May the approaching dawn lift you in hope!
The readings from the Third Sunday in Advent of Year C are considered some of the best because they really inspire us to rejoice in hope!
The prophet Zephaniah encourages the people to shout and sing joyfully, to be glad and exult with all their hearts because God is coming to favor them with love and mercy. The people of Zephaniah’s day had turned away from God and fallen into idolatry—placing other things as more important than God. The king introduced religious reform and encouraged the people to put God first in all things. He then instructed them not to fear but look to God, ask for mercy and ask for help and blessings.
The Psalmist too invites us to join in a song of joy because God is already among us.
St. Paul further encourages us to rejoice in prayer and in good deeds because it is by the practice of our faith that we experience the peace and joy of God’s kingdom. Paul’s experience as a builder of the early Church was filled with challenges and difficulty. It seems that he was persecuted on every side. He was stoned by Jewish people, beaten with rods by Gentiles then finally imprisoned and put to death by pagan authorities. His successes were probably not huge numbers of people coming to faith in Christ but rather small numbers. Our sense is that he took great joy in the fact that those who became believers were sincere and dedicated to the practice of the faith knowing that God would bring the increase over time.
In the Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist who is calling the people to turn away from sin and to seek God above all. When asked what should we do? The Baptist’s reply is consistent, turn away from sin: avoid corruption and selfishness, don’t lie, cheat or steal, don’t harbor grudges or hatred but have charity toward others and give of your wealth, your possessions and of yourself.
It seems like we have a connection with each of the characters in the readings today. We all know people who have fallen away from the faith or have never had a faith at all. Many of us are experiencing the challenges and difficulty of being Christians in a world that doesn’t want moral constraints. There are also discord, tensions and dysfunction in our families. So why the call to rejoice? Because, against such a back drop of darkness we should rejoice as we put into practice the Good News that we have in Christ! Jesus is truly present within us as we go about our day-to-day faith in plain fashion. Jesus didn’t overthrow the Roman occupation, he transcended it. This weekend we rejoice because we see ourselves lifted up by his love and mercy transcending the foreign occupations of our time–those in our world, our towns, our families and ourselves. Our faith filled works make God’s love and mercy palpably felt by hearts and souls all around us and it is God working through us!
May the God of all joy bless you with peace! +++ Fr. Peter