparing for Christmas, let us try and allow the eternal message of “Gaudete” Sunday fill us with joy and spur us on to be instruments of joy to others in this Advent season.

Bar 5:1-9, Phil: 1:3-6, 8-11, Luke 3: 1-6

On this second Sunday of Advent we are presented in the scriptures of today with the outstanding Advent prophet of the Bible – St John the Baptist.  His faith response to God will prepare us for Christmas.

Firstly, John the Baptist listened to God with great humility.

He was, on worldly levels, an unlikely choice to be the one who heralds the Messiah into the world.

This seems to be implied in the Gospel of today from St Luke.

St Luke goes to quite some trouble indicating that the Roman emperor of the time, Tiberius Caesar, the various local leaders of Judaea and leaders of other lands were present at the time of the Lord’s coming.  However, almost with surprise, Luke says “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”

Perhaps others would see this as a great surprise!  Why weren’t the political and religious leaders of the time the chosen ones?  Yet it was to the “wild man in the desert”, John the Baptist, that the Word was sent to prepare “the way of the Lord.”

We know from the scriptures that the desert is God’s favourite place to call people to do his Will.  The desert is a great place to listen.  Australians seem to be a little fearful of the desert.  Most of us live in big cities and generally only venture into the Australian desert as tourists.  A stay in the desert can be very instructive.  Many people remark on how quiet it is and how the silence is “deafening”.

It was into this silence that the Word was given to John the Baptist.

St John the Baptist listened to this Word and responded humbly.

We see this in his life.  He was always giving way to his cousin Jesus.  He states in other places in the scriptures that, “he is not worthy to undo the sandal straps of the Messiah.”  He identifies Jesus to his disciples and says, “There is the Lamb of God.”  This encourages his disciples to change their allegiance and become disciples of Jesus.  It is John the Baptist who always says “I must decrease and He must increase.”

Secondly, St John the Baptist spoke with great courage.

He is like a trumpet that blasts the hymn calling people to “prepare a way for the Lord, make straight his path.”  In other words, in the Gospel today, John calls us to make open our hearts to receive Jesus directly and without the impediments of sin and selfishness.  We are to repent and believe in the Good News this Advent season.

This sentiment is echoed in the First Reading today from the prophet Baruch.  Quoting many of the images of today’s Gospel, Baruch says that “Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.”  This is done through repentance.

I recall recently when I was waiting for an underground train in Sydney.  The train was about to arrive and people were getting ready.  I noticed a lady who was clearly on the way to the airport.  She had children with her and luggage.  Without seeing the train, she realised it was about to come into the station and she gathered the children together, made sure that all the luggage was carried and the children were ready to step onto the train as soon as it arrived.  This was a real Advent woman!  She was making straight the paths of the children and in a sense she was doing what the Church wishes in Advent…a calling to the whole Church to get ready for the coming of the Lord.  That is by preparing ourselves through repentance and conversion to receive Jesus directly when he comes into our world at “Christmas.”

Let us practically work out ways that we can do this by becoming reconciled with those we have become estranged from during the year and to make contact with those who need a cheery word.  We also must think of those that are homeless and I remind you of the St Vincent de Paul Society Christmas Gift Appeal.  Let’s be generous!

The other day I was walking in one of the retail areas of Canberra.  There were plenty of decorations but there was no sign of Christmas cribs or the word “Christmas.”  It was all about the “Festive Season!” 

One way we can reject such superficiality is to make sure, at least in our own homes, that we have Christmas cribs and the decorations in our own homes that clearly indicate, “the reason for the season.” 

As we continue on with the Mass, let us be St John the Baptist People.  Let us, more than ever, listen to God with humility and speak courageously, in our somewhat Godless world, of the importance of the coming of Christ this Christmas.

Jer 33:14 -16, 1 Thess: 3:12 – 4: 2, Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

We begin today our new Liturgical season.  It is the year of Luke (Year C).  We also begin our journey in repentance and hope towards the Christmas mysteries of our faith.

In the Gospel today we discover biblical themes of both dying and giving birth.  In the poetic form of apocalyptic literature, Jesus tells his Disciple’s that there will be all sorts of changes in creation and fear will rise up in people’s hearts.  “… for the powers of Heaven will be shaken.” 

In the midst of this dying there is also the promise of hope and birth.

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.”

This is the attitude of Advent.  It is an attitude of dying to our sins so as to repent in trust and conversion to the Lord.  It is also a time of waiting in hope and as the Gospel so beautifully says “to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

That’s the key message: We are to stand in confidence trusting God. 

The First Reading also reiterates the importance of waiting in confidence for the coming of the Saviour.  The prophet Jeremiah says, “In those days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence.”

Let us reflect a little on this expression to “dwell in confidence in God.”

There is a family I know that has been preparing for the death of their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.  She has had a long illness and we have been praying for her over a long period of time.

In more recent times perhaps our prayer has changed somewhat.  It is not just simply for her healing but also for her preparation to enter into the Kingdom of our merciful God upon her death.  Is it a death or is it a birth that we are waiting for?  Whatever the case the family are growing in confident hope that she will always be in God’s care.

This is a very Advent experience that this family is encountering.

It is also very Advent in its spirituality for all of us.

We see this even now in the construction of Christmas cribs around the Diocese for the start of Advent.  To construct the manger is one thing but the crib itself must remain empty until Christmas day when the Lord is placed in it.  So, at this stage it is an incomplete manger as the birth of Jesus is yet to happen.  At the same time, however, we are in full preparation and waiting in confident hope for the coming of the Lord.

Even in waiting for the birth of the Lord we also see signs of his eventual death.  Presumably the manger in Bethlehem was made of wood.  We also hear that when Jesus was born He was placed in swaddling clothes.  At the end of the Lord’s life he was nailed to the wood of the cross.  After His death his dead body was placed in white clothes. 

Even before His birth therefore as we look at the Christmas crib, there are hints of His ultimate dying for our salvation. 

So, Advent does become a time of waiting for a birth but also waiting for a death.  There is an incompleteness in this season.  It engenders a spirit of trust and hope in each one of us.  We wait in confidence, not in despair, for the Lord.  It is a time of conversion from placing confidence simply in ourselves to placing our full confidence in Jesus.

Here in Australia today there is such a lack of confidence in God.  People, more and more, are forgetting about God.  The media propaganda is always about fulfilling one’s own destiny and taking full control of oneself.  It becomes a fluid society of simply “me.”  So it appears that the confidence is not in God but the confidence is in ourselves without any reference to God.  This is surely a new slavery. 

We see this in the political realm where there is a lack of confidence in life coming from God from womb to tomb.  Abortion and Euthanasia laws are increasingly being challenged in Australia at the moment.  There is a lack of confidence that all life is of God and placing our confidence in God from womb to tomb is something we are forgetting.  We see this sometimes in the gender ideology that is becoming all too common.  It seems we even have to take control of our gender choice regardless of its biological given-ness.  We seem to be afraid of difference.

When we place our confidence in ourselves we end up with new slaveries and ideologies.  It’s almost a practical atheism. 

This is why we need Advent and Christmas more than ever, because it is a time of placing our confidence in God who then gives us confidence in ourselves as we are made in his image and likeness.

May I leave you with a little expression I saw in a Uniting Church staff room recently while attending an Ecumenical meeting.  Written in bold letters on the notice board was the following.  “Have confidence! Confidence that God is continually working on your behalf.”

Let us now continue with our Mass at the beginning of this Advent season with full confidence in God.