When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’ A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them. Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.
Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
The readings in today’s Mass, that of the 3rd Sunday in Advent, are interlinked by God’s thoughts on attitude and behaviour. The readings are also the third set of signposts on the Advent way pointing us towards Christmas, the reason for these seasonal thoughts and reflections.[Zephaniah, 3:14-18]
Inspiring a prophet called Zephaniah almost three thousand years ago, God wanted those who followed His words and teachings to be happy, to sing and to rejoice. This was in a time when the people of Israel were surrounded by enemies, and yet God did not want those who loved Him to fear in any way. His words were also a prophetic glance at a future where the world unites and turns to listen to His Word, where His Word rules the hearts and minds of man.
Responsorial [Isaiah 12]
In the responsorial psalm taken from the prophet Isaiah, God’s words are an urging to trust Him, and again not to be afraid. God’s words are “water from the wells of salvation”. In the land of Israel, renowned for its climatic dryness, desert landscapes and its lack of water, in ancient times a well was essential for survival. God’s words have meaning. He was offering, not a quenching of a physical thirst, but the satisfying of a much deeper spiritual thirst, that was and is the protection, nourishment and ultimate wellbeing one’s own soul.
Nowadays as never before in the history of man, have young and old been so surrounded and gifted with such an array of material and technological things. Yet, these do not satisfy the wants or yearnings, the thirst of any spiritual soul.[Philippians 4:4-7] St Paul repeats these words spoken by the prophets, urging the first Christian community in Europe at Philippi to rejoice at the closeness of God and not to fear. He goes on to make a most beautiful statements to that early Christian community, “The peace of God …. will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Luke 3:10-18] St Luke in his Gospel reading continues the thought on our attitudes and behaviours in reminding to us that crowds went to John the Baptist, not asking for material things, because John the Baptist had none of these, but asking questions containing a spiritual and moral element and the question was: “What should we do?” A simple question on the surface but one which had a personal moral or spiritual answer for each of the groups in the crowd
John the Baptist replies with suggestions on practical charity, honesty and satisfaction. To the crowd, he says to share their belongings and food with the needy. To the self-employed tax collectors, never really accepted in polite Jewish society of the time and who collected taxes on a commission basis, he says to collect what is right and no more. To the weekly-paid soldiers, he says not to threaten anyone and to be satisfied with their weekly wages.
In what he says, John is no firebrand or raving lunatic living on the fringe of society. He has a feel for those hungry and without. He has a feel for those who are being taxed to the limited, and he has feel for those who cannot make ends meet on a weekly basis. Not that bad for a guy at home in the desert dressed in skins and living on wild locusts!
In all of this, has anything changed in two thousand years? Inspired by God’s love, we have a moral obligation to help those in need, to live in society by its civil norms, rules and regulations, however annoying some of these may be to us. We have a moral obligation to pay our debts, be they the bills of a weekly nature or, of a more serious nature, bills of gratitude to parents and family who have made us what we are, to those who work invisibly on our behalf in society, and to the unnamed who protect us day and night.
John the Baptist, having said what he had to say specifically to the crowds then proclaimed the good news to the crowds that someone more powerful than he was coming.
The message of Advent is the very same as his. Jesus is coming! Christmas is near! Are we ready for the coming Jesus? Are we ready for Christmas?
We are drawing near to Christmas when we will celebrate the fact that God chose to become man in order to be close to us. This allows us to get away from the tension created by the readings of the past few Sundays. Today the Word of God puts before us for our meditation a theme that may seem unimportant in our daily lives, or rather, a theme that maybe we do not attach enough importance to, namely joy. It might seem a bit of a contradiction when they tell us that, as believers, we ought to live in joy, while at the same time they are telling us to live in expectation, since God is not yet fully present in our lives. What is there to rejoice about if God is not present in our life journey, and we are deprived of his loving care? How can we be joyful if we are living without God, and, at the same time, waiting for his coming?
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
John the Baptist’s call to conversion meets with a positive response from the people, summed up by Luke in a brief conversation. He begins with some harsh words from the Baptist: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Lk 3, 7). ”Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” (Lk.3, 9). Then his exhortation focuses on the practice of charity: no one can keep or eat a double share when his neighbour is in need.
It is important to note that the conversion to God, demanded with such severity, (Lk.3, 7-9), is immediately reduced to taking care of the neighbour in need of clothing or food. That was how the Baptist “evangelized”, preached good news to the people (Lk. 3, 18). Anyone who worships God must show fraternal charity towards a neighbour in need. This is the conversion needed to prepare the way of the Lord. There is no better way to await his coming than by attending to a needy neighbour. The Baptist who called for conversion to God shows us clearly how it comes about, namely through total conversion to our neighbour. Our personal relationship with God, our return to the Father, is renewed by a return to brotherly love.
Although the first application is quite precise, the Baptist continues to specify the conversion he is preaching according to the different categories of people who are listening. He tells the tax-collectors that they should demand no more than what was due (Lk.3, 12-13). He tells soldiers to renounce violence and every abuse of power (Lk. 3, 14). In every case, conversion to God comes down to doing something for the benefit of one’s neighbour (Lk.3, 10, 12. 14). If we want to be good in the eyes of God, we should do good to our neighbour.
