Sunday, 11 December 2011

3rd Sunday Advent, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 1:6-8.19-28
I’d like to say a few words today about two things: rejoicing, and about how God is hidden from us even though He is among us.

Today, the third Sunday of advent, is the day that the Church calls "Gaudete Sunday”, and this word means "rejoice". And this is important for us for two reasons.
First, and most fundamentally, the Church calls us to rejoice halfway through Advent is a sign of the fact that even though Christian existence is characterised by this season of waiting for the Lord to come, of being in continuous expectation of Him coming, nonetheless, in other forms He is already here among us -and so we should "rejoice".
Second, at a simple human level, I always think it's important that we have this reminder to rejoice as we are preparing for Christmas. We live in the midst of a very materialistic world, and many of our preparations for Christmas can similarly be materialistic, and hard work, and stressful, and so it is important to be reminded that there is a reason to "rejoice" even while we are getting ready Christmas. And of course, in different ways, many of us will have particular reasons why Christmas may be a difficult time, or a lonely time, or a time that can crystallise together many weighty issues in our life at the moment. And that too means that it's important to recall the reason that the Church tells us that we have to "rejoice" -to rejoice even in the midst of difficulty.

Our Faith tells us that the end of time Christ will come again in glory, and for those judged to be with Him, all will be well, and there will be rejoicing without end, because we will be with Him who will give us every reason to rejoice, who will give us happiness beyond imagining.
But the Lord whose very presence will bring happiness, He is already with us here today. The problem, however, with rejoicing in His presence is that there is something about His presence that remains hidden.

Let us turn to the scriptural comparison we find in today's gospel. St John the Baptist told the crowds who were coming to him, told the crowds who were responding to his call to "prepare a way for the Lord", he told the crowds that the one they were preparing for was already there, that He “stands among you –unknown to you”(Jn 1:26).
And something of that same truth holds for us today: the Lord is among us, that He is somehow hidden from us, that we somehow do not see Him.

Of course, He is not completely unseen, He is not completely hidden. We have His promise that He is with us in His sacraments, we know too that He is with us in the reading of Sacred Scripture, and that He is with us in the love of friends and family.
And yet, in none of these ways is He with us in the fully visible form He took as a child at Bethlehem, and in none of these ways is He with us as He will be in glory at the end of time.

Why is He unseen to us? Well, we might consider the fact that in as much as He is pure spirit God is beyond being seen –our eyes are not up to the task of seeing spiritual realities. We might also consider the fact that His workings, His providential plan, at the level of our individual lives, part of the reason we cannot see this and cannot see His hand at work in this, is not that He is not present, but rather that His workings are too complex, at too many levels for us to clearly perceive.

Nonetheless, Scripture assures us that He is among us. And most of us have particular moments in our lives when we are more able to look back, look back to earlier events in our lives, and see that the Lord was there all along. Much as the old "Footprints" poem puts it I can look back in my life and see my problems, see times when I felt like I was most alone, see times when it seems that the Lord abandoned me, and yet, it was then that the Lord carried me. I thought I was alone, but I only survived at all by His help, by His carrying me.
And so to remember that the Lord is with me, to remember that the Lord promises that He is with me, to remember that it is a repeated pattern in the Sacred Scriptures that He is there even when He is unseen, to remember this gives us a reason to "rejoice" on this Gaudete Sunday.

So, to conclude. As we as are moving closer to Christmas, and as we find in whatever different ways difficulties and pressures upon us, let us remember that the Lord is with us, His presence is with us, and His strength is with us, and therefore let us "rejoice".

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