Saturday, December 15, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today we celebrate "Gaudete Sunday."  In many parishes the celebrant of the weekly Sunday liturgy will don pinkish vestment.  This liturgical practice came about from the earlier days of our Church when Advent, like Lent, was a time for acts of penance and mortification.  It is for this reason that we have the readings that speak of a time when the people of Yahweh were aware of the lifestyle of both national and temple leaders. The leaders of the nation earned harsh treatment because of their false worship a definite disregard for the needs of the poor.  After two chapters of "doom and gloom," Zephaniah begins to bring joy to the people. 

"The images in this poem are celebrational and reflective of the ritual festivals of this agricultural land.  Instead of a sweeping away, there is a gathering up.  Rather than banishment, there is inclusion.  The people are to shout for joy that what was held against them has been removed and they are to related gratefully with their new and loving King." [Rev. Larry Gillick, SJ, Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality]

We, in this 21st century, are but nine days away from the longed-for Nativity of Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary.  The Good News is that the arrival, the birth, of the Savior is a reality of goodness for all of us to enjoy.  It is a time to realize once again that as God's people, we are, like the people of Old Testament times, men and women whose transgressions against our God and His Commandments as well as our brothers and sisters are forgiven.  This is the "present" our God has given to each of us ... genuine forgiveness.  Each of us can see in this birth of the Son of God, the Son of Man, God's giving us our "present."

During the days just prior to the birth of Mary's child, God's son, a man was bold enough to speak out not only about the coming of a Savior, a Messiah, but also like earlier Old Testament prophets about how to make ready for his coming.  People of the times, especially many who held positions of wealth and power in the community, we asking this unusual prophet, John the Baptist, what they should do to make ready for his arrival.  Believing that this Savior was more than a temporal ruler, John answered their questions.  John the Evangelist, in today's gospel reading, he spoke words that were tough and ultimately cost him his life.  Listen to the Baptist's words:

"Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John [the Baptist]  might be the Christ.  John answered them all, saying, 'I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."[Luke 3]

The Baptist is clearly teaching those concerned about their future to free themselves from what would make a new life impossible.  Thus the imagery of the of the farmer taking in the harvest and separating the useful part of the crop from that which does not serve his needs.  It is a reminder to all the later centuries of biblical readers that God will also bring about a separation of those who cannot live the new life, the Good News, that his Son Jesus came to give as the Father's "present" to each of us.

Today, as Christmas morning is only a few sun rises away, there is among most people an anticipatory feeling for the day of Jesus' birth as well as the coming of Santa Claus with his gifts and our exchanging of gifts with those who are important in our lives.  In modern times this is a challenging celebration.  It calls us to realize the importance of God's "present" to us and not to allow it to be overshadowed by the ephemeral, a passing fancy, in our lives.  We who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ should do what we can to make our exchanging of gifts, even those marvelous gifts from Jolly old St. Nicholas,  be emblematic of the many ways God continues to present us with his presents.

"Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus." [Revelation:22:20]