Commentary to the Third Sunday of Advent: What Should We Do?
This Sunday's Gospel once more presents John the Baptist. John the Baptist has a particular place of honor in our tradition. He was the kinsman of the Lord who leapt for joy in his mother's womb when Elizabeth received a visit from Mary. He was the Forerunner, the one who said that the Messiah was coming. He is the one who pointed to Jesus and called him the Lamb of God. He was the one who lived as a radical prophet, wearing animal skins and eating locusts and demanding a radical change in the way people lived. Our generation likes to close an eye to this aspect of John's life, but it is this aspect, this demand for continual and radical change, that fascinated the people of the centuries.
The people who listened to John were so excited. They experienced God in his words. "What shall we do?” they asked. Sound familiar? John told the people to be charitable. They should give the poor their surplus. The tax collectors are told to be honest, not using their position to enrich themselves. The soldiers are told to stop harassing and intimidating people. John tells us that we should continue our lives, but now live them on a new dimension. Live with love, sacrificial love, the love of Jesus. What should you do? What should I do? What should all of us here do? The first thing we need to do is to consider how we treat other people, and then make every effort to be kind, considerate and lovable. The second thing on our to do list should be to ask for God's help and forgiveness for those times that we go out of our way not to be lovable. The little children are concerned that Santa knows when they've been naughty or nice. We should be concerned that God knows when we've been lovable or when we have refused to be lovable. We have penance services and confession periods to give us the opportunity to say, "I take responsibility for my actions and I seek God's forgiveness so I can be a more loving person.”
What is it that we should do? Well, closely connected with seeking forgiveness, in fact fundamental to seeking forgiveness, is offering forgiveness. Christmas can be the most hypocritical day of the year when we go through the motions of being at peace with all while at the same time we are still looking for ways to repay insult with insult, upset with upset, nastiness with nastiness. Anger for things that others have said to me or done to me swells up in me when I least expect it. It wants to boil over in rage. Now if I am warm and fuzzy with those who have occasioned this anger while I am looking for an opportunity to repay them for their viciousness, I am a hypocrite. John the Baptist was a radical.
He called people to make a radical change in their lives. Sometimes we let the sentimentality of Christmas get in the way of our the call of the prophet. Christmas is about a radical change in the world and a radical change in ourselves. Maybe we cannot forget a hurt. But we have no right to let that hurt destroy us. We enter into the realm of sin when we let the actions of others be an excuse for our joining them in breaking charity. What shall we do? Well, we need to develop and nurture our prayer lives. We need to make the time to speak to the Lord, giving him at least fifteen minutes a day. A half hour would be much better. Actually, we are not giving the Lord anything.
We are making this time for ourselves to come closer to the one who is calling us. I’m sure that every one here would say, "Father, you have got to be kidding. I am so busy with things that I have to accomplish, how do you think that I am going to squeeze in another half hour in this busiest of seasons.” If something is really important, we make the time for it. It makes no difference how busy we are. This is important. We need to be with the Lord everyday, even if it means getting up a bit earlier or going to sleep a bit later. "Rejoice,” Church tells us on this, Gaudete, or Rejoice Sunday. What a wonderful time of the year we are in. But all of this is just a symbolic recognition of the wonderful time of the world we are in.
The Lord is in our midst. He is among us. He is within us. The Kingdom of God is at hand and we have been chosen to be members of that Kingdom. Rejoice. What are we to do? We have to find the Messiah. Is this hard? Not really. Here’s the thing: Jesus is not hiding from us. He never hides from us. It is we who often hide from Him. What shall we do? Live with Christ. Love others with the love of Christ. And be happy. St. Paul to the Philippians, our second reading: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice.”