Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflect and Rejoice: 3rd Sunday of Advent

(Listen to this homily here).

            A blessed Gaudete Sunday to you.
            As we are halfway through Advent, I have a two-question pop-quiz for you.  Don’t answer out loud!  In considering how Advent is going for you, have you given something up?  How has that been?  Have you been spending ten minutes a day in quiet prayer?  Have you found a time to commit to this?  What is working for you?
            Like a sports team at halftime, this is the time to consider the first half of this season.  Think about what has gone well.  Where could you improve?  Make adjustments for the second half!
            Earlier this week I listened to a homily by Fr. Robert Barron.  If you’re into podcasts, I highly recommend following his at The Word on Fire.  He spoke about how Advent is not a quaint, cute or comfortable season.  Rather, it is revolutionary.
            Following this line of thought, I would like to leave you with two words this morning: reflect and rejoice.
            First, consider the following thought experiment.  It’s a bit dismal, but bear with me.  Imagine that something like 911 happens in International Falls.  Our city has been destroyed.  Our church, schools, medical facilities have been burned to the ground.  Many of us have been killed and the rest have been separated and exiled into a foreign land.  There we are forced to learn a new language, follow a different religion and are forced to submit to different cultural practices.  How would you survive?  What would you experience?
            Now imagine that after a long period of time, we are told we could return home.  What would this be like?
            This is precisely the situation the Israelites faced when Isaiah preached the Word of God to them.  John the Baptist quoted from Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,‘make straight the way of the Lord…’  Raise the valleys, level the mountains…you are going home!  Sprint home!
            I suspect this reality left the Israelites with both reflection and rejoicing.  I suspect they reflected the many tragedies they had experienced.  They would do so with sadness at what was lost but hope for a new future back in their own country.  This hope would cause them to rejoice.
            Brothers and sisters, our human family has experienced a greater tragedy than any attack, war or devastation we have faced.  God brought us into being in paradise—in a garden.  Yet our first parents turned away from God and sinned.  We cannot underestimate the devastation this caused.  Before the fall, death did not exist.  Before the fall, our minds and bodies were in perfect harmony.  Our personal experience knows this is no longer the case.  Prior to sin we lived righteously with God, each other and even with nature.  Sin has left us with darkened intellects, weakened wills and disordered passions.
We have been in exile for thousands and thousands of years.  On the threshold of Christmas, John the Baptist echoes the words of Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  The Lord is coming and he shows us the way home to paradise!
We pause midway through Advent to think about on our journey of faith.  How have we experienced the devastation of sin, weakness or tragedy?  In what ways do we hope for Jesus?  What do we want to surrender to him?
Today we reflect.  Today we rejoice.  Jesus is coming.

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