Homily – 3rd Sunday of Advent

This homily is from Pastor Dick Dahl:

Today’s liturgy sings, “Cry out with joy and gladness!”

Think of times when you felt joy and gladness. When you graduated from high school or college? The day of your marriage? When your first child was born?

Joy can’t be faked. It’s either real or it’s not.

The first reading erupts: “Shout for joy…be glad and exalt with all your heart…Our God has removed the judgment against you and has turned away your enemies….Your God is in your midst, a mighty Savior. Our God will rejoice over you…renew you in love…Our God will sing joyfully because of you….”

The reading is from a brief book attributed to the prophet Zephaniah in the Old Testament. When Zephaniah wrote 600 years BC, the increasing weakness of Assyria in the north raised hopes that the territory which the Assyrians had robbed from Judah and subjected to foreign rule would be returned. This recovery, accompanied by religious reform was the salvation Zephaniah prophesied.

However he first spoke of the wrath and judgment of Yahweh – against the pagans but also against Jerusalem. Only then did he give Yahweh’s promises of forgiveness. For example, he said, “When that day comes you need feel no shame for all the misdeeds you have committed against me. I will leave a humble and lowly people. They will do no wrong, tell no lies, and the perjured tongue will no longer be found in their mouths.”

Six hundred years later when Paul wrote in 56 AD to the Christian community at Philippi which he had founded only six years previously, he was imprisoned. Despite his immediate circumstances, he called on them, “Rejoice in the Savior always. I say it again, Rejoice! Our Savior is near. Dismiss anxiety from your minds, present your needs in prayer, give thanks in all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

So, in each of the first two readings the call to joy rings out in harsh situations—foreign domination in the first and imprisonment in the second.We are exhorted to put our trust in things that will not disappoint and change. God is here present in our lives now. Although we are still on our way, our journey through life, our saving God is in our midst.

I just finished reading the book “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots.” When he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he washed and kissed the feet of drug addicts and patients with AIDS. Before getting down on both knees at their feet, he said to them, “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us.” After the ceremony and as he left, Francis told the young people, “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.”

Just before he left for Rome for the conclave that ended up electing him as Pope, he penned what turned out to be his last Lenten message to the people of Buenos Aires. Morality, he said, is not “a never falling down” but an “always getting up again.” And that is a response to God’s mercy.

In his homily on the first Sunday after his election as Pope, he said, “ Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message. It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God because [God’s mercy] is an unfathomable abyss – but we must do it. From Jesus we do not hear words of contempt, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

When Pope Francis launched the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy this past Tuesday by pushing open the great bronze doors of St. Peters Basilica, he said, “How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy.

Therefore in today’s opening prayer we ask our loving God, “Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope that Jesus’ presence does and will bestow.” We can hear the echo of Zephaniah’s words mingle with those of Pope Francis: “Be glad and let your heart exult, for God, the ever merciful, has turned away the judgment against us, is in our midst right now as we listen, and renews us in love.”