This kind of preaching, marked by a radical approach and a sense of urgency, prompted the people to ask John if he were not, by chance, the promised Messiah. They heard him speaking with such clarity about what God wanted of them, that they felt they had to ask him where he got the power to speak with such certainty. But the one calling them to conversion was not, in fact, the one who was to come. The Baptist called for conversion so that the Messiah would come. If the people did not return to God, God would not come to his people.
John explains that someone else will come after him who will not only call people to conversion but will make it possible through baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus demands more because he puts greater means at our disposal. Those who receive the power that he gives, cannot delay their conversion. Those who hear the Baptist follow the servant. His is not yet the voice of the Lord which will make them taste the sweetness of his invitation. All the voices that speak to us about the Lord are not yet the voice of the Lord. All that the prophets and the Precursor have told us is not the same as what he himself will say to us. However, listening to those who speak in his name awakens in us the hope of one day hearing his voice. If we do not hear the voice of the Lord who is to come, we can at least console ourselves and prepare by listening to those who speak about him.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
As always, the Word of God and its demands seem almost foolish and utopian. What reasons have we today to be happy or satisfied? We desire joy but it seems we are destined not to find it. Or, if we do find it, we discover that our expectations were greater than the reality. The effort we had to make beforehand was far greater than the satisfaction that followed. We long for joy but we experience it only a few hours in the week, or a few days in the year, or a few months in the whole of our lives. We all seek happiness eagerly, sometimes even with a touch of humour, and all we get is a moment of distraction or entertainment. We acknowledge that we are living a life that is not very interesting and makes little sense, even if it does offer us moments of joy and pleasure. We live in a society in which happiness is rented by the hour, and is confused with thoughtlessness and idleness, or, worse still, with a selfish disregard of others.
Obviously, this is not the kind of happiness God is calling us to. In a world of enormous potential, and enormous limitations, we Christians must share with the people around us our experience of the joy that comes from our faith in Christ. We can be free of major preoccupations if we make it our first concern to serve the God of our joy. We can face the future with hope because we believe that God himself is our future. Our world is not absurd, because God loves it to the point of becoming one of its inhabitants. No difficulty that arises between us can rob us of our joy, because we are witnesses of a God who has lived among us. We cannot be credible witnesses of this God-man unless we are happy. Perhaps our most urgent mission at the present time is to give the people around us reasons to live with joy. What good is our not being completely evil, if we are sad? Of what benefit to the world is our good will, if we cannot give people reasons to live with hope?
Despite all the bad things that may surround us, and even if we ourselves are still bad, we have reasons to live with joy. It is not because we find reasons for joy within ourselves, but because God expects it from us. The believer who trusts that God is near can always stay calm and give the witness of a serene joy. We find our joy, not in the things that happen to us, nor in what we possess, but when we live in God’s service.
The joy that God expects of us is not the fruit of our own efforts, nor the result of overcoming our difficulties. It is the joy of knowing that we are close to God, even in time of trial. It is the peace that comes from knowing that God shares our sorrows and our concerns. It is the joy of one who understands that the power of his hope comes from God and not from his own efforts. Our joy is not something we can attain by ourselves, but something only God can give. We can live happy lives, secure of things we do not yet possess. Christian joy is the joy of one who knows that God is greater than our need. This is the joy that no one can take from us, because only God can give it. It is the joy of knowing that we are his beloved children, even if we are not free from difficulty and temptation. What the world needs today is not just believers but happy believers, men and women who have faith and maintain hope, and live in the joy that God gives. Our faith demands of us tasks that are sometimes unpopular and sometimes incomprehensible, but they are tasks we must fulfil with joy. Unfortunately, we may be presenting a sad image to the world, a world that is very sensitive to the absence of joy. Why is it that people often see Christians as men and women going round with sad faces, constantly finding fault, always suspicious of strangers, keeping our distance from, if not actually condemning, people who are not like us or do not think like us? It is our task to convince the world today, and especially the young people of today, that happiness can be found in giving up what we already have. It is possible to live in peace with others without asking or expecting of them more than they can give. Joy can be had without depriving others of it. We don’t find happiness by making others unhappy. We will not be happy unless we share our happiness with others. We will not find the joy of living until we meet God.
This is, without doubt, the conversion that God asks today of all who are waiting for him – a return to the joy of living, the joy he gives us, because he is near, a joy that we can experience because we live in hope and expectation. Living in the knowledge that God is coming should transform our time of waiting into a time of joy. A life spent growing in hope is not a wasted or useless life. It should not be difficult for us to live in joy, if we are really looking forward to the Lord’s coming. Having him close to us will keep us resolute in preparing the way for him. If what we really desire is the Lord we are waiting for, nothing will preoccupy us as much as his coming, and nothing will give us greater joy than waiting for him. People who are concerned about God and his kingdom, should not be concerned about anything else. The joy of living makes all our waiting bearable, not because we already possess that joy, but because we know it is coming. And the day of that meeting with our God will be a day of extreme joy. We can live in joy without the Lord if we are truly waiting for his coming.
that looking forward in faith to the feast of our Lord’s birth,
we may feel all the happiness our Saviour brings
and celebrate his coming with unfailing joy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
“Virtutes Instrumenti” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/