DEC. 14, 2003, GAUDETE SUNDAY: HOMILY- ZEPH.3: 14-18; PHIL. 4: 4-7; LUKE 3: 10-18.
REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS! AGAIN I SAY, REJOICE! LET YOUR KINDNESS BE KNOWN TO ALL. THE LORD IS NEAR. Advent is a season of preparation of our hearts that we might be ready to receive the Lord when he comes, not only at Christmas, but also on every day. Above all, that we welcome him on the last day when he shall come to judge the living and the dead. This preparation of the heart was the subject of John the Baptists’ preaching. Implicitly, his whole life in its austere discipline and self-denial was a witness to the need to prepare the way of the Lord by works of self-denial.
In addition, in today’s Gospel he stresses even more that a good life in God’s eyes entails a willingness to put the Lord’s interests ahead of our own. ‘He is the great One whom I serve’ is writ large over all his doings and ways. ‘I am not worthy to loosen his sandal strap’, he states here. ‘He must increase I must decrease’, he declared on another occasion. At the same time, indeed, because of this selfless, disciplined life, John is a witness to joy. He is ‘the friend of the bridegroom’ who does not make himself the center of attention; rather, he thinks of the groom and rejoices greatly at hearing his voice‘ (John 3:29). What John preached by his life and by his words is summed up in the last words of today’s reading: ’Using exhortations of this sort, he preached the good news to the people.’ His preaching is good news because it is a source of hope and joy. The specific forms that penance assumes in his view is, on the one hand, a turning away from sin and self-seeking in the passing satisfactions of this brief life, and, on the other, a conforming one’s behavior to God’s law and practicing honesty in all dealings. John knew well that this is possible only to those who have a change of heart. And so his first word as a prophet was ’:,J"<@Ê"’(metanoia’), literally meaning ‘a change of mind’ (thinking in a new way about your life and behavior, your desires and hopes). This is the preparation that makes ready the way of the Lord and because it makes us pleasing to him confers a quiet constant joy, the fruit of the Spirit.
St. Paul too points up joy as a fruit of turning wholeheartedly to the Lord. In his list of the fruits of the Spirit only love is mentioned before joy. In today’s second reading he exhorts the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always. Earlier in this letter he had proposed to all believers to follow Christ who denied himself to fulfill his Father’s will. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God… became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Obviously Paul discerns no inherent conflict between joy and self-denial, even to the point of painful suffering. On the contrary, he obviously considers that those who put into practice his teaching on living for others, on putting concern for God’s honor and service ahead of all other considerations, brings a person to a state of mind and heart that is marked by a quiet, abiding joy.
To avoid any misunderstanding Paul adds the reason for our joy: ‘Rejoice always; the Lord is near.’ He is near as our Savior, to bring us a fuller life, the only true life for it is not fated to end with death but to attain its fullness in the presence of the glory of God. On the night of our Lord’s birth the angels will announce to the shepherds “tidings of great joy for to you is born on this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.” This is the name that sums up the meaning of Jesus’ birth, life death and resurrection. He who brings life, the Savior, is near. He comes to share with us all that we are created for. To assure that we receive what he comes to give, he will teach us the ways that lead to life. More, he will strengthen us as we walk those ways, striving for that purity of life that John the Baptist called for. For our experience shows us daily that it is a great achievement to be truly upright, honest and truthful in all our dealings, fair and considerate with all whether they appreciate us or not.
And yet, if we but will it such attainments are within the power of each of us, however limited we may be in other respects. For God is with us; in the person of his divine son he has come to save us from evil, even the evil that is closest to us in the form of unconcern for others, self-seeking, narrow-minded criticism of others and similar banal weaknesses. Once we open our heart to a loving faith that welcomes this savior from a pure heart as he comes to us day by day in our ordinary lives we discover that he brings with him the inner force and resolve needed to follow the way that leads to God. This is John’s message to us today; this, St. Paul tells us, is the why we can truly rejoice always, for the Lord is near to save us.?
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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