3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR C DECEMBER 12, 2021 (R. 1: Zephaniah 3: 14-18a; Responsorial Psalm: Isaiah 12: 2-3, 4, 5-6; R. 2: Philippians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 3: 10-18)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
A young man was looking very depressed and moody. His friend asked to know what the matter was. He said, “I am finding it difficult to save enough money for a very important trip.” His friend asked, “Which trip?” He answered, “I want to travel to Mt Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments so that I can recite the Ten Commandments in order to become a holy person.” His friend then told him, “I think you will be better off if you remain at home obeying the commandments and sharing your money with the poor.”
My dearly beloved in Christ, today, the third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete comes from Latin, and it means, “Rejoice.” Today, the Church invites us to rejoice because our salvation is here! Considering our present-day realities, is there really any reason to rejoice? Is there any cause for rejoicing when we think of climate change, terrorism, government irresponsibility experienced in almost all countries of the world, scandals from religious leaders, betrayal from friends, health challenges, loss of dear ones, financial challenges, broken homes etc.? Before bringing up more excuses to defend why we should not rejoice, let us look at the circumstances that surrounded those who asked us to rejoice in today’s scripture passages. Was everything going on smoothly for them when they asked us to rejoice?
In the first reading, Zephaniah lived during one of the most difficult periods in the history of Israel. Corruption was everywhere in Jerusalem: the kings, the priests, the prophets, the judges were corrupt. The people betrayed their God and became very immoral. Zephaniah then began by threatening the people with the day of the Lord, the day of reckoning when the Lord will descend on the people in anger. It was during such sinful lifestyle of the people and threat from Zephaniah that he suddenly turned and proclaimed the great message of today, calling the people to rejoice that the Day of the Lord was at hand. The day of the Lord would no longer be a day of punishment, but a day when God’s love would overcome all evil. God’s anger would not be directed against the sinner but against sin.
In the second reading, St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Brothers and Sisters, rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Do you know where Paul was when he wrote those uplifting words? He was in prison. Rather than becoming sad, he kept inviting the Philippians to rejoice. Not because things were going on so well for them, but because the Lord was close at hand and all that happens to God’s children are within God’s plan. Sometime ago, at the West end of the Interstate 8, leading to Ocean Beach, I saw a homeless man with a placard that has the inscription, “I am smiling; why not you?” We may not have control over what happens to us, but we have control over our reaction. The Church invites us today to choose joy, to look at the positive side, to recognize the blessings that we have been given.
Those who came to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel passage must have come feeling helpless, believing that they had every excuse not to repent. When the crowds came, he simply told them to share their extra cloaks and food with those who lack. The truth is that the hunger that people experience in this world is not due to lack of food but due to the problem of distribution. While many of us waste food, many others die due to lack of food. A cartoon I once saw had it that while the rich walk miles to digest their food, the poor walk miles in search of food. Some reports have it that there are more vacant homes than homeless people. No matter how poor you are, there is something extra you have that can benefit someone else.
The tax collectors and the soldiers must have come to John using their professions as excuses for their inability to prepare for the Lord. John did not require any major change in their lifestyle, he did not ask them to change their professions; he only challenged them to bloom where they were planted. Tax collectors must not collect more than officially required; soldiers must not bully anyone, and they must be contented with their wages. Your profession is not an excuse for committing sin. We can remain in our profession, our state in life, our neighborhood and still become Saints. The choice again is ours.
Dearly beloved in Christ, we have every reason to be happy, and we have no excuse to remain in sin. If half of the energy we put into finding excuses for not doing what we ought to do were put into finding the means to do what we ought to do, the world would be a better place. Stephen Dolley Jr. is quoted to have said that “A man who wants to be something will find a way; a man who doesn’t will find an excuse.” Remember, the past is only an explanation for the present and never an excuse.
As we wait for the coming of Christ, in the words of St. Paul, I say, “Brothers and Sisters: rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”