Rejoice in the Lord... always?

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Every year the scriptures for this Third Sunday of Advent
call us to rejoice, even to “rejoice always.”

But this weekend these scriptures stick in our throats
and seem to mock our hearts, broken by sadness and tragedy
that strikes much too close to home.

Working on my homily earlier this week, it was my intention
to preach on the joy faith can offer us even in difficult times;
about looking for joy at Christmas even when our hearts are heavy.

But with Friday morning’s news,
such words seem facile, pious, too easy:
not strong enough to bear the grief we share
with the families of Newtown, Connecticut.

None of us will see a child’s joy this Christmas without remembering
those families whose hearts have been hollowed out by loss
and not just their hearts, but ours, too, as we share their sorrow.

If we speak of joy we must remember that joy in the scriptures
has little, even nothing to do with being “merry” in December.
The joy of faith is of far greater strength and substance
than any yuletide glee.

The joy of faith is rather like a river
coursing the depths of our hearts
when all around us everything is bone-dry, desert thirsty
and we need, so desperately, just one cool drop of water
to slake the thirst of sadness that threatens to consume us.

The joy of faith is like a light, glowing,
somewhere deep within our souls
when all around us everything is shadowed,
dark with disappointment,
as we wait for that long night of pain to pass and day to dawn
that we might find a light that shines upon our path
to lead us safely home
when we thought home was gone, forever lost.

The joy of faith is like that moment when, somewhere deep within,
in a place we’d long forgotten,
we find a hint, a trace, a gift, a grace from God,
revealing and reminding us that there’s another way,
there's another day,
that we’re not alone but that we walk with God,
who walks with us, who’s been with us,
all along our sorrowed path…

The joy of the scriptures isn't about being merry,
it’s about the peace that comes from faith in God,
in God’s abiding love for us, especially in tragedy,
and in the hope that there’s a peace that waits for us:
peace that knows no sorrow, knows no pain:
peace that has no end.

Advent prepares us to celebrate Christmas,
the birth of Jesus who came and showed us
how it is in giving that we receive
how the path of suffering, even death, leads to life;
that there is a joy, no pain can ever take from us.

Each of us finds such peace
as we grow in faith and trust
in our own lives and circumstances, in our trials and troubles,
and in our joy.

As we gather at the Lord’s table today,
we pray for those who know most personally and painfully
the tragedy of Newtown’s loss
and we remember the stories of own times of grief.

And we pray for the peace – even for the joy –
that faith can bring to those who wait for Christ
who, in all our sorrows, waits for us.


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