We have had what I consider a rousing discussion on the Immaculate Conception, still ongoing as I write, with cris de coeur from some participants that we concentrate more on our relationship with God and less on dogmatic definitions. Dogmatic definitions, in a sense, set the boundaries of discussion, but we should never forget that at the heart of the Christian life is joy. The readings for the Third Week of Advent are a cry of joy, a call to experience God with gladness and rejoicing. Zephaniah 3:14-18 and Isaiah12:2-6, the responsorial Psalm, as well as Philippians 4:4-7 all focus on the joy and gladness the coming of the Lord brings. From Zephaniah we read"The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness,and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals." In Isaiah we hear, "Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth. Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!" And in Philippians Paul states, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" A life lived mindful of God, in the presence of God, awaiting the coming of God, both presently and in the future, is a life of joy. There is a real sense in which the Christian life is best described as a festival, a celebration of God and his goodness.
But what of the Gospel reading from Luke 3:10-18? Is this too a cry of joy? John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, helps prepare the people for the joyous coming of the Messiah by instructing them on how they should treat others, responding to the question, "What should we do?" It is a question all of us need to ask regularly and seriously, and John gives practical responses to down-to-earth questions. The people are "filled with expectation" according to the Gospel, and John tells them further to get ready because the Messiah will come with " his winnowing fan... 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." Can this image of the coming eschatological judgment be called a time of rejoicing and gladness? It is, I think, if we are conscious of preparing the way for the coming of the savior, if we continue to ask, "what should we do?" The coming of the Lord is not a threat, but a promise, and we should prepare with joy and gladness. One of the best ways to prepare, from my point of view, is found in the Philippians passage for Advent III: "Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near." Rejoice!
John W. Martens