The Bridegroom is Coming, Pointed Out by the Best Man, Third Thursday of Advent, December 15, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Third Week in Advent
December 15, 2016
Is 54:1-10, Ps 30, Lk 7:24-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As we draw within ten days of the celebration of Christmas, the Prophet Isaiah tonight takes us to the heart of why Jesus became man and was born of the Virgin. It wasn’t so that we could have annual holiday cheer to finish the civil year. It wasn’t so that could have a time of beautiful self-sacrifice as we give gifts to each other. It wasn’t merely so that people could acknowledge a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes as God-with-us and Savior. It was ultimately so that God, after the infidelity of Adam and Even and all of us through sin, could restore us to a covenant of love with him.
  • Today God tells us through Isaiah, “Fear not, you shall not be put to shame. … He who has become your husband is your Maker; … your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. The Lord calls you back. … With great tenderness I will take you back. … With enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer. … My love shall never leave you nor my convent … be shaken.” This prophecy about God’s spousal love for us God likewise announced to us through Hosea, who wrote, “So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. … On that day, says the Lord, She shall call me “My husband,” and never again “My baal.” … I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos 2:16-22). It was fulfilled in Jesus, who called himself the Bridegroom (Mt 9:15). St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians describes Jesus as a husband who loved his Bride the Church and laid down his life to make her holy, cleansing her by water and the word, so that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27). This is all very powerful imagery to describe something not metaphorical but absolutely real: Christ Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s total loving commitment to us, his desire to enter into a covenant of love with him in which we will commit to love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, to love and honor him in good and bad times, in sickness and health, in poverty and prosperity all our days.
  • The ultimate purpose of Advent is when we renew our first love for God as we ponder his love for us. It’s a time on which to ask whether we’re true to him and recommit ourselves. It’s a time in which we look to see if our relationship with him is passionate, faithful, indissoluble and fruitful.
  • To help us make that assessment, the Church gives us every Advent the figure of St. John the Baptist, whom Jesus himself once called “the friend of the Bridegroom,” meaning the “best man,” whose job was to help protect the Bride and get her ready to receive the Bridegroom when, after a year or two of work subsequent to the exchange of vows, he comes to get her for the wedding celebration. John’s role as Jesus’ precursor is to help us as the Bride of Christ get ready for Jesus the Bridegroom in history, mystery and majesty. In history, so that as he takes on our humanity, we can become sharers in his divinity; in mystery, so that through the consummation of his nuptial bond with us the Church in the Eucharist, when we become one flesh with him, God may make us rejoice at his love and fruitful; and in majesty, when he comes at the end of time or the end of our life to bring us, we pray, to the eternal wedding banquet. God wants to help us be ready for all three. John the Baptist is the herald who proclaims, as Jesus would describe in a parable about the five wise and unwise bridesmaids describing how people prepare well or poorly to seize his kingdom, “Behold, the Bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him!” (Mt 25:6). And we go out not as bridesmaids or friends of the wedding chamber, but the Bride.
  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus praised John the Baptist, saying that he wasn’t a week reed swayed by the wind, or a well-dressed charlatan, but rather a prophet and more than a prophet, he was the Messenger chosen by God to prepare Jesus’ way by helping prepare his bride. He does so by calling us to continual conversion. Echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who said, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” (Lk 3:5). He wants to help us to level the mountains of pride and egocentrism; to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life or a minimalistic way of living our faith; to straighten out crooked paths: if we’ve been involved in some dishonest practices or living a double life, we’re called to straighten them out and do restitution; if we’ve been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to reconcile with others, now’s the time to clear away all the debris; and if we’ve been pushing God off the side of the road, if we’ve been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for him because of the details of shopping or hobbies or even our various modern addictions in which we place television programs, or sports teams, videogames or social media above him, now’s the time he wants to help us to get our priorities straight and into alignment with the Jesus the Bridegroom, so that when and in whatever way the Bridegroom comes, like the wise Bridesmaids, we may be ready to go with him into the wedding feast of his presence as his Bride and Body.
  • The spousal union with Christ, becoming one flesh with him, is what makes sense out of Jesus’ extraordinary comments at the end of today’s Gospel, “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” John is great because he is the greatest of the prophets pointing to God and announcing the Messiah; but the least in the Kingdom, the least wedded to that Messiah and Son of God, is greater. This doesn’t mean morally greater, but there is a status of being in the kingdom, of entering into the Son’s divine filiation, of the New Covenant fulfillment, than the greatest state that was able to be achieved by the Old Covenant. This shouldn’t go to our head as a thing of pride, but rather as a thing of wonder and responsibility, for us to live out the graces we’ve received, remembering our dignity, as John lived out his graces.
  • Today at Mass John the Baptist announces to us anew, after having prepared us for conversion, the arrival of the one who has given his life to make us holy and immaculate in his sight. He points us to the Bridegroom and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Behold your Maker who doesn’t expose you to shame, make you blush, disgrace you or reproach you, but who loves you. As we prepare to receive that Bridegroom in Holy Communion, let us ask him for the grace to praise him always for having rescued us and for never ever stopping to love us. Let us praise him for making us one flesh, one body with him, even greater by those gifts than the greatest born of woman.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 54:1-10

Raise a glad cry, you barren one who did not bear,
Break forth in jubilant song, you who were not in labor,
For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife
than the children of her who has a husband,
says the LORD.
Enlarge the space for your tent,
spread out your tent cloths unsparingly;
lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes.
For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left;
your descendants shall dispossess the nations
and shall people the desolate cities.Fear not, you shall not be put to shame;
you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced.
The shame of your youth you shall forget,
the reproach of your widowhood no longer remember.
For he who has become your husband is your Maker;
his name is the LORD of hosts;
Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
called God of all the earth.
The LORD calls you back,
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
A wife married in youth and then cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back.
In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
I hid my face from you;
But with enduring love I take pity on you,
says the LORD, your redeemer.This is for me like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah
should never again deluge the earth;
So I have sworn not to be angry with you,
or to rebuke you.
Though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be shaken,
My love shall never leave you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

Responsorial Psalm PS 30:2 AND 4, 5-6, 11-12A AND 13B

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
“Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

Alleluia LK 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
All flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 7:24-30

When the messengers of John the Baptist had left,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John.
“What did you go out to the desert to see B a reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine garments?
Those who dress luxuriously and live sumptuously
are found in royal palaces.
Then what did you go out to see?
A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom Scripture says:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
he will prepare your way before you.

I tell you,
among those born of women, no one is greater than John;
yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors,
who were baptized with the baptism of John,
acknowledged the righteousness of God;
but the Pharisees and scholars of the law,
who were not baptized by him,
rejected the plan of God for themselves.)