“Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice!” These words of St. Paul echo the sentiment of the Church for this third Sunday of Advent. We rightly rejoice as we joyfully await the imminent coming of our Savior…our day of Redemption! It is now just over a week before we celebrate the birth of Jesus and this is indeed reason for rejoicing, for the birth of Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth, and opened up for us the offer of Salvation!
What could possibly prevent us from this call to rejoice? Many in our current time and culture, however, often experience great anxiety, stress, sadness, and even depression, which tragically leads some to despair. Such sadness comes from the lack of preparation for Christ – a failure to recognize that God has visited us and is among us! Culturally we can easily be caught up with the material aspects of the season, without proper reflection on the reality to which we are called. The readings today point us to the truth and glory that awaits us, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love” (Zep 3:17). St. Paul reminds us to, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phil 4:6). With our eyes set on Christ and our prayers of petition raised to him, comes our reason for rejoicing!
John the Baptist prepares the people for the imminent coming of Jesus Christ. The people come with the anxieties of life, weighed down by sin and seeking a means to freedom and peace. They want what John is preaching! This calling for our hearts to rejoice in Christ reminds us of the words of John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, “When it penetrates into daily life with the dimension of human morality, the redemption of the body helps man, above all, to discover the whole good in which he achieves the victory over sin and over concupiscence” (TOB 86:8). The Baptist reveals to us that the rejection of sin and seeking virtue leads to joy. The people come asking, “What should we do?” John’s responds with exhortations of selfless service and renunciation of worldly goods and glory. St. John Paul II reminds us, “In his everyday life, man must draw from the mystery of the redemption of the body the inspiration and strength to overcome the evil that is dormant in him in the form of the threefold concupiscence” (TOB 86:7).
This threefold concupiscence – lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life – threaten to destroy the joy that our Savior wishes to work within us. Today immodesty, the proliferation of pornography, and our world’s concession to fornication further fuel our inclination to lust. The culture concedes to the the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh with the implication that we are human, so of course we will sin! The taboo of fornication and pornography are nearly imperceptible. The battle against lust has been abandoned and replaced with practicing “safe-sex”, fornication with contraception, and pleasure has replaced sacrifice with regard to love and virtue. Our culture promotes lust, which more intensely tempts us to engage in the sins of the flesh. However, the most dangerous of all is the pride of life. The pride that refuses to admit weakness and sin, necessarily rejects the joy of Christ due to the inability to recognize the need for salvation. Not only has our current culture conceded to lust, but has all but forgotten what sin is! Deceived to believe that lust is inescapable, many have given into selfish pleasure rather than striving for selfless sacrifice that leads to virtue, love and freedom.
Today we are called to rejoice because our Redemption is at hand! St. John Paul II reminds us, “The ‘redemption of the body,’ however, expresses itself not only in the resurrection as a victory over death….Here it is not a question of the eschatological hope of the resurrection, but of the hope of victory over sin, which can be called the hope of everyday” (TOB 86:6). The means to redemption and rejoicing are present to us today and everyday, through the sacraments. We simply only need to ask, “What should we do?” Jesus responds to us himself – come to me in prayer, confess and be reconciled, and seek me in Holy Communion.
There is hope everyday that we can and will overcome the threefold concupiscence. Regular prayer, monthly confession and weekly reception of Holy Communion will undo the deception of the world and Satan. Jesus will reveal our sin to us, heal us with his mercy and strengthen us through Communion to remain in His love as we joyfully await the glorious coming of our Savior.
Father Dallas St. Peter was ordained a priest for the diocese of Burlington in June 2007 and serves as the pastor of St. Mark Parish in Burlington, VT. He is an alumnus of the University of Vermont and of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. He has attended TOB I and served as chaplain for TOB I.