Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
Does today’s talk of rejoicing seem deflated by John the Baptist’s demanding preaching?
John disqualifies no one from his baptism of repentance. He doesn’t reject the tax collectors for their injustices—nor does he ask them for donations. He doesn’t repulse the soldiers as violent men nor enlist them as militia to enforce the Kingdom to come. If anyone is determined to change their ways—and why else would they come to John?—he trusts that they are not stuck. Certainly, that’s good news for them and reason to rejoice.
Moreover, he doesn’t use anyone nor does he addresses anyone as a function or a stereotype but as a three-dimensional, moral being. We all know how good it feels, to be affirmed in all our complexity and perceived as capable of doing good. That’s a reason to rejoice.
Clearly, all of these people trust John and somehow find God’s presence in him. He gives them hope and direction. In a culture of gloomy dead ends, whether then or now, hope is the foundation for any viable joy, encouraging fortitude and discouraging fear, cultivating the grounds for faith.
If I look at my life, I must credit my hope to actual individuals whose lives and personalities are unpretentious and transparent enough to allow God to shine through. They may exhibit the courage I lack to face a tough problem; or time-tested trust when I can only perceive doubts. Such people address me in all my complexity, transmitting God in all that divine simplicity. Isn’t that sufficient reason to rejoice?
John says, I must decrease so he may increase.
Couldn’t you and I become transparent signs of God’s presence, a cause of true rejoicing?