3rd Sunday of Advent (Sunday, 16th December 2018)
First Reading: Zeph 3: 14-18a (Rejoice, O people of Israel)
Second Reading: Phil 4: 4-7 (The Lord is near)
Gospel: Lk 3: 10-18 (What then shall we do?)
Joy is a matter of quest or search for everyone. While it is true of everyone, only what we search for differs from person to person. It could be physical, material, or spiritual etc. It could be companionship of God or people. Today the readings invite us to this same search. It is not merely a search but invitation to the joy of freedom brought to us by God Himself.
The first reading says, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more” (Zeph 3:14-15). It says that the cause of joy is the presence of God with them. Scripture provides us endless examples of how the presence of the Lord empowers his people to live for Him. The Old Testament through many of its references exhibits that as long as presence of God is in the midst of people, there is joy. For instance, the Psalmist says, “In your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand, there are pleasures forever.” (Ps 16:11). We find in Moses too how he sought for God’s presence with them for victory. We see it in Exodus 33:15 where Moses was convinced that without God’s presence in his life it was useless for him to attempt anything. When he spoke face to face with the Lord, he stated boldly, “If thy presence does not go with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15). He was saying, “Lord, if you’re not with us, we’re not going to make it. We won’t take a single step unless we are assured of your presence”. So the victory or joy is assured because God was with them.
The same message is repeated in today’s second reading too. St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Then he assures the people saying, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything…” (Phil 4:5). Here too we see that God’s closeness to God brings joy to people. It casts away every burden, sorrow, sadness etc. St. Paul goes a little further in mentioning that mere closeness to God does not bring us joy. On the other hand, he proposes what we need to do to experience the joy God gives to all of us. How does he want to give the joy for us? He asks us to raise our hearts and mind in prayer and that too with gratitude. (Phil 4:6). When we approach Him with humility and gratitude, God will give us peace and joy beyond our imagination and His joy will guard our hearts and thoughts (Phil 4:7).
It is, in fact, a two-way action. We have experienced that good thoughts and pure intentions in our heart naturally brings forth peace and joy. Only bad thoughts or impure intention lead us feel disturbed and guilty. So, when we seek God’s ways in our life and pray to Him for His grace, His grace will endow us with His peace and joy which will take away all burdens of our heart and mind. Therefore, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30).
Today’s Gospel describes John the Baptist giving recipe for true joy and peace when he preached the Kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist advised his audience to practice some virtues in order to receive His peace and joy. First is the act of sharing. We know well the desire of young man who wanted to follow Jesus. He had all eagerness to follow Jesus. He failed because he could not part away with his possession. Possessions became more precious for him than the companionship with Jesus. We also know the case of Zacchaeus. As soon as Jesus expressed his desire to dine with Him, he was ready to share with others more than what he actually owed to them. Sharing truly brings joy.
The second action John the Baptist advises to the soldiers is kindness and contentedness. He knows that soldiers fight wars aggressively so as to appropriate more and more goods of the defeated enemies or captured prisoners. Wars were fought more for just or genuine reason than for show of one’s power and dominion. In that race, the strong would prevail against the week and in the course of it, would snatch and captivate the goods. This was the normal practice too. John the Baptist, on the other hand, asks the soldiers to desist from immoral and unjust practices but show sympathy, love and remain content with whatever reward a pagan received. In other words, it is a call to recognise the gifts God gives them and live with it peacefully.
The third action he preached for us is the virtue of humility. His life style and preaching gave inkling of an image of not only a prophet but also the redeemer and saviour. The Gospel says “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…”. This was the feeling people had about him. Thwarting all their misconception or introspection about him, he foretells the advent of Savior as well as humbly acknowledges his position in relation to Jesus Christ saying, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals”.
John the Baptist thus places before us the virtue of sharing, kindness and humility. These virtues are very necessary for making our life joyful and happy one can’t expect one’s life to be joyful if one is too concerned about accumulation of things for oneself as in the case of Rich fool man (Lk 12:16-21) or that one is too unconcerned about the neighbour in the case of Rich Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). And can’t be proud like the Publican who went to pray only to justify himself or exhibit his piety, fasting and prayer (Lk 18:9-14). Their life was never peaceful or joyful. It is only when we share our goods and show kindness to others like the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) or be like the centurion who humbled himself to receive cure of his servant from the Lord (Mt 8:5-13) true joy would bubble in our hearts. We need to adopt these virtues of sharing, kindness and humility to experience Him who will help us share, care and be docile to the work of Holy Spirit in us. Amen.