The following homily was given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Dec. 17, 2006, the Third Sunday of Advent, at St. Anthony Church in Falls Church.
On this third Sunday of Advent, one word says it all: "Rejoice!" Yes, the word of God in today's scripture readings emphasizes over and over again one dominant point: "Rejoice, be joyful, be glad." We heard moments ago in the first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah, "Shout for joy, sing joyfully, be glad and exult." The Psalm refrain repeated, "Cry out with joy and gladness!" In the second reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, we were reminded, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" And St. John the Baptist, in today's Gospel reading from Saint Luke's account, is pictured as preaching "good news to the people." Over a dozen references or allusions to the theme of joy are found in today's scripture readings. In fact, this Sunday is called "Gaudete Sunday," the Latin word "gaudete" meaning "rejoice!"
Yet, what is our reaction to hearing this dominant theme of joy? What is our response to the insistent urgings of God's word "to rejoice"? Most likely, many of us would wonder if "being joyful" is how we would describe ourselves. No doubt, we could point to some concrete issues or circumstances that seem to keep us from experiencing joy. Or perhaps, we are rushing around so much in these days before Christmas that we simply feel too tired to experience joy. In any case, we could be asking if God's message to us "to rejoice" is realistic for us.
Nonetheless, God's word today is very insistent about rejoicing. Because this is so, you and I need to step back and reflect prayerfully on the meaning of joy — Christian joy! After all, Christian joy is part and parcel of our living the faith fully and integrally.
So, then, what is Christian joy? Surely, it is not easy contentment, nor naïve satisfaction, nor superficial pleasure, nor a party spirit. Christian joy is not an attempt to deny the reality which we experience. I still recall a description which I read years ago, but it continues to make sense: Christian joy is sadness overcome. Christian joy is the result, not of not seeing things as they are, but of seeing things as they are differently, through the eyes of Christ, and with His mind and heart.
What then is the source of Christian joy? The source is not things, and surely not ourselves. The source of Christian joy is a Person, Jesus Christ. Notice how St. Paul puts this: "Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again: rejoice!" Yes, rejoice, be joyful, be glad in the Lord! Yet how often in the past we have thought that things were the source of our joy. So we worked for more money to buy more things, but in the end, things did not bring us real joy. Can we begin to learn in a new way that the Lord Jesus is truly the source of our joy?
Why and how is the Lord the source of our joy? Because He is present among us. God's word to us today reminds us that this is so. In the first reading, we are told: "…the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst … The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savior!" In the Psalm refrain, we sang, "For among you is the great and Holy One of Israel." St. Paul told us: "The Lord is near." And St. John the Baptist reminded us: "…but one mightier than I is coming." God's word does not lie: the Lord is among us!
Is this not the dream of all peoples, both ancient and contemporary: that God would live and be among them? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became one like us in all things but sin, and remains among us, thereby fulfilling that age-old dream. He is truly what the name given to Him means: "Emmanuel — God is with us." He has made His dwelling among us.
Yes, Jesus the Lord is the source of Christian joy, and His presence among us makes that joy full and complete. But, we need to remain attentive to His presence among us. I offer two concrete ways in which the Lord does remain among us, and our being attentive to them will enable us to experience Christian joy — sadness overcome.
The first of these ways is the presence of the Lord within each person through that sharing in God's life which we call divine grace. As long as we remain in the state of grace, living with God's own life, Jesus lives within us. When I was in high school, the LaSalle Christian Brothers taught us students how to recall the presence of the Lord within us. Every class began with, "Let us remember that we are in the presence of God." And every class ended with, "Live, Jesus, in our hearts forever!" What a difference in our daily lives if often during the day — for example, before beginning some new task or work, or before meeting other people — we could inwardly recall, "Let us remember that we are in the presence of God." Would we not experience new hope and strength, and more respect for ourselves and others? Pausing to recall God's presence and asking His help, "Live, Jesus, in our hearts forever": would not this be the spiritual pause that refreshes?
The second way in which Christ's presence remains among us is in His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Yes, in every celebration of the Mass, the presence of the Lord is made real in our midst: in His word in the scriptures — do we listen? — and, uniquely, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, wherein He comes to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the signs of bread and wine — do we receive Him worthily and with joy? The presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice remains in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in each tabernacle. There the Lord is also truly present, waiting for us to visit Him — do we come?
Here, then, is the real reason to rejoice, to be joyful, to be glad: the Lord is present within each of us by His grace and among us all through the Eucharist, celebrated at the altar and reserved in the tabernacle. Because He is present, we can "wait in joyful hope;" we can experience Christian joy — sadness overcome.
We need to develop an attitude of true Christian joy, for such joy will lead to deeper hope and a fuller life. What better time for us to increase our efforts than now, early in this new church year and so close to Christmas? Yes, the real reason — the only reason — for Christian joy is the Lord's presence within us and among us. This is the good news of Christianity, the good news that we must proclaim and live, whether we be children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged or senior citizens. The Lord is near, indeed He is present! So, rejoice in Him and therefore "have no anxiety at all!" I say it again: "The Lord is among us — rejoice!"