I said at the beginning, that the predominant note of today’s Mass is one of joy. Rejoice always in the Lord the Church tells us. We are waiting in joyful hope. The Lord is near. And joy, in the life of Christians, is something special. As followers of Jesus Christ we rejoice. We are glad that God so loved each one of us that he gave his only Son. We are delighted that God so loved the world that He sent His Son, Jesus into the world. The cause of our joy is the realisation that Jesus so loves each one of us that he suffered and died for us. That is the reason for our Christmas joy. Whenever God is revealed as our Creator and especially as our Saviour, a tremendous joy is aroused in our hearts. It is good for us to get in touch with that joy and to give it expression.

The first word of the Angel Gabriel to Mary is: Rejoice. Rejoice so highly favoured one. When we think about it, are we not all the highly favoured ones of the Lord? The Almighty has, in fact, done great things for each one of us. We all need to take the time occasionally to count our blessings so as to realise just how favoured, how blessed we are. Of course to rejoice in the midst of suffering puts a strain on our ordinary idea of joy and of enjoyment. Perhaps that is why Mary emphasises the fact that she rejoices in “God, my Saviour”. In the midst of all our trials and tribulations, she invites all of us to put our trust in the God who loves us, no matter what. She invites us to remember that our God is a saving God, rich in mercy and slow to anger.

John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, was really put to the test. Deprived of his freedom, facing death in a lonely prison cell, you would think that he had nothing more to lose. And yet, in fact, yes there was something else to lose, his dreams – his dreams of a particular type of Saviour. In his prison cell, John began to wonder about Jesus. For Jesus wasn’t exactly measuring up to John’s idea of a Messiah – a Saviour who would produce the anticipated axe and cut down the trees that bore no fruit – a Saviour who would produce the threshing flail that would separate the wheat from the chaff. And now, it was John himself who was left threshing with doubts and his difficulties. But fair play to him, he had honesty to face them and to recognise them and to do something about it. He had the humility to seek help, so he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, was he the One that was to come or should they wait for somebody else. What does Jesus do? He quotes the prophesy of Isaiah – the blind see; the lame walk; the poor have the Gospel preached to them.

Jesus knew that this was enough. He knew that John’s great holiness and his knowledge of the Scriptures would carry him through this storm of faith. The answer of Jesus is gentle and it is calculated to draw John’s mind back to the light of God’s goodness. Then Jesus goes on to praise John – the greatest of the prophets.

Jesus makes one thought provoking statement there where he said: “Blessed are those who do not lose faith in me”.

That phrase is sometimes translated

‘Blessed are those who do not take offence at me.
Blessed are those who are not scandalised in me’.

The commentators go on to say that those people are blessed who do not lose faith in Jesus because of his modest origins, his humble beginnings, his poverty, and who are not scandalised, even by his style of public ministry.

Perhaps there is a certain providence that we gather for this Mass of Thanksgiving on the third Sunday of Advent. It allows us to rejoice and be glad for the many people I know who did not lose faith in Jesus Christ.

Today I rejoice at the great blessings God has given me in my life. I give thanks for the members of my family, my many friends and teachers who did not ever lose faith in Jesus Christ. Today I rejoice at coming home, and I give thanks for all that family and friends, faith and the gift of priesthood have meant in my life. I have been very humbled by your kindness, overwhelmed and uplifted by your outstanding encouragement and support. So today I want to give thanks to God for the great things he has done for all of us.
A vocation to the priesthood is not just the work of divine grace. It is the fruit of a believing community. It is the result of inspiration received and encouragement given from the people around us – our parents, our teachers, the priests and religious in our community, those who serve the needy, those who serve the community in so many ways, those who are quiet, humble witnesses to faith and goodness. These are the witnesses to God’s goodness and love who inspire faith and service in others.

In his recent Encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI said:
Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.
Today I thank God that this diocese of my birth, formation and early priesthood has such people in abundance. There have been many John the Baptist’s in my life, witnesses to the goodness of God who prepared the way of the Lord in my mind and heart. Without them I would not be here today. That it is why it is appropriate that I return to this, my first home, to the people of my birth and clan and give thanks with you and for you.
Our world today needs witnesses to hope. We need prophets to guide the profits of recent years. We need people who can check the balance of our economic and technological growth, against our growth in civility, community, faith and human kindness. We need people who can build up the civilisation of love, witnesses to solidarity and communion with God who can develop growth and prosperity with a generous faith.

I thank God for the gift of growing up here. It was here amidst the myths and legends of Breifne that I learned to hear the calm of that still small voice of God. It was here that I learned of the hope that faith can bring. Today that voice repeats to all of us:
Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees
and say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.