Choosing the Light Instead of the Darkness
December 11, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Advent
Reading I (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11) Reading II (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
Gospel (St. John 1:6-8, 19-28)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that we are to rejoice in the Lord always. Now that is something that sounds like it is fairly simple, but we all know it is not, because there are difficult things that happen in our lives, things that do not seem to be in any way, shape, or form a cause for rejoicing. Sometimes, in fact, what happens is we begin to wonder: “Where is God? Why does He allow these bad things to happen to me? Maybe He has abandoned me,” and all kinds of other thoughts along these lines that might run through our minds. The last thing that comes to our minds is to rejoice. Sometimes, we even scream at God. We yell at Him and we arrogantly accuse Him of all kinds of things, including things like, “Why do You hate me so much,” and so on and so on. But God, Who is love, can only love. God cannot hate us. God, remember, only wants what is the very best for us.
When we look at what happens in our lives, we could probably enumerate a number of ways that we could say, “I could think of a better way of doing something than this! How can this be the best?” The only way we understand that it is the best is when we can look back. But after doing that enough times (by now, most of us should be old enough to be able to do such a thing), once we have seen enough times that from even the so-called bad things that happen in our lives God brings the greatest good of all, we should be able to recognize very easily the pattern that happens in our lives; and when these bad things happen, rather than waiting until we can look back at it from some distance and then being able to rejoice that God brought about good from this apparent evil that took place in our lives, what we need to be able to do is to realize that the pattern is established and it will continue. Therefore, even when the difficult things happen in our lives, we need to rejoice. If we can have the presence of mind to rejoice in the Lord, even in the midst of trials, even in the midst of persecutions and injustices, and so on, then we are going to have that joyful spirit, then what we hear from the prophet Isaiah is going to be true for each one of us, that the Lord has proclaimed for us a year of vindication, that He has come to set us free.
Now most of us, when we think about the way God is going to set us free from the various bondages in which we are held, the bondages which generally are our own sins, we think He should just simply take them away. He could, but generally speaking, He is not going to do that. He is going to ask us, “How serious are you about overcoming this particular sin? How much do you really want this thing out of your life?” Most of us, again, if we sit back in prayer, would say, “I really want it gone–take it.” But if He says, “But in order to do this, I’m going to put you in situations where you are going to have to practice virtue, the opposite virtue of the vice you are accustomed to practicing,” when we have to do that, many of us will suddenly back away and say, “No, I really don’t want it gone that badly. If I have to suffer to get rid of this thing, I don’t want it gone. I’d rather have the sin than the suffering.” In which case, we have chosen to keep ourselves in bondage, to keep ourselves in the darkness of the prison in which we have placed ourselves, and to allow ourselves to be under Satan’s rule. If we look at it that way, I do not think most of us would say that is what we would prefer. We want the freedom that the Lord offers, but if we are going to choose the freedom, we also have to choose what it is going to require to obtain it.
Jesus came into this world; and in the synagogue in His own hometown, He opened the scroll to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and read the very passage we just heard in the first reading, and then went on to declare that this was going to be fulfilled in Him. The people responded by taking Him out to the brow of the hill upon which the city was built and wanted to throw Him over. Once again, we see that here is the One, the only One, Who can free us from the bondage of sin and the people responded by trying to kill Him. The pattern of human problems is pretty clear. While we would like to think we are different from that and we would not respond the same way, all we need to do is look over the history of our lives and find that we have indeed responded the exact same way. We choose sin over freedom. We choose Satan over Christ, not in our minds and in our words, but in our actions. With our mouths, we profess our faith in Christ; and with our actions, we deny Him. With our mouths, we say that we reject Satan; but with our actions, we give ourselves over to him entirely. That is the part that needs to change.
When we are in bondage, when we are imprisoned in our own sins, when we are under Satan’s thumb, there is no rejoicing. All we can see is darkness. All we can do is wallow in self-pity. But when we have Christ, then we have cause for rejoicing. Saint John tells us in the Gospel reading today that when Saint John the Baptist came into this world, he came to testify, to testify to the Light. Saint John says, He himself was not the Light, but he came to testify to the Light. It is the Light that enlightens every man who comes into this world. God Himself has come to us in human form to set us free from the bondage of sin and Satan. In Jesus Christ, we have true freedom for our souls. The question is: Do we want it? For the people of the Old Testament at the time of Christ, they had to be willing to go out into the desert to hear John the Baptist. And when they asked John the Baptist, “Who are you,” the only thing that he would tell them was who he was not. He was not the Christ; he was not the Prophet; he did not even recognize that he was Elijah, even though Jesus Himself tells us that Saint John the Baptist was Elijah coming before the Messiah. But Saint John the Baptist, in his humility, did not see that part of himself at all. He simply recognized himself as the voice crying out in the desert to make straight the way of the Lord. And he continues to cry out because there is only one Christ, there is only one Way for us to be able to get to heaven, there is only one Way for us to be freed from the bondage of our sin, there is only one Victor over sin and over Satan, and so we need to continue to point out that there is only one Light.
If we want to be children of the Light and walk in that Light, then we have cause for rejoicing–but we have to choose it. We have to be willing to go out into the desert. We have to be willing to suffer the deprivations of all of the materialism and all of the selfishness and all of the sin with which our lives are imbued, in order to find the light. If we want to find the straight path, we have to walk away from all of the crooked ones. And so as Saint John the Baptist is crying out that we are to make straight the way of the Lord, it is to make it straight in our minds and in our actions. It is to make sure that our actions correspond with our words, that we are not just saying that we believe in God and that we love Him, but that we are acting on it. And if we are acting on it, we are going to be joyful people.
So I challenge you on this point just to look back over the last 24 hours, maybe even over the last hour, the last week, the last month, the last year, and ask yourself how much rejoicing has gone on in your life. How much joy in the Lord is in your heart? And now, why not? Because most of us, if we are honest, are going to have to say, “There’s not much.” It is because we are not focusing on Jesus. We are focused on material things, we are focused on the finances, we are focused on the self, but we are not focused on Him. It is no wonder we are despairing. It is no wonder we are not happy. We are not going to find any joy in money or in materialism. And there is certainly absolutely no hope in ourselves. We should have proven that to ourselves thousands of times over by now. We have to become like John the Baptist, to admit, “I am not the Light, but I came to testify to the Light.” He came to point out the Light. So get the focus off of ourselves, which is only going to lead to darkness, and look at Him, because He is the Light. Then we can rejoice in the Light.
If you think about it, as Catholics, we have the fullness of the truth. We have the seven sacraments. We receive Jesus Christ Himself–Almighty God–into our own bodies in Holy Communion. We have Him right before us 24 hours a day in the Blessed Sacrament, and we mope around like people with no hope. There is no joy. It is a tragedy. Where is the joy? Where is the charity? It is a sad, sad thing when people walk into church and no one will even greet them. You would think we were enemies. We come here and we worship God together, and we walk outside like we have no common interest with the person who was even sitting next to us. Why? Because we are going through the motions and not loving God.
We are called to be children of the Light, to walk in the Light, to break away from the bondages of darkness. When we look at ourselves honestly in the light of Christ, we are going to have to admit that we have chosen darkness over the light because of the way we live. That is what Jesus came to free us from. Unlike the people of His own time, we have knowledge of Him, we profess our faith in Him, and so we are without excuse. If the people two thousand years ago chose to walk in the darkness because they did not know Him, we could understand it, even though we would ridicule them and say, “How foolish! They knew Jesus but did not walk in His way. They had Him right there. Oh, what life would be like if we had Jesus right here with us today!” What life would be like…if we would let Him in–because we do have Him with us right here today in the Blessed Sacrament. We are without excuse. Where is the joy? Where is the charity? Where is the evidence that we have chosen the Light, that we have been set free from the prison of darkness and sin? That is what the Church is placing before us today, a day of rejoicing from the Lord, and calling us, as Saint Paul said, to true holiness, to pray always, and to rejoice heartily in the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.