Last week was all about Advent joy and this week is all about Advent Rejoicing. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally rose in color to reflect the different kind of penitential feeling we have in Advent and also because the second reading today begins with the word “Rejoice”. I am not sure what the difference is between the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ except that “joy” is a kind of feeling that we have and “rejoicing” is giving voice to that feeling.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  St. Paul is pretty emphatic about it. And not only does he want us to rejoice, but he wants us to throw our worries away and leave them to God in prayer and with thanksgiving. If only we could do that each and every day! How better and how more peaceful our lives would be.

The prophet Zephaniah is on the same wavelength today as well. “Sing aloud…Rejoice and exult with all your heart!”, he begs us. And why should we do this according to the prophet? Because God is in our midst and will take care of us. The name Jesus means “God with us”, and God is truly with us in Jesus Christ who humbles himself to become one of us – “rejoic[ing] over us in gladness” and renew[ing] us in his love. This prediction of Zephaniah, when we read it backward, makes complete sense, although the warrior king he talks about is fighting not against other nations but against sin and death itself.

Our Gospel reading today continues in the realm of prophecy and continues with the life and preaching of John the Baptist. Luke spends more time on John the Baptist than the other Gospel writers, and we get a large taste of his preaching from Luke. John has been asking people to repent and telling them that he, as Isaiah predicted, is announcing someone who is to come quite soon who will save the world. In today’s excerpt, we get a glimpse of John interacting with his followers who have many questions to ask him about how they are to get ready for this event and what they must do to ready themselves. The first answer that John gives them is not what we might expect today – looking inwardly and confessing our guilt to God. No, John says; it is all about love of neighbor by sharing and taking care of those less fortunate than we are. If you have two coats, give one away to someone who needs it, he says. Have extra food? Share it with those who have very little.

Besides his immediate followers, tax collectors – not looked upon favorably by the Jewish society of the time – come to John and ask what it is that they must do to prepare. John tells them to practice honesty in their transactions. Don’t take more than you deserve, and don’t take advantage of people.

Military men, soldiers, came to him as well and asked what they should do to get ready. John tells them not to use their military positions of authority to extort money from people or take bribes to say false things about people. They are to be satisfied with their wages and not find ways to take money from the hardworking poor around them.

Notice that the preparation for the Messiah that John is preaching here is not about personal reflection as much as it is about socialism – treating others in the best way possible. I might mention here again the random acts of kindness that we are doing this Advent. Because of these readings I wanted to stress to you this Advent the social preparation for Christ’s coming – practical ways to help your neighbor, the caregivers, the people who serve you every day – those who deliver the mail, those who look after your house while you are away, those who deliver your paper, the senior citizen who lives lonely on your street. Let’s follow John’s advice and have an active repentance this Advent.

Finally, in the Gospel, John is asked what he knows about this Messiah that he is preaching about. What has God told the prophet about him? What should they be looking for? Could John himself be the one who will lead them?

The first thing John does is disavow them of the idea that he might be the Messiah himself. He says that someone so much greater is coming that he shouldn’t be allowed to even tie his shoelaces. And he makes a distinction between the two types of baptism they will encounter – his and the Messiah’s. John baptizes with water symbolic of cleansing. The water itself doesn’t cleanse people spiritually but is a metaphor that they have cleansed themselves spiritually – an outward sign to others that they have repented. The baptism of the Messiah, however, will be the real thing – the water, while remaining an outward sign, will bring about a spiritual change in the person baptized. They will receive the Spirit of God and they will be “fired up” with God-like qualities. John then uses the image of wheat and chaff and says that God will gather up the wheat and get rid of the garbage left behind. Luke ends by saying that this was the good news John was proclaiming.

Now I am not a farmer but I do know that the chaff was the shell or husk that surrounded the edible part of the wheat. I think that it was separated in Jesus’ time by throwing the wheat up into the air and the husk would fall away leaving the wheat kernel. In any case, we get the idea that the Messiah will let us know what is important and will toss the irrelevant things away. We already know that John is right and we have seen how Jesus can get right tot he point of things. We still need to learn to do that today, as I see all sorts of irrelevant things from Starbuck’s coffee cups and arguments over saying “Happy Holidays” getting in the way of the true meaning of  Christ’s coming. If we really want to put Christ back into Christmas, let us heed John today and DO SOMETHING to make this world a better place by helping those less fortunate than ourselves, and treating all people with dignity, honor and justice! Just an idea from John, but it is the Good News that John and I preach to you today! So rejoice in it! Again I say, Rejoice!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]


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