Summary: St. Paul gives the key to joy, but first we must understand God’s mercy and His wrath.
Third Sunday of Advent 2008
14 December 2008
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me. The Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. . . and like a garden the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” These words of Isaiah are so familiar that we might not listen to them. Most importantly, if we let them roll off our minds like water off Teflon, we will miss the sheer strangeness of them, and then we just might walk out of here exactly as we walked in. What a tragedy that would be–to miss the opportunity to hear the word of God, to apply it to our lives, and to let the grace of this sacrament transform us into better images of Jesus and Mary.
So let’s go back to the first words of the Mass–the ones we always skip–the Introit antiphon. In Latin, the antiphon gives us the name of this Sunday: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” Rejoice ye in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice! St. Paul goes on: let your godly modesty be known unto all men: the Lord is very near. Let nothing worry you, but in all things as you pray, raising your petitions, making known your needs unto God. If we rejoice, it is because we know the Lord is near, and we respond to His presence with godly modesty. Jesus was not ostentatious; he was kind to anyone who was open to His ministry. The blind, the leper, the prostitute, the shake-down artists that called themselves tax collectors. Anyone who would turn to God in repentance and prayer got His attention. That same Lord is nearer to you right now than you are to yourself. Take a moment of silence to become aware of His presence. . .
Our rejoicing has a second element: Let nothing worry you. Isaiah says it a little differently: God comforts all who mourn. The mourning and worrying are the same thing, actually. When Jesus tells us “blest are they who mourn, for they will be comforted,” He is giving us an idea of how to respond to the rotten, materialistic culture that surrounds us. We mourn, perhaps, over a nation that has allowed abortionists to murder 50 million children since 1973. We mourn over an economy that spends more on pet food than on helping Africans combat malaria. We may worry that the future holds uncertainty about our employment, our health insurance, even our freedom to preach the Gospel. Let nothing worry you. He who calls you is faithful to His word. He will do it. The Lord is near. So rejoice.
The culmination of our rejoicing is prayer. Our prayer is of praise and of petition. If we live righteous lives, doing what is just at all times, then our prayer will be heard. Moreover, if we live righteous lives, doing what is just, our prayer will truly be that of the Holy Spirit. We will ask God for what is good for everyone, not just ourselves. We will pray for all those in trouble. We will pray for our bishops, who are responding to the attacks of the godless culture and hypocritical politicians with a stiffening resolve. We will pray for our newly elected political leaders to listen to the voice of God that many of them have silenced in their hearts. We will especially pray for Barack Obama, that he will not follow through on his promise to remove all restrictions on abortion, but rather embrace the gift of life. We will even pray for our enemies, for terrorists and those whose greed has brought our nation to its economic knees–that they be converted and live.
Why do we pray? Why do we tell God what we need? It’s obvious that God is not ignorant of our needs. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind. In fact, God is always showering His good gifts on us. Prayer opens up a window in our hardened hearts so that God’s grace can pour into them. Prayer changes our minds, our hearts, our wills–even our bodies. Prayer–especially meditative prayer–actually lowers your blood pressure, makes you less anxious.
And the prayer of praise is especially effective in changing us. Praise is what we are made for–the praise of God’s glory. We are meant to be a people of praise. That’s why we sing “Alleluia”–praise the Lord–even in Advent. The presence of our Lord is the reason to praise Him.
There is another side to rejoicing, praising, opening ourselves to God’s will and grace. Isaiah says that the year of the Lord’s favor is also a day of God’s vengeance. What? Isn’t that a contradiction?