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Here it is the darkest week of the year outside, but light and joy are all around us inside. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist testified about Jesus being the light and words of joy were scattered throughout the other readings. To represent this joy, we see the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath lit. It may also bring some of you joy to see the priest and deacon wearing what some might describe as pink dresses. Sorry, Fr. Jeremy, I mean rose-colored vestments; real men wear rose, right? All this focus on light and joy may seem puzzling with Thursday being the darkest day of the year when the earth is tilted furthest away from the sun. But our light and joy don’t come from the earth’s tilt toward the sun of the sky. Our light and joy come from tilting our lives toward the Son of God. The path to true joy begins with making room in the inn of our hearts to fully welcome Jesus. God made each of us with room in our hearts perfectly sized to be the dwelling place for Jesus. The problem is we tend to try to fill this space in our hearts with smaller substitutes for Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas said the four small substitutes for Jesus we use are wealth, power, pleasure and honor. These four small substitutes for Jesus never fill this Jesus-sized room in our hearts, so we are left feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. If we release from our hearts unhealthy attachments to wealth, power, pleasure and honor, we can fully welcome Jesus into the dwelling place of our hearts. Which of these four substitutes for God do we most need to release an unhealthy attachment to in our lives? For me, sixteen years ago, I was so attached to wealth that I couldn’t bring myself to embrace welcoming a child into my life. When Julie and I got engaged, I told her that after we got married, I wanted 0, 1 or 2 kids. Julie’s wanted 3-5 kids. You see, I viewed welcoming a child into my life as getting in the way of me doing what I wanted to do with “my money.” After we got married, I tried to delay having a child by giving as an excuse that we needed to have the perfect amount of money saved first before we could welcome a child into our lives. The truth is, if we would have waited to have the perfect amount of money saved up before having a child, we would have been waiting forever. Eventually, Julie’s persistence, encouragement and love paid off and I released this unhealthy attachment to money. Because of this, I was able to embrace welcoming our three children into my life. They have helped bring me closer to Jesus and have brought more joy into my life than I could have ever imagined. The second substitute for God is power. It was one of the darkest days of the year 73 years ago. The year was 1944 and two of the world’s most powerful nations, America and Germany, were on the battlefield during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. This was one of the costliest battles in American history where 80,000 of the American and allied troops were killed, wounded or captured. However, the light that came into this world with the birth of Christ hadn't lost its ability to overcome even these darkest of days. It was in the heart of this battlefield in the Belgium wilderness on the dark night of Christmas Eve, where American soldiers and enemy soldiers from Germany laid down their guns, gathered together in the home of a civilian family to give thanks to God, to break bread together for Christmas dinner and to sleep in peace under the same roof. The darkness that was all around them in the battlefield that night, couldn't overcome Christ’s light and joy in that little corner of the battlefield. Soldiers and saints alike have had to let go of substitutes for God. The poster child for an unhealthy attachment to pleasure is St. Augustine. As a lustful younger man, his prayer was “God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Over time, he released this unhealthy attachment to pleasure and then he wrote a prayer to God saying, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me; you who are the true; the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place; you who are sweeter than all pleasure.” The fourth substitute for God is honor. In a few moments, we will have an opportunity to put this fourth step to joy into action. When we bow our heads tilting toward the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, let us do so to release any need we may have to be honored and instead honor the presence of Jesus who is right in front of us so that he may fill our hearts and our lives with his light and joy. Our choice today is either to try to make wealth, pleasure, power and honor the center of our lives and be left feeling unfulfilled and frustrated or to make Jesus the center of our lives and experience his light and joy. Let us make room in the Inn of our hearts this Christmas to joyfully welcome Jesus. As we tilt our lives toward Jesus, may we experience the light that only He can provide, so that our lives can mirror His life. Then like the star of Bethlehem, we can reflect Christ's light to point the way for others to experience the joy of encountering Jesus.   Power – Two of the biggest world powers battled at the Battle of the Bulge. This Advent, we are reminded that the light of the world was born that will never die. One dark night about 2,000 years ago, the bright morning star of Bethlehem showed the way to welcome the light into the world. This moment in time has transformed some of the darkest days of history with us humans at our worst into shining examples of humanity allowing Christ's light to emerge triumphant. As we look through history, we see this clearly. Yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of the start of World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. What feeds your joy? I am convinced that it wasn’t the food those soldiers ate that night that gave them joy. I am convinced that in the midst of their circumstances, these soldiers managed to find joy inside because of the presence of Christ and his light in their lives. That spark of Christ's light in each of our hearts still today has the power to overcome the darkness of an embattled marriage. Gathering together to celebrate the coming of Christ still has the power to breathe life into the Cold War of a strained relationship with a family member or friend. It is in the light of love incarnate that who we are is made clear. When we tilt our lives toward Jesus, to make room for Him in the Inn of our hearts, we start a process of emptying from lives the artificial substitutes for God that we sometimes try to fill our lives with. St. Thomas Aquinas said these four artificial substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power and honor. We know we need God in our lives, but we try to fill the void with something less than God. That’s because only someone as big as our God can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. The more we tilt our lives away from unhealthy attachments to wealth, pleasure, power and honor and instead tilt our lives to securing Jesus firmly in our hearts, the more joy we will experience in life. If each of us takes a moment to think about which of these four artificial substitutes for God we are most attached to or addicted to, we should each be able to identify what Jesus is most calling us to let go of so as to free up room in our hearts for us to more fully welcome Jesus into our hearts. Third Sunday of Advent Year B December 17, 2017 GOSPEL JN 1:6-8, 19-28 A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, "Who are you?" He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, "I am not the Christ." So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?" He said: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'make straight the way of the Lord,'" as Isaiah the prophet said." Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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