What Shall We Do?

What Shall We Do?
Third Sunday of Advent, Year C
Zep 3:14-18a . Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6. Phil 4:4-7. Lk 3:10-18.

Joy! It permeates the readings of this day!
It permeates even the colors of our vestments and the color of this Sunday’s advent candle.

Like the soft dew in the morning, like the first rays of the sun, this joy, this hope, this feeling that the Lord is coming…

This joy gives light to the penitential season of Advent – this time of waiting, of longing.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy! When you take the penitential purple of Advent and lighten it, if you will, you get the color of rose: joy lightens, yes, even our vestments—and shows us as a people of hope!

That term “Gaudate,” means “rejoice”—be joyful over and over again. We hear it in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”

How beautiful is that!

The Lord is near! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

And did you hear in the first reading that there are four commands to rejoice? One right after another:
Shout for joy
Sing joyfully
Be glad
Exult with all your heart.

Whenever the Scriptures talk about the coming of the messiah, as these readings do, joy abounds and overflows.

Joy is a different thing than happiness, you know?
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – it is a God-given grace.

This is so different than the concept of “happiness.”
Happiness comes with ownership or possession. And when you’ve closed around that possession, you have finished – you have met the goal.
You are content! You contain what it is that you own.

But joy, well... joy has a sense of longing – it is the fruit of a relationship.
Where happiness is kind of a state of being – joy has a kind of longing –
It is the pilgrim’s condition – and with this longing is a sense of pure delight, because we delight in the Lord – a person, not a thing to possess.

And in the midst of all this talk about joy, we have John the Baptist again.

We heard about him in last week’s Gospel.
Half of that Gospel was given over to the who’s, the what’s, the where’s and when’s – we were identifying John to put John on this day, in this year, in this reign of the king – and to identify him as: The Son of Zechariah.

Talk about joy – John was the infant who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb, when he heard the sound of Mary – the Blessed Mother’s voice.

John – for all of his tragic end, was and is a kind of patron saint for joy!

This week, we know who he is, and he is answering questions.
You see, in the few verses that we missed between last week and this,
John has told this crowd that they must produce good fruits
as a sign of their repentance.

Now we have groups within the crowd, all asking John,
“what shall we do?”
John has an answer, and in a nutshell, in three words, it is this: act with justice.

That rings down through the centuries, not only for the people in that crowd,
But for the people in this crowd today – sitting here around the table of the word and the table of the eucharist: act with justice!

That’s what we’re sent out to do from these readings –
It’s what we’re sent out to do as as we receive in Holy Communion
The king of love,
The king of charity,
The king of justice,
The king of peace.

We need to do more than hear words and receive communion. Our very presence here charges all of us: act with justice.

And as Christians , we have to do this for all people. We have to love our enemies.

Look at these tax collectors—they were considered to be public sinners! Jewish tax collectors were collecting for Rome.
They were extorting their own people to get a profit.

But John doesn’t tell them to stop being tax collectors.
He tells them: stop charging more than is proper. Act with justice.

And he doesn’t tell the soldiers – who well might have been Roman soldiers in the crowd – he doesn’t tell them “Put down your lances.”
No, he says, “Don’t abuse your power.”
He tells them: Act with justice.

That simple message—in the everyday stuff of where they already are:
act with justice.
Do the right thing, not the powerful thing.

All this – and now another joy.
John in today’s gospel doesn’t announce the birth of Jesus. John comes to announce the ministerial presence of Jesus.

“Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The crowd back with John awaited the coming of a messiah.
The Gospel tells us they were “filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”

The hope of the ages had been made manifest in John. Some 450 years had gone by with no prophetic voice to the Jews.
They waited and they watched, and they longed for the coming of the Messiah.
They longed for this joy!

And now, after this period of silence, John the Baptist appears on the scene: John breaks God’s silence!
His simple message is the prophet’s message: act with justice.
It is Isaiah’s message. Jeremiah’s message, Amos’ message,

The hope of the ages is now manifest in John.
And because of this, John knows that he has to be careful in pointing out the right way.
John points to the “mightier one who is coming … who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John points us to Jesus, too, by his message.

And we who wait in the darkening skies of late fall,
we who live in times of things expected yet unfulfilled,
we who sense time going by… time slipping by…

We are told on this day, in this time to rejoice!

God is near. His kingdom is at hand – a matter of :
Already—but not just yet in its fullness.
A matter of breaking through in the kindness, in the justice, in the love that we show to each other in the ordinary stuff of our ordinary lives.

We need this reminder to rejoice. We need this reminder of the messiah among us who is Great in our midst.

We need to remember in this time also to have joy.

Today we rejoice because God calls out to us through John the Baptist. He speaks to us of our poverty, and in our darkness,
and he tells us how we can gain great riches.

We can act with justice. We can extend charity. We can love.

We can help break forth the dawn of the light of hope—that peace of God, that the second reading tells us “surpasses all understanding.”

That’s real joy!

The Lord is close at hand, my friends!
Joy in justice, love, and peace, is truly at hand for you and for me.

Gaudete! Great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel!