advent-three-candles-featured-w740x493All across the parish I am encountering people who give witness to the nearness of the Lord. The consolations received, the passion expressed, the apostolic zeal displayed, all give evidence to the Lord’s grace in the life of the parish family. This is not unusual for our parish, but this Advent and the weeks that led up to the season have seen a noticeable uptick that manifests the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Our church was filled to capacity for our recent parish mission. Charitable outreach and solidarity with  those in need is evident and welcomed. This brings great joy to all who seek to live in the light and I pray that this is true where you live as well.

In the first reading at Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday—Isaiah rejoices and speaks of the joy on his heart. He proclaims that he has been sent by the Lord…

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God” (Isaiah 61:1-2a).

This is good news and a cause for great joy. The Lord God knows all about our lives and what we suffer. In history—at the time of the Incarnation—the people of God had been living in an oppressive spiritual darkness and had suffered greatly. But the light of the world was coming. God sent His very Son to rescue the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive. This is what we celebrate this Third Sunday of Advent as we continue to prepare for His coming into our lives.

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he exhorts his flock to welcome God in their lives. This is the proper response to the loving invitation from God.

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).

We understand today that in Advent we recall the historical event of Christ’s birth, we prepare for this celebration and His coming at Christmas, we anticipate His coming at the end of the age. What we especially need to be aware of is His coming to each of us personally in the ordinary moments of our day and in the people we encounter. He comes to us in our prayer and in our worship. The Lord continually draws near. Will we acknowledge Him or will we let Him pass us by?

Here is a great truth. Our relationship with God is not our initiative. It is God who first calls and invites to be loved and to love. Our part is a response to Him. When we think of God, it is because God has placed that thought in our heart and mind. If we only realized how much God desires us to love Him and how much He loves us, we would be overcome with joy and peace. We would be moved to love and serve and be present with Him and with those he places in our care.

This is what I detect this Advent in our parish. And this reality, much more than a feeling, is life-giving. More than anything, God wants us to have life to the fullest and to share that life with others.  When we understand this, we wonder how we failed to recognize it for so long. St. Augustine spent much of his life pursuing the created instead of the Creator. When his heart was opened by grace and prayer, he was amazed—he wrote about his experience in his autobiography, Confessions.

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I rushed headlong into the well-formed things that you have made. You were with me and I was not with you. Those outer beauties held me far from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have existed at all.

“You called and cried out to me and broke open my deafness; you shone forth upon me and you scattered my blindness. You breathed fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I now pant for you. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, Book X, Chapter XXVII)

Today is the day to surrender fully to God’s love, to say yes to all the good He offers, to finally see that what we have sought is not as wonderful and what He freely offers. Jesus comes today and all days. When we surrender to Him, the Holy Spirit sets us apart, protects and consoles us, corrects us and showers us with mercy, guides us in all wisdom and makes us holy. Don’t let the Lord pass you by,

Into the deep…

The Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B) are: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; First Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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