When I was a freshman in college, I took Calculus II because in high school I had earned college credit for the first part of Calculus. And I was doing great in that class until we got to something called Taylor series. And for some reason, my brain hit a brick wall and I could not understand the what or the why of Taylor series. The professor gave us a test and gave us every advantage: it was an open-book, take-home, test that wasn’t due for a whole week. And I got a 17 out of 100 on that test. I just couldn’t do it on my own.
Our lives are in some ways an open-book, take-home, test. Our lives are a test for our eternal destiny. The test isn’t done until we receive our particular judgement at our death, and the grade is eternal life with God or eternal death without God. And the grim picture painted in the Old Testament seems to be that we will probably get no more than 17 out of 100 on our life-long test if we rely exclusively on our own talents and abilities. We simply are not good enough to earn Heaven on our own merits.
The joyful message of today is that we are not alone as we take this life-long test. God is with us. We do not have to earn a grade on our own merits. He will give us a perfect grade, if we will let him. We still have to take the test, but he is with us the whole time. Imagine how much better I would have done on that math test years ago if the teacher had been with me, if he had opened the book and shown me the page where I could read the answers. That’s what the Church is for us today. We have the book, it is open, and the teacher will help us read the parts that confuse us. Just as the math professor would still ask me to write down the answers that he gave, our Lord asks his disciples to do some work as they complete their life-long test.
Today is called rejoice Sunday – or Gaudete in Latin – because we should rejoice in the knowledge that God is with us, helping us to understand the pages of the holy Scriptures where the answers are to be found. Though we may deserve a poor grade like 17 out of 100, through the mercy and love of God, we can get a passing grade, perhaps a perfect grade.
So rejoice in his mercy and his justice.
The Psalm today shows us that the injustice that we find in our world will eventually be rectified by the God of justice.
The Psalm says that the Lord gives food to the hungry. We know that in a just world nobody would go hungry, and yet we know that there are hungry people in our communities. Justice demands a fair distribution of food so that everyone can eat, and yet our society cannot solve hunger. Christians know that the Lord of justice will finally provide food for everyone. So rejoice. He asks his followers to do our part, to cooperate with his justice by giving food to those who ask for it.
The Psalm says that the Lord gives sight to the blind. We know that humans were made with eyes so that they could see. Yet we know there are many people who were born blind or lost their sight due to illness or injury. By our own human power, even with the tremendous advancements in medicine today, we cannot rectify the injustice of blindness. But the Lord is all-powerful, and he will give sight to the blind. So rejoice. He asks his followers to do our part, to cooperate with his justice by helping those who cannot see.
The Psalm says that the way of the wicked he thwarts. We see in our society today, and throughout human history, that people sometimes do get the good things of life through trickery or by theft. And despite our best efforts, we cannot by our own human power rectify this injustice. But the Lord is just, and he will come and thwart those who do evil. So rejoice. He asks his followers to do our part, to cooperate with his justice by denouncing trickery and theft.
This season of Advent draws our attention to the fact that the Lord is coming at the end of time to sit in judgment. But the Lord’s coming is not only that one that comes at the end of time. The Lord comes to us daily through the sacraments, especially the sacraments of the Eucharist, of penance, and anointing. And he came to us as a baby at the incarnation. He shares in his humanity everything with us except sin. So rejoice at the coming of the Lord, at the incarnation, through the sacraments, and at the end of time.
The Lord came to us in human form to show us how much he loves us, and how we should show our love of him. He knows in his omniscience that we cannot earn our way into heaven. So he is going to give us the gift of salvation. He asks that we work with him and accept the gift that he brings to us through his incarnation and his passion. The Lord took on all our sins when he picked up the cross and suffered death at Calvary.
He asks us to pick up our cross and follow him. While we can never earn heaven, it is through carrying our cross that we accept the gift of heaven. The prophets came to tell us the way. John the Baptist was the last prophet, and he was that voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord. But we want more than a prophet, don’t we?
We want a teacher who will be with us as we take our lifelong test. We want that teacher to nudge us toward the right answer when we cannot find it by ourselves. We want that teacher to be gentle with us when we can’t do everything he asks of us. We want the son of justice to come and set things right. And we want the son of mercy to come and love us when we can’t make things right.
And he is coming, so rejoice! He is coming today in the mass through the Eucharist. He is coming in a couple of weeks at Christmas as a baby to share our humanity and love us in our weakness. And he is coming at the end of time to give food to the hungry, to give sight to the blind and to thwart the way of the wicked.