Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you. He has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; 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.(P) The word of the Lord.
God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation. (R)
Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name; among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name. (R)
Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth. Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! (R)
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your request known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.(P) The word of the Lord.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" He said to them in reply. "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the persons who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."
Now the people were filled with expectation and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as "Gaudete Sunday". The word "gaudete" comes from Latin words "gaudium", meaning "joy", and "gaudeo", meaning "to rejoice" or "be glad". On this day, the Church wants us to recall the joy and the anticipation of the Promised Redemption of Israel. The Church further suggests pink or rose as the color of the day to indicate the great joy. So, the priest wears a rose vestment and the rose candle is lighted. Besides, the Church also recommends scripture texts which emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming.
The first reading was a prophecy of the Prophet Zephaniah about six hundred years before the birth of Christ. The prophet had foretold that the Israelites would no longer need to live in fear because soon their enemies would be destroyed, and the Lord would dwell in their midst. He further declared to them that God rejoices over them and, that He would not leave them, even if they turn away from Him, Zephaniah (3:14-18). Eventually, just as predicted, the Persians' conquest of the Babylonian Empire that included the land of Judah ended the Jewish exile in 537BC and they were granted permission to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple.
The second reading was Saint Paul's instruction to the early Christians of Philippi as they awaited the future return of Christ in glory. He exhorted them to rejoice in the Lord always because the Lord is near to all who call on Him to free them from fear and anxiety, Philippians (4:4-7). As for today's gospel from Luke, even though no word pertaining to "joy" is mentioned, I believe that when John began announcing the coming of the Messiah, a feeling of joy enveloped those few who were yearning for God's salvation. But first, before we go any further, we shall look back to what we learned in last week's text.
Last week, we learned that during the reign of the very corrupt, cruel and greedy political and religious leadership in Roman Palestine, John the Baptist emerged in the wilderness and began preaching a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins". Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, he further called out to the people to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight, Isaiah (40:3). In other words, John was telling the people to confess their sins and repent, that is, to turn away from sinning and be baptized in water as a sign of purification because the Messiah was coming, Luke (3:1-6). And also, he was telling them that instead of relying on the merit of their father Abraham for their rescue, they needed to prepare for the coming of the day of judgment and its fiery wrath, by fruits of righteousness, Luke (3:7-9).
Lots of people came from everywhere to hear John's preaching. Among the multitudes of people, Luke writes in today's gospel that there were common people, tax-collectors and soldiers. They asked John what they must do to prove their repentance. In his reply, John admonished them to prove the genuineness of their repentance by a change of attitude and behaviour, in their own state of life or profession or job or occupation.
First, he exhorted the general public to be kind and generous toward the needy. He told them to share what they had. Particularly, he asked them to share their extra clothing and food generously with those who did not have, Luke (3:11). Then he urged the tax-collectors to refrain from corrupt and exploitative practices, Luke (3:13). During the time of John, Israel was under Roman rule, and formed part of a province of the Roman Empire. The people of each province had to pay taxes to administrate the empire, and Jews themselves worked for the Romans as tax collectors. The gospels speak of two tax collectors, named Matthew and Zacchaeus, who became followers of Jesus. In fact, Matthew became Jesus' apostle, and wrote the life of Christ known as the book of Matthew. The tax collectors were hated and despised by the fellow Jews.
Because, they were not only working for and collaborating with Roman occupiers, but they were cheating the people by charging more taxes than required and keeping the extra money for themselves. Over all, the tax collectors were seen as the most devious and wicked thieves of that day. So, John admonished them not to fleece money from their own fellowmen and resist the temptation to be so greedy, Luke (3:13). And then, he advised the soldiers not to "extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation", but to "be content with their wages" as granted, Luke (3:14). In other words, John exhorted both these groups against using their positions for economic exploitation.
