Third Sunday in Advent, Year C

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 February 13, 2013 Ash Wedneday Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 10, 2013 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 9:28-36, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany February 3, 2013 Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 27, 2013 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Nehemiah 8:1-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
Second Sunday after Epiphany January 20, 2013 Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
First Sunday after Epiphany January 13, 2013 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Feast of the Epiphany January 6, 2013 Epiphany, Year C Matthew 2:1-12
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012 December 24, 2012 Christmas, Year C Luke 2:1-20
Third Sunday in Advent, Year C December 16, 2012 Third Sunday in Advent, Year C Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7
Sermon, VTS, December 13, 2012 December 13, 2012 Daily Office, December 13, 2012 Psalm 145
Second Sunday in Advent, Year C December 9, 2012 Second Sunday of Advent, Year C Canticle 16, Song of Zechariah
First Sunday in Advent, Year C December 2, 2012 First Sunday of Advent, Year C Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B November 25, 2012 Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
Proper 28, Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost November 18, 2012 Sermon, Proper 28, Year B Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Psalm 16
Proper 27, Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost November 11, 2012 Proper 27, Year B I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

 

Third Sunday in Advent, Year C

Sermon Date:December 16, 2012

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7

Liturgy Calendar: Third Sunday in Advent, Year C


 

Today’s sermon is about two words that are inseparable.

Repentance and rejoicing go hand in hand, and one is impossible without the other.

So let’s start with John the Baptist’s message of repentance.   

In the gospel, we find John in the wilderness by the Jordan, addressing the crowds who have come out to hear him. 

And the opening lines are anything but inviting—“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

Repentance—repentance is a challenging word, a word we are reluctant to hear in this self- congratulatory and selfish age, an age in which we are left on our own to suit no one but ourselves.   

And this is also a dangerous age for us, the ones who call ourselves Christians.  A trap that awaits us is the assumption that simply because we profess to be followers of Jesus and that we believe that Jesus died for our sins, then we are automatically saved. 

But John warns us as he warned the crowd in the wilderness that day—the crowd  who felt that their salvation was assured based solely on the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. 

“Not so fast,” John tells them.  “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Have you ever known people who are so assured of their salvation that they never examine themselves or see their own flaws?  These self-righteous people can be judgmental and constantly frustrated when others question them or choose not to march to their particular drumbeats.  The word “repentance” is not in their vocabularies. 

Unrepentant people are unhappy people.  Some of the most miserable and unhappy times in my life have been times when I have avoided or refused to examine myself.   Finally, just the sheer misery of being unhappy has brought me to the last resort—to think that maybe my own misery is being caused by me.  Maybe there are some things in my life I need to examine in order to cross over from misery into rejoicing. 

And misery, left unaddressed, can also lead to great tragedies like the one we have witnessed this week in Connecticut. 

Repentance is the bridge over which we must cross from misery into the amendment of our lives, and ultimately, into rejoicing. 

The crowd asks John, “Then what should we do, if we are like trees waiting to be chopped down?”   They wanted to know what they must do to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  

John has what I consider to be a joyful answer for the crowd.  He doesn’t  tell people to give up their lives and to go dwell in the wilderness. He doesn’t  give them impossible religious disciplinary tasks of which they are incapable.   Instead, John  tells them to bear the fruits of repentance in their daily lives, and in their work. 

Share with those in need.  Don’t take financial advantage of others.  Don’t use your power to extort things from others.  Treat those around you with dignity and respect.

All of these ethical guidelines had been laid out for the children of Abraham when they found themselves wandering around in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, the guidelines which they’d forgotten. 

We Christians have not only these guidelines, but we also have the life of Jesus to use as a pattern for our own lives.  St Ignatius taught people about the importance of examining their lives daily so that they could see where they fell short, so that they could repent, and then start over the next day, hoping, with God’s help, to do better and to bear fruits worthy of repentance.  This way of praying, known as the prayer of examen, is still taught and used extensively today. 

The good news that John shares with us, as he did with the crowd, is that bearing these good fruits is possible for each one of us here and now, in the simple acts of our everyday lives. As Christians, we are called to follow these same ethical guidelines.  Simply asking forgiveness when we’ve wronged someone, treating all people with dignity, helping those in need, using our power for the good of God’s kingdom rather than for our own selfish gain, being God’s light in the world—we all can do these things here and now if we pray for God’s help and assistance—and this good news is cause for rejoicing.  

St Thomas Aquinas, who is considered by many to be the Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher, wrote in his great work Summa  Theologiae  that charity—love– has three degrees or steps.

First, St Thomas tells us, we must devote ourselves to withdrawing from sin and resisting the appetites in our lives that lead us astray and drive us in the opposite direction from love.  “This is the condition of beginners, who need to nourish and carefully foster charity to prevent it being lost.”

This is where repentance comes in, because whether we are beginners in the faith or have been living faithfully for a long time, we will inevitably sin and come short of the glory of God.  And then it’s time to take the message of John the Baptist to heart and to repent.

Second, St Thomas says, is the stage in which our “chief preoccupation is to advance in love.  This is the mark of those who are making progress, and who are principally concerned that their charity should grow and become strong. “  This stage is the challenge that John the Baptist extends to the crowd—those ethical teachings about how we ought to treat our neighbors if we wish to grow in love and bear fruits that are worthy of repentance, that is fruits that reflect our amendment of life and our desire to live as Jesus would have us live.

Now we get to the third stage that St Thomas writes about—and this is the rejoicing stage—the stage that we reach when we cross  over the bridge of repentance into joy.

“The third stage is when we apply ourselves chiefly to the work of cleaving to God, and enjoying God!”

This is the rejoicing that Paul writes about in Philippians. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near!  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 

When we rejoice in the Lord, with repentance for those ways we have failed, and with thanksgiving for all of the blessings that God pours out on us, and when we share our rejoicing with others, the love of God in our hearts crowds out those sinful desires and anxieties and miseries that tend to stalk us, and we are free to serve God and one another.   

So  as we enter into this last week of preparing for the birth of our Lord and Savior,  remember, the good news is that repentance and rejoicing go hand in hand, and that our joy will be complete when Jesus returns with the winnowing fork in his hand. 

So with many other exhortations, John proclaimed  the good news to the people and to us. 

Repent!  And Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice! 

Amen

Resource: 

Advent and Christmas:  Wisdom from St Thomas Aquinas, Compiled  by Andrew Carl Wisdom, OP.  Liguori: Liguori, Missouri, 2009. 

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