Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, B Cycle
I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
— Isaiah 61:10-11
Here are some wonderful and clear words that St. Thomas Aquinas uses when commenting about this passage from today’s Old Testament lesson from the prophet Isaiah:
It is natural for every person that he loves the sight of the thing he loves, and the divine essence can only be seen by one who loves it. As it says in the book of Job: God shows his friends the light, that it is his possession (cf. Job 36:33, Vulgate version).
Great saints and the most abject of sinners all know what it is to have joy at the sight of the things they love. When you see an object or a person or an activity that you love, you immediately rejoice in it. This Sunday, the Church invites us to rejoice in the expectation of the coming of the Savior, whom we can see from afar. We already can feel the joy of the Christmas feast that is upon us, since we love the Savior who is about to be reborn in us in the joyful liturgical mysteries of his nativity.
Now, if we do not have this joy, then something must be standing in the way. In the first place, there may be some trial or sorrow we are undergoing that keeps us from seeing the Lord coming. We are in some darkness and earnestly need the light that God “shows his friends.” Yes, we love him, but we do not see or feel his coming enough to have joy at the sight of it.
If we find ourselves in this weary or sad state of soul, we need to reach out to the Lord in prayer and to our neighbor in loving service and kindness. In this way we will be ready doing the Master’s work when he finally does come and knock, or arrives like a thief in the night by surprise, or comes in like the Bridegroom at his wedding feast.
All of these are descriptions of the Lord’s coming that have become familiar to us in the readings of Advent. Let’s take up our rosary or liturgy of the hours and go before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to get ready. Let’s determine for ourselves those works of mercy and forgiveness that we can accomplish in his service, ready with our lamps alight for his coming. Then we will truly see him and rejoice.
Yet there is another terrible possibility that may explain why we do not have joy at the sight of the Lord as he comes to save us. As St. Thomas says, God can be seen only by those who love him. This is ultimately true of heaven and the vision of God face to face, but it is also true of the other ways in which he shows himself to us.
Is it possible that right now I do not love the Lord and so do not rejoice even when I do see him coming? God forbid, we would say. Indeed, few of us—if any—would say, “I do not love God.” Yet the reality of sin tells us that we are able to love created things, the gifts God has made, more than we love him or his will.
The drunk rejoices at the sight of a drink, the unchaste at the sight of impure actions, the envious at the misfortune of the one he envies, and so on. When we love created goods, but not in the way that God wants us to love them, then we may rejoice on seeing them, but we do not rejoice in seeing him, who gave them to us to use rightly and gratefully. This is true of all sin, whether grave or lesser, but it is especially true of grave sin, which truly deprives us of our love of God.
That’s a pretty grim picture to be sure, but wait and see: there is a lot of hope in it. Why is the Lord coming at all? We hear from the beloved apostle, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and “If anyone sin he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world.” We hear from St. Paul, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
If I am a such as sinner as to be missing out on the joy of seeing the Lord in his coming, it is just for me that he is coming. I am just the one he is coming to save, and because he loves me, he rejoices at the sight of me, as any man does at the sight of the one he loves. What sinner then can be sad, if he consider the Lord’s great love for him? All we have to do is repent today, and day after day as we rise and fall, looking to the love of Lord, the “friend of sinners.”
Thus, in addition to prayer and works of mercy, we can guarantee our joy now and at Christmas by making an act of sorrow for our sins, telling God that we are sorry because he is so good and worthy of all our love, and then getting to confession to receive the security of God’s pardon in the wonderful sacrament of repentance and reconciliation. Don’t let the devil rob you of your Christmas joy. As long as you continually look to the Lord in repentance, you will be loving the sight of the one you love, and he will show you his light, his very self, as his friend.