John's preaching made a huge impact on the hearers and led them to speculate if John might possibly be the Messiah, called the Christ, for whom they had been waiting so many years. In his response to the expectation of the crowd, John the Baptist was forthright and humble. He did not see himself as the messiah, but as a herald of the messiah. More so, he extolled Christ's superiority over him, he referred to Christ as "One mightier than him", and then identified three ways to show how Christ is superior to him:
The third and ultimate difference between John the prophet and Jesus Christ, is that John is not the one to judge the world but Christ. John said, "His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire".
Here, John has used an agricultural imagery which may be unfamiliar to modern readers or city dwellers. In traditional farming, wind winnowing is a process for separating grain from chaff. Winnowing fan refers to the hand device used by farmers to toss the harvested grain into the air. And when they do so, the chaff or the unwanted husks would be blown off to the sides, while the heavier grains would settle back onto the ground. The farmers could then collect the grains and store them in barn but they will burn up the chaff which is no longer useful.
In the Old Testament, this imagery has been used to express judgments, Job (20:26); Proverb (20:26); Is (34:8-10; 41:15-16; 64:6); Jeremiah (15:7). John used a similar imagery to describe the judgment Jesus would ultimately bring. Jesus, the Great Winnower, will come as judge and separate the righteous from the wicked, and send the righteous to everlasting life but the wicked to eternal destruction. In this manner, John inculcated repentance, and declared the greatness of the Messiah. But his preaching was not confined to these matters. Luke concludes his account of John's preaching with the observation that John also exhorted people in many other ways, and in so doing, "he preached the good news".
What is the message for us?
Whether we are preparing for Christmas or Christ's Second Coming at the end of time, or His coming in our daily life and at the time of our death, the only way to prepare ourselves for Jesus is by repentance of our sins. Repentance is not just feeling sorry or remorse for the past or for a wrong committed but a willingness to do something to make up for the transgression; changing our attitudes in our own state of life and occupation that could result in concrete deeds of mercy, honesty and justice.
John's message challenges us to examine our conduct in whatever profession or occupation we do or in whatever state of life we are in. Each one of us, as a father or mother, as a son or daughter, as an employer or employee, as a wage-earner, as a student or teacher, as a doctor or nurse, as a lawyer, as a leader, as a priest or religious, must ask, what we must do to prepare for Christ's coming.
As we wait for the coming of Jesus, John exhorts us to be people of sharing; to share what we have. He does not tell us to give everything away. He just wants the one who has two shirts to share with the other who has none, and the same with the food and other things. In our world, when millions of people, including children, still go to bed everyday with hungry stomachs, so much food is being wasted in lavish parties and banquets; when lots of people have no proper clothing, plenty of nice clothes are being stored in closets.
As Christmas draws near, it would be a wonderful thing to share clothes, food, toys, money and many other things. If we have more than we need, we should share it. However, we must not forget that every day is Christmas and every day Christ is born among us. Hence, we must not stop with loving, sharing, and giving at Christmas but continue to be benevolent to the poor, needy, and less fortunate among us, whenever God gives us opportunities and resources to do so.
John wants us to become people of honesty and integrity. He wants us to live justly and uprightly. Tax-collectors, who approached John the Baptist for baptism and direction for living represent all who are holding managerial and administrative positions, or working as accountants, and financial managers in companies, governments, non-profit organizations, and churches.
Money can be a compelling temptation. Many may face a strong temptation to abuse and misappropriate funds for their own personal use, commit fraud by making false, inflated or duplicated invoices, fake receipts and so on. Today, those of us who are facing such temptations have an opportunity to examine our occupations. We must earn our living through respectable and honourable means. We should not earn our livelihood through fraud, deceitfulness or dishonesty, or that involves in any way cause some harm and injustice to others.
While repenting of our sins and living good lives, as John the Baptist has demanded of us, we shall also strive to be like him. We shall humble ourselves and, through our good works point others to Jesus. Because, only when we decrease and Christ increases, will we have the fullness of joy.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!