Sunday Sermon for December 12, 2021, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C
Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
In the Gospel reading today we are told by St. Luke that the people were filled with expectation. Some of the people wondered if St. John the Baptist might be the Messiah. Not only did the Baptist crush that idea immediately, but he provided the people with hope. If there was hope and excitement for what they saw and heard from John the Baptist, the joy they would know when the Messiah came would be substantially greater than what they know in the presence of the Forerunner.
It is precisely this joy in the presence of the Lord that the Church focuses us on today. When the people asked St. John the Baptist what they should do in response to being baptized, he told them those who had two cloaks were to share with those who have none; he said the tax collectors should not exact from the people anymore than what is prescribed. He told the soldiers they should not extort from anyone, they should not accuse anyone falsely, and they should be content with their wages.
In a nutshell, what he is saying is that we should be humble and we should be charitable. The underlying cause for this kind of disposition is the freedom we have from sin. St. John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and that was sufficient to cause people to want to change their lives. So, what needs to be said when the sacrament of Baptism not only removes sin, but opens the soul to be filled with Sanctifying Grace, and incorporates one into the Person of Jesus Christ? These realities are all beyond our ability and, I would submit, they are also beyond our wildest imagination.
That sin would not just be covered over, but actually removed from our souls is outside of anything we would normally ask for. To be changed from being dead in sin to being alive in God, filled with His own divine life, is way beyond what we would ever ask. To be made a member of the Son of God and, thereby, to be children of God Himself, is infinitely beyond what anyone would ever ask. Yet, this is exactly what God has done for us.
Considered from this perspective, I think if we were to ask St. John the Baptist what we should do, he would respond as the Church does today: Rejoice! Certainly, he would want us to be humble and to be charitable, but he might think that perhaps this does not even need to be mentioned because of the overwhelming glory that is at work in our souls as members of Christ and children of God.
I think it is important that in the readings today the Church included the verse telling us the people were filled with expectation. At that time the Romans had been oppressing the Jews in many ways. There was immense corruption within the hierarchy in the Temple and in the Jewish religion. Life would have been very hard for the people, yet they were filled with joy and expectation.
Today is also a time of expectation. Many people are wondering how long things can go on before God will intervene. Many people are expecting some horrible times that will be followed by the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The knowledge that God will intervene and our Lady’s Immaculate Heart will triumph gives us reason for hope. Hope gives us cause for joy!
In the first reading the people of Jerusalem are told to shout for joy, sing joyfully, and be glad and exult with all their hearts. Why? Because “the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst.” The people who felt abandoned by God are called to rejoice because the Lord is in their midst. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are to rejoice always, but he qualifies this by telling us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” If many people are wondering about God coming to our aid, it is necessary for those who have faith and trust in God to know that He is with us and has not abandoned us. If we recognize that He is in our midst, then we should be rejoicing.
How could the Lord not be with us? After all, if we are in the state of grace, He dwells in us. We said earlier that we are baptized into Jesus, so we remain in Him when we are in the state of grace. So, He dwells in us and we dwell in Him – that is a cause for great joy and rejoicing. However, since this is a two-way street, it is not only we who rejoice in the Lord, but the Prophet Zephaniah tells us God rejoices in us! Amazing! Rejoice!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.