Saturday, December 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

We Shall Be Clones of Jesus

Those of us who have attended retreats or seminars in spirituality or short courses in Christianity or Parish Renewal Experience (PREX) know that of all the ideas discussed by a Retreat Master or Retreat Facilitator we retain only a few. Most of the time we no longer remember what the Retreat Master said. But there are retreats where an idea or two stands out and we remember this throughout our life.

A retreat which I distinctly remember was the one I made when I was in second year high school. The Retreat Master was a Redemptorist priest, the only time I attended a retreat facilitated by a Redemptorist priest. He said something which I never forget and which I practice in my personal life. If all that I learned during that retreat was only this one idea that retreat was worth my time. He said that when we pronounce the name of Jesus we bow our heads in reverence. Since that time in second year high school I have done this practice, bow my head a bit in honor of the name of Jesus.

This name is most excellent and it is only proper that I bow my head when I pronounce this word or I hear others pronounce it because this name sums up what God has done for us.

In our Gospel reading today Joseph is told by the angel in a dream that the child who will be born of Mary will be called Jesus "because he will save his people from their sins.

That is what God has done for us by sending his son this Christmas. He has saved us from our sins through Jesus.

This is now the fourth way Jesus comes to us, he comes to us as a helpless child but his mission in life as indicated by his name is to save us from our sins.

If we remember in the first Sunday of Advent we celebrated Jesus' coming at the end of time as our judge. In the second Sunday of Advent we celebrated Jesus' coming into our heart as our life. In the third Sunday of Advent we celebrated Jesus coming to the plains and mountains of Galilee, Samaria and Judea to inaugurate his kingdom. In this way he has become the meaning of our life. In this fourth Sunday of Advent we celebrate Jesus coming as a child who will save us from our sins.

Our first reading tells us through the prophet Isaiah that a virgin will conceive and bear a son whose name will be Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. Our Responsorial Psalm tells us that this Emmanuel is the King of Glory.

In the second reading from the beginning of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans we are told that this Jesus brings about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name, that is, Jesus, the one who saves people from their sins.

And our Gospel tells us why the son of Mary was called Jesus, it was because he was to save God's people from their sins.

This saving of Jesus from our sins was accomplished by his suffering, death and resurrection. If we really believe this we are already delivered from our sins, made just before God.

The Council of Trent in its 6th session describes what this saving from our sins by Jesus entails. It says in the 7th chapter of the Decree on Justification that justification “is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man from unjust becomes just, and from an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting." In other words our sins are not only remitted or deleted, that’s right deleted completely such that God cannot even remember it, as he said, “I will remember their sin no more” in Jeremiah (31:34) but we are made into new human beings inwardly so that as stated previously in Chapter 3 of that Decree we are made worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins."

Why do we go to the Decree of the Council of Trent which was made 500 years ago? Because it contains the clearest expression of what it means to be saved from our sins. Some of the Reformers taught that Jesus saved us from our sins by only covering them up with his blood so that God does not see our sins. Contrary to this idea the Council taught that not only are our sins forgiven and deleted in the memory of God but we are transformed in the inward man so that now we are new creatures as Paul said, ". . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Here is a graphic description of what it means when we say that Jesus saved us from our sins. This is from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible. When we say that Jesus saves his people from their sins it means
·         "From all their sins, original and actual
·         From secret and open sins
·         From sins of heart, lip and life
·         From sins of omission and commission
·         From all that is in sin and omission upon it
·         From the guilt, punishment, and damning power of it, by his sufferings and death
·         From the tyrannical government of it by his Spirit and grace
·         From the being” or presence of it on the last day.

That is what Jesus has done for us and yet most of us behave as though we are still slaves of sin. The same Council says that only concupiscence or inordinate desire remains but this is countered by the graces and gifts given to us, by the Spirit of Jesus himself.

If we do not feel freed, redeemed from our sins it is because we have not been properly catechized after our baptism. We have not fully accepted and worked on the grace given us at baptism.

Such is the mercy of God that he became man in his son and was named Jesus in order not only to wipe away our sins but to make us like him.

In the Short Reading of last Monday's Evening Prayer translated by we have this statement: "We are waiting for our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe" (Philippians 3:20-21). In other words using the terminology of modern biology and computer science Jesus is making us clones of himself. This is ultimately what it means when we say Jesus saves us from our sins. He is making us sinless like himself. This is the great gift of Jesus for us this coming Christmas. He is making us into his image and likeness.

For our concluding prayer we borrow two stanzas from the most famous hymn of Ray Palmer entitled My Faith Looks Up to You. By the way it was Ray Palmer also who loosely translated into English the famous hymn of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Jesu, dulcis memoria. Let us bow our heads in prayer.

My faith looks up to You,
You Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away.
O let me from this day
Be wholly Yours!

May your rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire;
As you have died for me,
O may my love to You,
Pure, warm and changeless be,
A living fire!

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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