Homily – 3rd Sunday of Advent
The Holiday Season is often a time of stress and sometimes depression for a lot of people. You often hear of increased bouts of depression and suicide around the holidays. For some people, Joy to the world, is something for others and not to be found by them. Bah Humbug I have even heard it said.
This stands in stark contrast to our readings today. Christmas time is a time of great joy for Christians. Paul says it quite clearly in our second reading today. “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” It seems an odd thing for a man to write who is in prison and on the way to execution to see so much cause for joy. What is the secret for Paul. What is it that causes him, in the face of prison and possible death to see joy when others in the face of the holidays are depressed? I think the key to understanding the difference between the two outlooks lies two sentences further on. Paul says “The Lord is near.” For St. Paul, his nearness to Christ is what brings him his joy. He tells other Christians it should be their joy as well. The nearness of Christ to our hearts is the deciding factor upon whether we look on our life with joy or with gloom.
Unfortunately for many people Christmas is about the things we have or the things we hope to get. You see this truth classically portrayed in many movies and stories like A Christmas Carol. “Bah Humbug”, says Scrooge. When lives become about possessions or about what we can acquire then the become turned in upon themselves. They don’t look outward to others but seek to draw things inward to themselves. The focus becomes inside the person and they turn in upon themselves to satisfy their desires. This is not a human life. A fully human life is one that is turned outward toward others and toward God. It is oriented toward community and others rather than self. St. Therese of Lisieux compared herself to a little flower and I think that analogy for the soul is a good one here. A flower turned in upon itself is wilted and dead. A flower turned outwards toward others and the Son is living, vibrant and in bloom. In the same way a soul turned in upon itself is dying, dead or in a state of decay. A living, vibrant and healthy soul is turned outwards toward God and others.
That is why St. Paul can so easily tell us: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” For St. Paul his joy is Jesus Christ. He carries that joy within him wherever he goes. His situation or the things he have cannot shake the foundations of his joy which is Jesus Christ. If we too want the same, unshakeable joy that he has then we must build upon the same foundation which is Jesus Christ.
The key to happiness or unhappiness lies in our relationship with the Lord. The only thing that will make us truly happy is God. If our relationship is good then we are joyful. If it is bad then the joy we experience in life is fleeting at best and in most cases not true joy. The things we seek in the world other than God are not the keys to our happiness. Some might say: “If I just had this …then I would be happy”. Others” If she would only do this or if he would only love me… then I would be happy..” Others if only this would happen to me… then I would be happy”. All of these things cannot bring us true happiness. The temporary pleasure they might bring us is really only a brief distraction from a meaningless and solitary interior life and relationship with God.
The sparkle will soon fade and then we will have to look for the next thing…that if only we had, will make us happy.
Things or people cannot bring us lasting happiness because they are breakable, they can be lost, they can change. Only the unbreakable, the unshakeable and the unchangeable God can bring us the joy we seek. Only in God can we find the firm foundation that brings us the joy we all hope for.
So how do we get there? John the Baptist shows us how to prepare for the Lord. We prepare by repenting of our past ways. We prepare by being generous and just with our neighbors. We prepare by giving away things we don’t need to others that do. Joy and happiness don’t come from what you get but rather from what you give.
The Pope in the last few weeks has been speaking publically about the link between depression and materialism. How many cases have we seen of people who supposedly had it all: money, fame, fortune, who ended up committing suicide or dying of drug overdoses. Those are not the way people who are truly happy die. The only way to true happiness is to prepare your heart to receive the Lord. Then and only then can you have the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” that “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
I urge you again to make Advent a time of true preparation to receive Christ in your heart. Welcome him as King at Christmas. Let your gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh be gifts of faith hope and love. Prepare your heart to receive your king by cleaning out the stable through the sacrament of confession. If it has been years then get there soon. Tuesday night we have a large penance service here. Don’t wait because it might be too late. I leave you with one example.
I spoke with a police officer on the phone this week and he told me a story. He said that my homily about not waiting to go to confession because you might not make it to the end of Advent was true. He told me that he had almost died a few nights before while directing traffic. A woman pulled up at a traffic stop and she was clearly drunk. She was about to run over another officer so he had to reach into her car to turn off her car because it was the only way he could save the other officer. She threw it into gear and ended up dragging him down the highway for quite a ways. He pulled out his gun and when she saw it she hit the breaks and it freed his arm and he fell to the ground. He told me all he could think about was the need to go to confession and how he shouldn’t have waited so long. So he assured me that he was going to go before Christmas Eve. My response to him was simply this. “Don’t wait. You might not make it to Christmas Eve.” He said “Your going to jinx me.” I said no, the Devil is trying to do that. Jesus is trying to save you. I think you should let him.
My response is the same to you. I want you to be happy and go to heaven. There is only one way to do that. Get right with Jesus Christ. Let him be the Lord of your life, and please don’t wait to do it.
Homily – 3rd Sunday of Advent