Sunday Sermon for December 13, 2015, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C
Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:1-18
At the end of the Gospel reading today St. Luke provides a bit of commentary on the preaching of St. John the Baptist. After the Baptist states, regarding our Lord, that he will “gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” St. Luke says that St. John the Baptist preached the good news to the people. The thought of the chaff being burned up in an unquenchable fire may not seem like very good news to some of us. But that is to put the focus on the wrong place.
The good news is that our Lord will gather the wheat into the barn which, in this case, means the gathering of the just souls into Heaven. While it is true that some will go into the everlasting fire, the Gospel reading provides hope for all of us. We hear about the crowds of people, the tax collectors, and the soldiers coming to St. John seeking guidance for their lives. He did not speak words of condemnation either for them or for what they were doing for a living.
He spoke against extortion, dishonesty, complaining, and so on, but did not say that a tax collector would be condemned just because he was a tax collector; nor did the Baptist tell him to quit his job so that he did not lose his soul. This is good news and provides hope for all of us. As long as we are engaging in honest work and striving to live a virtuous life, we have good reason to think that we might be counted among the wheat.
This is cause for rejoicing, as we see in the other two readings. St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, then he repeats it as a means of providing emphasis for his statement. In other words, rejoicing in the Lord is not merely a good idea, it is given here as a command because it should be the essence of our lives. We look at all the problems in our lives and in our world and claim that we have no cause for rejoicing. St. Paul anticipated such rebuttals and stated that we should have no anxiety at all; rather, in everything we are to pray with thanksgiving and the peace of Christ will fill our hearts.
Not only is the prayer to take place in every circumstance of our lives, but the thanksgiving as well. When we look at things we often fail to see much reason for giving thanks. St. Paul says that everything that happens is a reason for giving thanks. This means that whether we see things as being positive or negative, we need to give thanks to God. The negative things are cause for thanks and praise because they are helping us to grow in virtue. We have to realize that if we truly trust God, then we can see everything as coming from His hand. God cannot be the author of evil, so even the evil He allows is so that a greater good can come from it.
Unfortunately, most of us cannot understand this until the greater good takes place. Then we look back and kick ourselves for not trusting. But because we could not see how any good could possibly come from this or that thing, we assume that God cannot bring any good from it either. Padre Pio always told people to pray, trust and don’t worry. Most of us pray, few of us trust, and most of us worry a lot. Think how much more pleasant life would be if we would be rejoicing all the time! Why do we want to go around angry and bitter? Why do we want to focus on the negative all the time?
St. Paul tells us that the Lord is near; the Prophet Zephaniah tells us that the Lord is in our midst. This is the reason we should be rejoicing. The problem most people in today’s world need to overcome is that we only rejoice when something happens the way we want it to happen. Most of the time, we will rejoice only when the perceived good happens to us. St. Paul says that we are to rejoice in the Lord, not in ourselves.
Zephaniah not only says the same thing, but he says something that seems unthinkable to us: the Lord rejoices in us. The reason is simply because He loves us. If we really love someone else, we can even rejoice when something good happens to them. We are to love God and love neighbor. We are to rejoice in the Lord and in others. The Lord loves us, so He rejoices in us. This is really good news! Pray always, be thankful always, rejoice always, be at peace.
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 www.thewandererpress.com.