Homily for Mass – Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)
(Saint Benedict’s Church, East Brisbane: 6:00pm Saturday; Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8:00am Sunday, and Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm Sunday)
15 December 2013
[Readings: Is 35:1-6, 10; Ps 145; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11]
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed the Lord is near!
So says the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass, the third Sunday of Advent. We rejoice because Christmas is near. We rejoice because the day of salvation is near!
In the Gospel we hear of John the Baptist. We recall that his father Zechariah had sung of his son that he would go ahead of the Lord to prepare his ways, to make known to the Lord’s people their salvation through the forgiveness of all their sins. We rejoice because we have come to know the loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high.
The prophet Isaiah had foretold the day of salvation for the people of Israel … the day they would be led to their homeland, freed from oppression and slavery. It would be such a wonderful day that it would be as if the desert came to life. The people’s sorrow and lament would be ended, the eyes of the blind would be opened, the deaf would hear, the lame leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute sing for joy!
When John the Baptist is nearing the end of his life, he is imprisoned for his fidelity to the Truth whom he had served. And in the darkness of his imprisonment, he wonders if Jesus is the One whom they had been waiting for. Jesus replies by pointing out that the Prophet’s words are being fulfilled: Jesus’ ministry has literally seen the blind being given sight again, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised to life, and the Good News being proclaimed to the poor.
We rejoice because this same salvation has come to us. We have received it in holy Baptism. But what does it mean to have received salvation? How are we saved?
In the first place, salvation is being healed from our sins. Jesus “frees us from our guilt and makes it possible for us no longer to be dominated by our faults and failings, [no longer to be dominated by] the distorted drives and flawed bits of ourselves that trip us up and make life awful for us and for others” (1) In Jesus we meet the “tender-kindness of the Lord;” a Lord who is always willing and ready to forgive us and heal us – to give us a new start; a Lord whose love is much greater than our faults and failings. The Lord’s mercy is new each day: the rising of the sun each new day can be a reminder to us of the Lord’s mercy, ever new. We remember too that the effects of personal sin accumulate “in the shape of social forces that confirm the tendency to evil” that human nature experiences after the Fall (1) This too is a proper object of God’s healing and transforming love: that is, the transformation of social structures that do not align with God’s law.
Not only are we freed from sin – both personally and communally – but God in Jesus also saves us from the fear of mortal death. Eternal life is “stronger than biological death” and it is “a life [that] we can, through faith, begin to experience here and now. In Christ, biological death is not a dying out of life but a dying into a more intense life” (1).
But salvation is not only about “being delivered from sin and mortality” (1). Salvation also means being freed from being alone. The rise of social media in our times is just one expression of our real fear of being unrelated to others, isolated, faceless and anonymous (1). It’s suggested that we probably fear loneliness more than we fear sin and death (1). Here, again, Jesus offers us salvation. In him we see the face of God: a God who knows us by name and who calls us by name; a God who loves us intimately. In Jesus we see God’s “indescribable goodness, mercy and love.” Jesus calls us to be part of his body, the Church … and in the Church we are reminded constantly that we are never alone. In the give and take of community life we realize our need for others, and our need to be there for others. Not just as individuals are we saved, but we are saved together.
With the Psalmist today we cry out: Lord, come and save us! We realize that we are sinners, and that we still need the Lord to free us from sin; we need him to pick us up after we have fallen; to lead us out of the misery of shame and guilt. We realize that we do need the Lord to free us from the fear of earthly death. And we certainly need him to free us from the fear of loneliness.
As we call out for God’s salvation to be known and felt in our lives, we rejoice that salvation has come in Jesus Christ. This is why his coming down from heaven to earth, and the beginnings of his earthly life as he is born in Bethlehem, [this is why it] fills us with so much joy. Here is the coming of the One who saves us from sin, who saves us from mortality and death, and who saves us from loneliness and isolation.
Indeed the Lord is near. We have every reason to rejoice always in the Lord!
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(1) Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.