THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
Jesus Saves Us from Sin
Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as:
“Jesus – God Saves” — who frees us from darkness and diminishment
What gives me more joy than anything else on earth? What do I think about with joy (rejoice in) most often? To what do my thoughts keep turning?
A person I love? A child, perhaps? Life? Beauty? A work I am involved in?
The Entrance Antiphon suggests we go deeper. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Why? Because “the Lord is near.” This is what makes us able to rejoice in everything else.
The joy we find in those we love, in life, beauty and the contribution we are making to life on this planet would be bitter-sweet if we were going to lose it all through death. But we aren’t. All true joy will last forever. Because of Jesus, our joy on earth will be our joy in heaven — only more so.
The Opening Prayer asks that we who “look forward to the birthday of Christ may experience the joy of salvation.” How do we make this joy an experience?
The answer is: by reflection and celebration. To “celebrate” is to “single out for grateful remembrance.” To do this we have to think about what we remember enough to understand and appreciate it. But unless we also celebrate it, expressing our joy with conscious enthusiasm, our appreciation will be like a stifled fire. Joy needs air to breathe. We have to open the windows for it to explode.
Advent is dedicated to this. And this third Sunday of Advent is named “Rejoice Sunday” (Gaudete in Latin) to remind us that “the Lord is near.”
He comes to save us:
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 146: 6-10) gives the root of all rejoicing: “O Lord, come and save us!” To say this with meaning, we have to be aware of three things: that we need to be rescued; that Jesus can make things better for us; and that he really will.
Isaiah 35: 1-10 promises that “the desert and the parched land will exult.” To appreciate this we have to see we are in a desert, a wasteland.
How can we see this? We are well-fed and clothed, life is fairly pleasant. We have friends and work, TV and sports and lots of ways to enjoy ourselves. What else do we need?
Isaiah speaks to “hands that are feeble… knees that are weak… those whose hearts are frightened.” Is he speaking to us? He promises that when the Lord comes to save us “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, the lame will leap and the mute sing.” Does that describe us? Does it describe me?
Is everything in my life what I want it to be? My home life? Social life? My school or professional life? My personal life? Do I need a savior only to make what I have now last forever, or do I want something more? Does it give me hope to say, “O Lord, come and save us!”
What do we wait for?
Matthew 11: 2-11 tells us what to expect from Jesus. John the Baptizer had it wrong: he expected Jesus to get him out of prison. But Jesus is not that kind of savior. He sent word to John: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Jesus frees from interior slavery, not external oppression.
The truth is, we are all blinded to some extent by our culture. We have been programmed to false attitudes and values, wrong priorities. This is why we can’t walk as we should in the footsteps of Christ. It is why we are deaf to so much in his word. This is why we are not cleansed of so many things that incline us to selfishness, incite us to evil and inhibit us from doing good.
Do we need the light of Christ to guide us in making our home life what we want it to be? (Do we need his light just to dream of what it could be?) Do we need his help to walk straight on the crooked paths of our culture (and of every human society and culture infected by sin)? Do we think that without his light and strength to support us we can consistently be part of the solution instead of adding to the problems we run into at school and at work, in our social lives and civic involvement? Do we really think we are so immune to the infection in our culture that we can remain pure of selfishness and self-indulgence? Be free from prejudices and compulsions, and stay faithful to the ideals and principles we believe in?
It doesn’t take too many years of adult experience to convince us that, left to ourselves, we are gradually, even unconsciously, going to veer off toward destructiveness and distortion, toward mediocrity and meaninglessness in all we do. It is hard to row against the tide of culture.
When we realize this — when we come to this act of “life-giving despair” — that is when we are able to cry out with passionate desire, “O Lord, come and save us!”
And he will. He is already doing it. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Rejoice: “the Lord is near.”
Advent invites us to recognize his presence, to seek his face in prayer, to listen to his words, to reflect on them in our hearts, and — by interacting with him at home and at school, at work and at play — to live them out in action.
This is to accept Jesus for what his name really means: “God saves.” This is what the angel told Joseph: “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). That is what encourages us to keep crying out, “O Lord, come and save us!”
The test of truth:
James 5:7-10 speaks to the Christians of his time, who were people just like us. Is it not true that, like them, we are people who “endure temptation” (1:12); who are sometimes hearers of the word and not doers (1:23); who make distinctions between the rich and the poor, and show partiality (2:4-9); who have faith but do not always live it out in works (2:14); who sometimes say to a brother or sister who is naked and lacks daily food, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet do not supply their bodily needs (2:15); who make many mistakes (3:2); who are not able to tame our tongues (3:8); who from the same mouth speak at times both blessing and cursing (3:10); who sometimes have bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts (3:14); who are not always pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy (3:17); who still experience conflicts and disputes among ourselves which come from cravings that are at war within our own hearts (4:1); who speak evil against one another (4:11); and judge our neighbors (4:12); who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town doing business and making money” instead of saying "If the Lord wishes, we will still be alive and do this or that” (4:13-15); who by fraud or injustice in manipulating world market prices have depressed the wages of laborers (5:4); who, compared to other nations have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure (5:5); who have fattened our hearts in a day of slaughter (5:5) by making wars for profit and profit from wars?
And yet James began this list of failings by saying, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (1:12). And he ends it with today’s reading: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord…. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:7-8). There is hope for those who have a sense of sin. It is they who can pray from their hearts, “O Lord, come and save us!”
What is there in my life that, more than anything else, I would like Jesus to make better? Have I been crying out to him, “O Lord, come and save us!”? Have I also been interacting with him in this area of my life, applying his words to what I do there, consulting him “on the spot” all day long? How could I do this?
Put in a place or places where you will see it all day long some image or symbol that says to you Jesus can make things better. Water? A candle? A star? A manger? A picture? A small Advent wreath (or sprig of greenery)? What will work for you?