Sunday Sermon for December 11, 2011, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

Today the Church gives to us a joyful theme for this Laetare Sunday. The average American might wonder what cause we have for joy as we experience the general decline of what made our society great. Most people do not feel like they have any input into the decisions that affect their lives and they are dealing with so much rejection and depression that it is hard for them to see any reason for joy.

However, when we look at the above list of what we are experiencing in our day, we recognize that they are the same things mentioned in the first reading. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that the Messiah would be anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. He came to announce a year of favor from the Lord.

Most of us do not like to see ourselves as being numbered among those mentioned by Isaiah, but we have to recognize these more in a spiritual sense, even though it applies to many, at least in an extended way, on the natural level. Blessed Mother Teresa said that America does not suffer so much from a material poverty, but from extreme spiritual poverty. Many are held in bondage by materialism, fear, pride, attachments, anger, self hatred and hatred of others, etc.

If we look at these kinds of problems, we have to admit that many of them have been present in us for years. We would like to think that we could overcome them easily, but the truth is that we cannot handle these kinds of problems on our own. We have been enveloped in a spiritual darkness from which it is very difficult to emerge. However, in the Gospel we are told that St. John the Baptist came to give testimony to the light, even though he was not the light himself. He gave testimony to the One “among you whom you do not recognize” and Whose sandal strap John was unworthy to untie.

Jesus is in our midst, the light that shines in the darkness in general as well as in own personal darkness as well. The real question is “Do we want the light?” For too many people, darkness is all they know and so it is where they want to remain. Admittedly it is easier to be “like everyone else” and remain negative, angry, uncharitable and cold. In other words, it is easier to be sullen that it is to be joyful.

St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us that we should rejoice always and pray without ceasing. In case we thought he was going overboard with his extreme statements, he says we are to give thanks in all circumstances. This seems not only difficult, but impossible for most of us. The reason is that we do not see why we should be thankful and rejoicing. The real reason is because we have Jesus Who is the light shining in our darkness, Who is hope in the midst of our despair, and Who is love in the midst of all the rejection. If we have light and love in our souls, we can see the good in everything, we can rejoice in everything and we can be thankful in everything.

This may not sound possible to us because there are so many bad things that happen. However, if we can keep our focus on Jesus, we begin to see that God really does bring good out of evil. We need only to look upon the Cross to see this principle at work in the life of Jesus. The same holds true in our lives as well. God allows the bad things in order to make us perfectly holy and blameless in spirit, soul and body, as St. Paul prays in the second reading.

God is working to make us holy which means that we have to cooperate, first, by praying always because we know we cannot do anything that needs to be done by our own self. Secondly, through prayer we will be able to discern what God is trying to accomplish in us by allowing these things that are so difficult for us. Once realized, we can rejoice and be grateful. It hurts, at first, but then we begin to adjust and eventually see how much better off we are after God’s intervention that we were before.

It is by the favor of the Lord that grace is given to discern what He is doing in our lives and to cooperate with Him. This is the favor our Lord came to announce and it is the reason we can be joyful: because Jesus has given us light to see our problems and the grace to set us free.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit