daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), December 16, 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-18, Isaiah 12, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:10-18

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted


"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).

This is the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice Sunday). The vestments at mass are rose colored instead of purple, a sign of joy as we approach ever closer to Christmas. The entrance antiphon is:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near."

Clearly the Advent/Christmas season is a season of joy, a deep spiritual joy because of God coming physically into the world in his divine Son Jesus Christ. This joy is within our heart because of Christ's presence within us by faith and by the Eucharist. Christians do everything they can to portray and express their great joy in what Christ has done for them, in forgiving their sins and justifying them, declaring and thereby making us ungodly and disobedient sinners righteous and splendid in God's sight.

How could we not be filled with joy about such a redemption and restoration of God's love that we had forfeited and lost by disobeying his will for us? We desperately needed this renewal, and God gives it to us in Christ. At Christmas and all year long we rejoice in this, but at Christmas we make a special point of decorating our cities and villages and homes and singing God's praises for his redemption.

God is a loving Father who always wants us to repent and return to him every time we fail to do his will, even in small things, like, for example, cutting short our time of silent prayer to have more time to research a sermon that we are going to write. We can diminish our peace with God by making such mistakes, thinking at the time that we are doing a good thing, only to discover afterwards that this was not really the right thing to do. God helps us to see that we erred in our judgment, and when we repent, especially within the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), we receive his full forgiveness and the restoration of his peace and love in our heart, precisely because of what Christ did for us on the cross for the sake of our sins, taking the rap for us for them to satisfy divine justice on our behalf, for God is just.

But Christ is God the Son and so in reality it is God himself, whom we have offended, who agrees to be punished on a cross by a horrible death in his humanity, which he assumed for this purpose for our salvation. The end result is our restoration to God's favor and God's declaration that we are acquitted, our sins are paid for, and we are now considered and thereby made righteous by God. In this declaration, which we call justification, we rejoice. This peace in our heart is caused by being declared and made righteous by God. It is also caused by Christ dwelling within us.

During the Advent/Christmas season we focus on Christ's coming into our world and into each one of us to forgive and renew us, to free us from our sins, errors, and mistakes that dim the light of God's love and peace within our hearts. That is why we sing songs of such joy at this time of year, such as:

"Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing" (Isaac Watts, 1719).

All can find joy in Christ, no matter what our external circumstances may be. The one thing that takes away our joy is disobeying the Lord. Sometimes we think that we are doing the right thing, but then afterwards the Lord has a way of letting us know that we made a bad decision, a mistake. So this temporary sadness works to our advantage, for it causes us to repent and confess our sin, even in small things, like shortening our silent prayer time to have more time to research a sermon that we are about to write. But once we confess this and resolve to correct ourselves, our peace soon returns, and we know that God is once again with us, that he has declared and made us righteous in his sight and is ever sanctifying us more and more each day.

To be declared righteous by God is his greatest gift of all, even though we were at fault in offending him. He takes our repentance and faith and reckons it to us as righteousness, because Christ made full and just reparation for our sins for us on the cross. He thus once again fully accepts us, and we know his peace in our heart. So St. Paul tells us today that we can and surely should always rejoice in the Lord:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4-5).

The Greek word for "forbearance" (epieikes) can also be translated as "moderation," as the King James Version does. It can also mean gentleness, kindness, and clemency.

This is a beautiful message to us. We should act in holy moderation, not demanding too much of others, and living a simple life ourselves, moderate in all things, preserving the holy joy of this beautiful season, living a quiet, prayerful, peaceful, and holy life. Everyone should see our holy moderation. It will be a public witness that inspires and draws many to Christ.

In every circumstance we should learn to rejoice. St. Paul says:

"Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4).

We are to rejoice in the Lord. We may not rejoice because we are in debt, but we can still rejoice in the Lord, because we have the Lord with us and his love is within us. If we have sinned and feel depressed about that, we can confess our sin and experience God's great love and compassion with the restoration of his favor towards us. St. Paul even repeats this point, thereby underlining its importance:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).

Then he says:

"The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5b).

The Lord is not far away from us. He is within us, and we dwell with him. We live in his presence and love. So we should not be filled with anxiety about anything, but rather simply make known to God all our requests with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving for all his gifts that we have received from him.

"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).

Then St. Paul assures us:

"The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

What greater gift from God could we want than that? He keeps our minds and hearts in a spiritual and supernatural peace that is beyond our ability to understand or account for. It is a peace that "passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). God simply fills us with himself, with his love, with his presence. It is this redeeming presence of God in Christ that we rejoice in at Christmas and all through the year.


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