• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

3rd Sunday of Advent (B)

“There is one among you whom you do not recognize.”

Entrance Antiphon: Phil 4:4-5—"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near."

First Reading: Is 61:1-2a, 10-11 — “I rejoice heartily in the Lord."

Responsorial Psalm: Lk 1:46-48, 49-50- 53-43 — “My soul rejoices in my God.”

Second Reading: 1 Thes 5:16-24 — “May you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Alleluia: Is 61:1 — Alleluia, alleluia. ”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28 — “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.”

Communion Antiphon: Is 35:4 — "Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear. Behold our God will come, and He will save us."

Ever since the seminary, this Sunday always makes me smile. The reason is mainly due to one of the priest-professors at the seminary who always ended up being assigned to celebrate Mass for the students this particular weekend. He usually processed down the center aisle of St. Martin’s Chapel with a sour look on his face and after the Gospel was proclaimed we got to hear him talk about the things he dislikes about the day and about upcoming season. What is it that he dislikes so much about this day? Well, first … it was the Rose Vestments. You see, the other priests at the seminary knew that and one way or another they found a way to make sure he was the one assigned to celebrate Mass for the seminarians. It’s actually pretty funny. Second, he usually brought up a beloved Christmas movie that he claims he really disliked … saying that this Sunday always reminded him of it. He goes on and on about when he was younger and how his Mom and Dad forced the family to sit down and watch it. Personally, I still believe he actually loved it and didn’t want to admit it. The movie in case you were wondering is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” How can anyone not like that movie?

I relate that story because as I read some different commentaries for today’s readings and the day itself, I realized that the movie offers a piece of sound advice. Always hope … Never despair … He who has friends is never a failure. Actually, I was also reminded of a song from another holiday classic … “White Christmas.” The song goes something like this … “When you’re worried and you can’t sleep … just count your blessings instead of sheep … and you’ll go to sleep counting your blessings.” Now, I know I don’t sing nearly as well as Bing Crosby when he sang that to Rosemary Clooney in “White Christmas,” but I still love it as well as “It’s a Wonderful Life” all the same. It’s the movie I usually watch as I decorate my Christmas trees ... if I’m not near the TV ... I watch them on my laptop. The verses of the song remind us not to stress out about those material things that don’t really matter, but to focus on the blessings of your life. Two campy movies that offer some very sound advice.

So as I was writing this homily, I began wondering why I like both of those movies so much ... a close second is any of the incarnations of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens ... Well, first they remind me of good times … family times … decorating the Christmas tree at my parent’s home and now in the Rectory … listening to the old Christmas albums or watching one of the TV Christmas Specials or movies … baking cookies … sitting down to a meal as a family … reasons why we should feel good for what we have. As the Second Reading reminds us, reasons to “rejoice always … never cease praying … render constant thanks” … whether it’s because we have wonderful lives or because we should always be counting our blessings. They are feel good movies that should give all of us the chance to smile and to be joyful.

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent and the readings focus on the joy of the season. It has traditionally been called Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. With the birth of Christ, God makes “justice and praise spring up before all of the nations.” It is a time for rejoicing! Christmas is right around the corner. Rejoice! It’s not that we and our world are problem-free ... the COVID pandemic is spiking again ... there’s still a lot of upset in our country over the election ... I could go on and on. But guess what? The Prince of Peace is greater than all of our fears and misdirected desires. He is about to be born to us anew. We have just two weeks of Advent left in which to prepare His way as best as we can. The readings we just heard … like the movies I mentioned … offer sound advice on how to achieve that goal.

If Isaiah were writing today, he might call his message “Four guidelines for Preparing the Way of the Lord.” His first two guidelines call us to be bearers of glad tidings to the poor, to the outcasts, to the forgotten elderly, and to neglected children. We do so by sharing our resources, our companionship, and our precious time with them. We heal the brokenhearted by listening with patience, acting with compassion, and praying for them with perseverance. Isaiah’s final two guidelines remind us to be advocates for whoever is imprisoned unjustly, whoever is shackled by abuse or addiction, and whoever is denied their basic human rights. If we live by these guidelines, we give others cause for rejoicing in the Lord. We participate in God’s power to restore all that is broken in our families and in our nation. We make room for God to be born anew in all hearts.

If Saint Paul were writing today, he might call today’s message “A Seven-Step Plan for preparing the Way of the Lord.” His first three steps advise us to do three things always – or at least as often as we reasonably can. Rejoice always – whatever our circumstances. Pray always – in whatever ways best suit us. Be grateful always – even if our blessings seem outnumbered by the anxieties that rob us of a good night’s sleep. Steps four and five warn us to avoid doing two things. Do not quench or put out the fire of the Spirit in us by being lazy, distracted, or self-concerned and don’t despise the messages of the prophets. They are those who speak to us of God’s justice and mercy in our broken world. Steps six and seven challenge us to use our powers of discernment in a society whose values often contradict the teachings of Christ. We are to test everything that is presented to us in the media, the workplace, and in our social spheres. Then we choose what is good and get rid of the rest. Just say no to whatever is evil – to whatever keeps Christ from being born anew in us.

If John the Baptist made a personal appearance here today, he would boldly tell us to listen up to his “Three Advent Actions for Preparing the Way of the Lord.” First, testify to the Light of Christ by living according to the example of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and passed on by the Church. Be the candle, not the darkness. Second, be the voice of a disciple inspiring hope in those who wander in the desert … those thirsting for faith, truth, and a meaningful life. Third, recognize that we are unworthy servants who are privileged to be in the service of the Prince of Peace.

If we remember and act on even a fraction of the advice freely given by Isaiah, Saint Paul, and John the Baptist, we will have every reason to smile with contentment. We will realize that we really do have Wonderful Lives. We will fall asleep long before we’ve counted all of our blessings. “All will be well,” as the mystic Julian of Norwich said because “the greatest honor you can give Almighty God is to live joyfully because of the love God gives you."

The color today is not dark blue or purple … the color today is rose. The theme today is not sorrow or shame … the theme today is joy. Can we take some of that calming rose color to not only lighten up the corners of this dark purple Advent, but to also soften and dim the noise of red and green that has been swirling in confusion everywhere else since the Fourth of July? Can we bring the theme of true Christian joy, which allows us to be thankful in all circumstances, to bear on our less than joyful secular world? Money and resources are scarce, yet the pressure to spend is crushing. By this day each December, most of us are overwhelmed by time we don’t have, energy we can’t muster, and the cynicism that has chilled our hearts. And add to that the stress of COVID-19. For me, the decorations have been gradually going up since Thanksgiving and I’m almost done ... hopefully tonight after Mass. Actually, too much too fast and we lose sight of what we’re really preparing for. Here is a quiet rose garment in which to clothe ourselves for the day. Here are words of calm and truth. We really can rejoice. We are about to be fed by Jesus who will grow in us, be formed in us, and become to us a great smile or an exultation. It is a perfect joy that no one can take from any of us. Rejoice!

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