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

Comments

Mike Ashland | 12/13/2009 - 4:50pm


A rousing, joyful piece!  Hurrah! or Hallelujah!
I do not find a reference within John the Baptist's words that declares the Messiah as God, but instead speaks to the "coming of the Lord."  Neither Messiah nor Lord suggests divinity.
Insofar as  the chaff from the wheat, we should be cautioned not to confuse the point of the two by necessarily condemning the rich to burn or the poor to redemption.  In my year of homelessness I found as much diversity of poverty (of health, of station, of spirit, of compassion and of faith) on the streets and under bridges as I did when I was a wealthy executive in the halls and houses of the rich and powerful.
I found, as well, mostly comfort in the poor amongst whom I lived.  We know, sociologically, that we humans largely adapt and become comfortable with poverty and homelessness after about 30 days.  It's why agencies are desperate to identify and intervene at the earliest moments of poverty and why it is so terribly difficult to move the chronically poor out of destitution.  Comfort is a funny thing.
I recall, too, a situation where I entered the home of a famous, wealthy family to tell the parents that something awful had happened to their teenage daughter.  The mother, home alone because her famous husband was away at a very important, public event, reacted to the news by asking me if I would just "keep this under" my hat until her husband returned, as the news would disrupt his endeavor.
Poverty has many faces.
We rejoice because we are all welcomed to the table and challenged equally to love and care for each other and because we receive in Our Lord the guidance and grace to be redeemed in our poverty.
Hallelujah!  A wonderful piece, John!
 

Michael Bindner | 12/13/2009 - 10:50am
I agree that this is a message of woe to the comfortable. I wrote an essay on this on my DC Examiner page. The challenge John lays down, like 2000 years ago, was for both the individuals and the system itself. We are obliged to change both or face that woe, whether the subject is tax reform or health care reform.
John Raymer | 12/12/2009 - 3:58pm
"Is this too a cry of joy?" That depends on your perspective. The owl gave a cry of joy when he caught his supper but the squirrel did not share the same sentiment.

St. John is calling for the justice of the Kingdom of God. Those oppressed by the world see it is a tremendous source of joy. But the rich and powerful - all those who have convenient arrangements - do not share the same sentiment(see v.19 and 20). [Incidently, why do the readings always seem to stop just short of the point where power is challenged?]

I have taught the Magnificat several times to youth. It never goes well. We middle-class Americans do not like the thought that God "will put down the mighty from their seat" and send "the rich away empty." Young people clearly understand the message but have not learned enough rationalizations to compartmentalize it.