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Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Homily. Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.

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Purple Stole and Gospel
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28


THEME OF THE READINGS

Rejoice because the Lord is near
: the theme permeates the entire liturgy of this Sunday. It is not a question of a superficial happiness or a passing excitement “because Christmas is coming”, but of the joy of salvation (Opening Prayer). Salvation that is glad tidings for “all the people” (Luke 2:16) but especially for the poor and lowly (First Reading and Psalm). The mission of the servants of the Savior is to prepare the way (Second Reading and Gospel).

DOCTRINAL MESSAGE
Christian joy. A part of our tired post-Christian society (which includes, or at least deeply affects, many of us who still think of ourselves as Christians) desperately looks for happiness in all the wrong places. It tends to confuse happiness with fame, fun and pleasure; but these do not generate joy, which is a signpost of true happiness. Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual.” (Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino). Others seem to believe that if only we could get the right kind of political system, or the right people implementing the proper policies, or more advances of medical science, then all would be well. This is salvation, according to the world.

Christian identity. The poor or lowly to whom the good news is announced have a particular readiness for salvation, not because they have nothing in the bank or have no vote, but because they trust in no human power for salvation –as those who have money or power are more readily tempted to do, (Mark 10:25) – but only in God. Their lack of human means opens them to a true appreciation of their essential powerlessness in the eyes of God. That is why they are prime candidates for the glad tidings of the gospel. Mary of Nazareth “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord” (CCC 489). She thinks of herself as simply his maidservant, while simultaneously recognizing the wonderful things he has worked in her. This God-given self-awareness fills her with joy (Luke 1:38.47-49). John the Baptist too has a clear idea of his identity, rooted in the word of God. He is not any of the things the world thinks of him, however flattering. He knows who he is (a voice in the desert) and what God has sent him to do (prepare the way). He knows he does not exist for himself, but for another, whom he is happy to acknowledge as infinitely superior.

Christian salvation. As noted above, in our society people seek happiness rather than salvation. It is true, according to today’s liturgy, that joy, salvation and a more just and human world are somehow interconnected. We learned in math class that the order of the factors does not alter the product. But the Christian mystery does not obey the laws of mathematics: it is essential to get the order of the factors right. It is not the pursuit of human happiness and fulfillment, or of social justice, that brings salvation; rather, the salvation that comes from on high, “wrapping us in a mantle of justice”, enables us to be instrumental in bringing about a more just world and to find the joy that no one can take away (John 16:22).

Catechesis. Our new life in Christ (CCC 1691-96), and our creation in the image and likeness of God (CCC 1701-09) are key ingredients of our true identity. The surpassing joy called beatitude is our vocation (CCC 1716-24).

PASTORAL APPLICATIONS
Christian mission.
We know the formula that the world ignores. Salvation is Jesus Christ. People have given up on Christianity, because they do not know Christ. He is “the One among us whom we do not recognize” (Gospel) and who holds the secret of true joy. The task of the apostle of the new evangelization – and every Christian is an apostle by baptism – is to smooth the way for a rediscovery of Christ. First of all, by making this discovery himself, every day, for only then can he or she share it with others with the conviction of personal experience.

Among the privileged places where he is waiting to meet us, we should think especially of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is precisely a celebration, a time of joy. His face also looks out at us in the person of the poor, and of those long suffering physical or moral imprisonment – even prisons of their own making. If we bring them joy this Christmas, we ourselves will find it.

Who am I? To discover Christ it will also help to discover oneself. Only when we situate ourselves in the truth can we really see and appreciate in the right perspective who Jesus is. The gospel is a marvelous instrument for this, because it is a living book, constantly actualized. When it is read in the Church, it is Christ himself who is speaking (cf. Vat.II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). Of course, he no longer directs his words, or the words of the other actors in the gospels, to Peter, or John, or Martha, but to those who listen to those words now. Thus the question, “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” (Gospel) is posed to me today. Am I able to answer it? Have I a clear sense of my identity, deeply rooted in the gospel? For example: that I am a creature, patently insufficient; but that I am also loved by my Creator, with a Father’s love that surpasses my wildest dreams; that I am a sinner, but a saved sinner; that I have been sent: I have a mission in life; that I exist, in his plan, for others, and most of all, for the Other, my brother, who is Christ. Such awareness is the foundation of the lasting joy of salvation.

 

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