Scripture Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Gospel According to Luke 3:10-18
We have reached the half-way point in Advent. The celebration of Christmas draws near, just two weeks away. On this Sunday the Church invites us to rejoice, the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass today, taken from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” The first word of the Latin text of that passage is “Guadete,” that is, “Let everyone rejoice.” That is why this Sunday is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.”
Nothing could be better or more consoling than knowing that our God draws near to us, even when we may be negligent in our drawing near to God.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, the people ask John the Baptist, “What ought we to do?” In reply, the Baptist gives very practical advice: give to those in need, don’t cheat others, don’t bully anyone, be honest, and content with your life. That is very clear teaching for all tines, for any who may be wondering about the obligations of life, in whatever vocation or walk of life.
It is good to recall that the word “vocation” means “calling.” All of us are being called, every day, by God, but the call is not to be mystics, levitators or seers of visions, but down to earth, real people, who don’t live in the clouds, but in the midst of people in need.
Who is in need? Who is my neighbor? Everyone we meet, live with, work with, study with, shop with, you name it, are in need. We could even go so far as to recommend the rendition by the Irish priest, Father Ray Kelly, when on Britain’s Got Talent, he sang, “Everybody Hurts Sometimes,” (available on YouTube, a song originally from the American band, R.E.M).
In the midst of the challenges of life, we are always encouraged to take heart, rejoice greatly, be encouraged and renewed, for our Risen Savior is in our midst. Jesus came in time two millennia ago, and will come at the end of time, but he also comes every day and moment, into our lives, if we allow him in.
For Christians, the entrée into Life in Christ is the Sacrament of Baptism, which “sets the tone,” we might say, and opens the door, giving free access to God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins. By Baptism we are united to Christ, incorporated into the Church, and Original Sin, which we are all born with, is washed away. It’s all part of the mysterious yet joyful plan of God for the redemption of the entire human race.
The people in the Gospel who are listening to John the Baptist are reminded not to be complacent and to avoid thinking that, because they “have Abraham for our Father,” that they can glide through life without any real effort.
Recently I have been reminded about the threefold movement we might typically go through when faced with great enterprises in our life, including the call to Christian discipleship. Initially, what could be called stage one, we may be complacent about what we are being called to. For example, we may have been raised in the faith, then drifted away from the endeavor for one reason or another and content to leave it at that. We hopefully eventually realize this is not a satisfactory place in which to stay, and willing to move on from complacency.
The next stage may be called compliance, that is, getting on board to one degree or another, doing perhaps the minimum, so as not get punished or ridiculed. That too is not the place in which to remain. Ultimately, we need to become committed, the third stage or step, which means actually and genuinely engaged and doing all we can to stay on course, even amidst the inevitable storms that every life includes.
John the Baptist presents to his followers the way of sincere repentance, turning from what is not of God and doing good. Deceiving others, engaging in unscrupulous behavior and harshness toward others are things to be rejected and avoided by all who desire to draw near to the Lord.
What John the Baptist proposes to any who will listen is a very ordinary and down-to-earth expression of repentance, namely, “to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God,” as the Prophet Micah wrote (Micah 6:8).
Therein we will find our peace as God’s own possession and true followers of Jesus Christ.
Blessed continuation of Advent.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB