12:2-3, 4, 5-6
So as to be more available to the Advent-graces of the readings,
imagine John the Precursor seated at a table with a sign hanging above his
head which reads, “Fidelity Employment Agency.” He has the reputation of
being a prophet and announcing hard times for the unjust.
People from various occupations approach him for some instructions for how
they can survive and prosper. To each he states clearly what the usual injustice
is for their employment and urges them to refrain from these, because there
is a “someone” coming who will invite them to true prosperity if they are
We pray for the grace of a freedom from fears of our futures. This is “Rejoice
Sunday” and fear suppresses joy. We pray with the confidence, literally “with-faith”
that Jesus not only has come, but is always reaching towards us. We can pray
for a good spirit of quiet joy as we prepare to celebrate his presence. As
we move quickly through these days of preparing to celebrate the “Santa-side”
of Christmas, we can pray for a “Ho-ho-holy” spirit of extending Christ’s
love and peace.
The Entrance Antephon is the theme of this Third Sunday of Advent. The Lord
is near and so there is cause to be joyful. The First Reading from the prophet
Zephaniah, bursts with a joyful and consoling prophesy. As with Baruc and
Jeremiah, from whom we have heard the past two Advent Sundays, Zephaniah
foretells a reversal of God’s judgements.
In the chapters before our reading, the Lord has spoken in anger
and especially to the haughty city of Jerusalem. God has foretold the destruction
of her beauty. What we now hear is a complete turn around. Jerusalem is seen
as a beloved daughter and God’s being singing joyfully in her midst. The
abandoned has become the embraced. The abandoner is now the one who takes
great joy in the returned.
The Gospel is a continuation from last Sunday in which we see various classes
of people asking John what they are to do in repentance. He tells them exactly
where their chief temptation lies. Extortion, greed, possessiveness and lack
of concern for the poor top the list of indictments. John is beginning to
acquaint his hearers with the scalpel-like words of the “someone” who is
Luke gives us a figure of Jesus as one who separates the substantial
from the accidental. With a fan in his hand, the “One Who Is To Come” will
blow away the chaff to be burned and the wheat he will gather together. There
is some question about John’s being the “one,” but he states clearly that
he knows his identity and role. He is preparing the hearts and minds for
the fuller revelation of who God is and who belong to God’s people. When
Jesus begins preaching they will not be shocked at what they hear; they had
heard the Advertiser before him.
In the spirit of these readings we might wonder whether or not God is pleased
with us. It seems that sometimes God is, but mostly not. We have all grown
up in that parental atmosphere. When we are doing good things, we assume
that our parents were proud, pleased, delighted. When they found out that
we were not fulfilling their rules and expectations, their faces, general
body language needed no expression. They spoke those words with great articulation
I remember the twelfth birthday of one of my brothers. It was
summer and all the relatives were sitting on our front porch awaiting his
arrival. Dinner was ready, presents were ready and when he did arrive, he
was in the grip of a Milwaukee policeman. My brother and his friend had thrown
a firecracker in the window of an elderly lady’s house. Talk about ambiguity
of feelings. We were not pleased, but we were not going to give up the birthday
My parents and Irish grandparents especially, were not pleased with him,
but the party went on accompanied by that great Irish way of avoiding the
obvious issues. God is not a parent, nor is God Irish, thank God.
God is not pleased with us! Because of our upbringing, we can easily project
that image on to God. We are loved beyond the ambiguity of our firecracking
actions. God is not displeased either; we are loved and the dinner and cake
are always set before us.
The “rejoice” of today’s liturgy is the “rejoice” of our relationship initiated
by a God who continues coming to bring light and life to us and through us
into this world. We are freed from the ambiguity of whether or not we belong.
John and Jesus after him offer us specific ways to live and love. Following
these teachings does not please God, but rather will result in our being
pleased with life. Our joy flows from living in harmony with others
which extends the “rejoice” into the community. John has told the tax agents,
the soldiers and the well off what will please them and bring life to others.
Jesus comes to extend such offerings so that we will be freed from the depressing
ambiguity about what life means, what relations mean, and what each of us
is to do on the earth he blesses.
“Say to the anxious- be strong and fear not,
our God will come to save us.” Is. 35, 4