“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” ~ John 16:22
For a Religion steeped in symbolism, the 3rd week of Advent is perhaps most conspicuous to many Catholics by the lighting of the lone rose-colored Candle of the Advent Wreath. With the two prior violet candles having represented the bedrock virtues of hope and faith, the message this week shifts to one of joy nestled within the backdrop of a very simple yet powerful and prevailing message: ....the Lord is near.
As referenced in this week's Second Reading (Philippians 4:4-7) and underscored by the prophet Jeremiah, Baruch, John the Baptist and of course the ‘Advent Prophet’ himself Isaiah, our joy becomes palpable in the words of these seminal evangelists. More on John the Baptist in a moment.
Even the prophet Zephaniah takes a break this Sunday from his typical warnings of doom and gloom directed at those who fail to repent by delivering a far more uplifting message. Among other things, he proclaims to the people of Jerusalem that "...the Lord has removed the judgement 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.”He goes on to say "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". This from a prophet who habitually warned of God's asperity with such dire portents as “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth says the Lord. I will sweep away humans and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.” Why the dramatic shift in message and tone?
One can only speculate, as the Book of Zephaniah is of the succinct and mysterious variety. But if we were to surmise that Zephaniah was of the same time and lineage as the Prophet Jeremiah ~ there exists strong evidence to substantiate this theory ~ we could perhaps conclude that his message ran parallel to that of Jeremiah's. The coming of Jesus compelled Zephaniah to believe that there were far better days ahead, days filled with redemption and yes, joy.
The Gospel then takes us to John the Baptist in what is one of his true signature moments. We find John among a rudderless and certainly confused crowd, understandable given the gravity of his radical message coupled with the passion with which he delivered it. As is always the case with large groups, one very blunt, no-nonsense, cliff note aficionado emerges and simply blurts out “So....what should we do?”John tells them.
"Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors and soldiers came to be baptized and receive enlightenment. John's advice to them was to "stop collecting more than what is prescribed. Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone and be satisfied with your wages" respectively. Given the Baptist’s wisdom, charisma and well-crafted responses, the crowd began to believe that this man was in actuality Christ Himself. But John quickly corrected them all by explaining "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the straps 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."
....I am not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals. Such great visual imagery, and it's surprising that this seminal quote has never made it into our common, every day vernacular, especially in light of the others we so speedily settle for. But again, here we have John readying his disciples for the Savior of the World, He who will die for the sins of man, and he has already begun to cobble together the road map in order to "separate the wheat from the chaff,” as David Crosby once said in his hippie anthem "Almost Cut My Hair.”
Take John the Baptist's words to heart this Christmas. Participate in a Holiday Coat Drive, so that you who "has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.” If you have a gift for all things culinary, cook up your best Christmas Dish and deliver it to a Soup Kitchen as a thank you to God for being among those who have food. Be grateful for what you have. Take a week or two off from gossip or any other bad habit that drives a stake between you and God's unrelenting love. Christ is near.
....so whatever you do, be joyful.
“Gaudete in Domino semper!”
“Rejoice in the Lord always!”
someonewhoknows from south and west of canada,north of ohio on December 13, 2012:
We should all remember that saying - "No man is an Island" at least not when it comes to brotherly love.