Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Third Week of Advent
December 16, 2016
Is 56:1-3.6-8, Ps 67, Jn 5:33-36
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were considered in the homily:
- Today we come to the last day of the first phase of Advent, which extends through December 16. The second phase of Advent begins on December 17 and continues through December 24. Sometimes December 16 can be as quick as the Second Saturday of Advent. We’re fortunate that this year, because Christmas is on a Sunday, we get all four full weeks of this great season of preparation with December 16 on Friday of the Third Week of Advent. That means we get the full gamut of the Church’s readings in preparation. Today, the liturgical observation of Friday of the Third Week of Advent, is occurring only for the third time since 1994 and we’ll have the chance to celebrate it only once more before 2033, and so we should take pay extra special attention to them because we have a chance to hear them only five times in 39 years!
- They’re particularly important because they bring us into the heart of Advent. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says something really important about St. John the Baptist, on whose witness the Church has been focusing through the Second and Third weeks of Advent. He also says something really important about himself that we need to capture as we near Christmas and the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited plan.
- About John the Baptist, Jesus says that he “testified to the truth,” and by this means not just the truth about marriage and about Herod’s situation for which he was imprisoned and martyred, but the truth about Christ as the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world, the truth that he was the fulfillment of all God’s prophecies, not just Isaiah 61 and the acts that the Messiah would do, which Jesus himself would use to say “This Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” when he was preaching in the Nazareth synagogue, but all of the Old Testament prophecies that would be summed up in his “tetelestai!” (It is fulfilled, accomplished, finished!) from the Cross. Jesus adds that John was a “burning and shining lamp.” He was on fire and that fire lit others on fire. He was a lamp that lit the way not only for the Messiah to come on a prepared path but lit the ways for people to go out to greet him. To continue what we were able to ponder yesterday in how the wise virgins were prepared to meet the Bridegroom coming with lighted lamps, they were able to meet the Bridegroom because the Friend of the Bridegroom, John, was in a certain sense that lamp. In this sense, John testified to the Truth with a capital T, to the Truth incarnate, because it was that Truth, the Light of the World who had come to set the earth on fire, who had ignited John.
- Jesus also says something very important about himself. He says that he doesn’t need John’s testimony qua John the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. He doesn’t need or accept “testimony from a human being,” as he says, because through John God the Father was speaking, something Jesus himself alluded to when he once asked those who were questioning his authority a question about whether John’s baptism was of heavenly or human origin (Mt 21:23-27). John’s baptism was of heavenly origin as was his testimony. But even more so, Jesus say that he had a “testimony greater than John’s,” namely, “the words that the Father gave me to accomplish.” Those testimony that “the Father has sent me.” Indeed they do. They are the fulfillment of all of the Messianic prophecies. They are the ultimate proof God has given and the greatest of all of those works is Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. That work is our redemption.
- Jesus notes that “for a while you were content to rejoice in [John’s] light,” but God had in mind something far greater than temporary contentment. God wanted a joy far more lasting. That’s pointed to by the Prophecy of Isaiah in today’s first reading. God wanted to bring everyone to the joy of redemption through the joy-giving experience of true prayer. Let’s first focus on “everyone.” God says through Isaiah, “Let not the foreigner say when he would join himself to the Lord, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.'” No, he continues, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants– all who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar.” The Lord wants to bring everyone who seeks him, everyone who lives with rectitude, everyone who responds to his graces to live a moral life, to him. Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time thought that the Gentiles were just straw for the fires of hell, because they ignored what God was saying through Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel. God, in fact, wanted to draw to himself all those he had created. And he wanted to make them joyful in his house of prayer, a house that “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This means not that he wanted everyone giving him adulation and adoration for the sake of it; this means ultimately that he wanted to enter into an intimate personal relationship with him through prayer, which is not just the accumulation of sacrificial offerings, not just an exchange of ideas or words, but ultimately an exchange of persons. And God wants that relationship with everyone.
- But the way he seeks to bring this about goes well beyond what those who heard Isaiah would have imagined. He wasn’t referring mainly to the temple built at the top of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, because as he said once, that temple would eventually be destroyed and rebuilt three days later. He was referring to that rebuilt temple of his risen body. Christ has come to draw people from all nations to the house of prayer which would be his incarnate presence. He was coming to make us one-temple with him, as his Body and Bride, so that we would be able to offer ourselves together with him to the Father. There is no greater and more intimate relationship than this. There is no greater source of joy. There is no better means for us to become burning and shining lamps. His coming in the past, present and future, in history, mystery and majesty, are all about establishing this bond with us that constitutes our redemption.
- The means by which Jesus does this most profoundly in time is through the Mass, in which he who tabernacled himself us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin in that first Advent tabernacles himself within us as we experience the mutual abiding and exchange of persons that is the source and summit of Christian life and the reality to which all prayer goes and from which it flows. This is where Jesus gathers us into one. This is where he helps us from within to observe what is right, do what is just, to keep every day holy, to hold to his new and everlasting covenant. This is where God the Father attests to his Son and the Son accomplishes his work of reconciling all things in himself to the Father. This is where he helps to make us capable of testifying to the world. As we prayed in the Psalm, we pray again, “God, our God, has blessed us!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 IS 56:1-3A, 6-8
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
the son of man who holds to it;
Who keeps the sabbath free from profanation,
and his hand from any evildoing.
Let not the foreigner say,
when he would join himself to the LORD,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
Loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants–
All who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
Others will I gather to him
besides those already gathered.
Responsorial Psalm PS 67:2-3, 5, 7-8
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
The earth has yielded its fruits;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
Come, Lord, bring us your peace
that we may rejoice before you with a perfect heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 5:33-36
Jesus said to the Jews:
“You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept testimony from a human being,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
John was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.”