Rejoice! – a commandment

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[3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C, December 13, 2015 / Zeph 3:14-18a / Isa 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 / Phil 4:4-7 / Luke 3:10-18]

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I HAVE been teaching Catholic morality. Often when we think of morality what comes to mind are a set of rules and regulations, do and don’ts (and mostly don’ts!). How interesting to note what we are commanded to do on this Sunday of Advent, which is commonly known as Gaudete Sunday, is to …rejoice! This is a commandment.

In the first reading of the prophet Zephaniah we have. “Shout for joy, sing joyfully, be glad and exult with all your heart!” Wow! Let’s party! It is a time to be joyful. What can be the reason of our joy? Thinking of the gifts we will receive? Usually we enjoy them for a while but then later we lose interest. Thinking of all the nice food we will eat? Yes, but we also know that in January we have to begin the year with a diet! There are many things that happen to us every day that can make us really joyful like once, for me to see two missionaries in my community in the chapel late at night preparing the Word of God in Chinese for a retreat they will give. I was so happy to see them there dedicated to the Word of God. How great is this! We are called to share the Word of God in another language, helping prepare a way for the coming of the Lord. That is why we pray, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus!” As soon he will, so scripture tells us: “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty saviour; 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.” (Zephaniah 3:14-18a).

St Paul in the second reading continues this theme of joy: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Sometimes we find it hard to rejoice because we have many worries. In one moment this week I found myself burdened with anxiety about all the things I had to do. I was taking myself a bit too seriously. Sometimes we have genuine concerns but at other times it can be because we give ourselves too much importance, we can feel that we are the only ones doing anything. We are reminded: “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7). Present all your worries to the Lord. Don’t say to God that you have a big problem but say to your problem you have a big God! Then we will experience that peace that only Christ, the Prince of Peace, can bring.

Our preparation for the coming of the Lord is not only manifested interiorly but also exteriorly. All the people were asking John the Baptist that important question, “What should we do?” What shall we do for Christmas to really prepare our lives for his coming? John gives them some advice; “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none” (Luke 3:10-18). St Basil the Great said, “The coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes.” Of course it is not enough to know these things but to put them into practice so I checked through my closet. I only have one pair of shoes but I did find 4 shirts that I don’t use, so I washed them and gave them to a nearby congregation of sisters who will distribute them to the poor who live near us. It is scandalous that many Christians are living in excess yet so many have nothing. “Luxury corrupts more than poverty,” my African friend told me.

To the soldiers, John said, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” How many workers in rich countries complain about their pay! How many times we practice extortion to get our own way! Come, Lord Jesus and save us. Let us be like John the Baptist, helping to prepare the way of the Lord in the lives of many people.

Sometimes we feel ill-prepared, and it is true we need to prepare our own lives first so often we desire to wait until we are more perfect. When will that be?! Even John was not perfect. Theologically he was announcing a salvation of wrath and repentance when in fact the Lord came wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger announcing a message of mercy and compassion. We should just do what we can, knowing, as John did, that one greater than us is coming. He is so great that our imperfections will not stop his arrival but then again he needs us to help prepare the way in the lives of many. May this be our great joy. Rejoice, we all have a mission and there is work to be done. Don’t be anxious, the Lord is near. He is coming soon. Let us help prepare for his coming. Amen.

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