An elderly woman walked into the local country church. A friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked. “The front row please,” she answered. “You really don’t want to do that,” the usher said. “The pastor is really boring with his long Advent homilies.” The elderly woman asked the usher: “Do you know whom am I? I’m the pastor’s mother.” The usher asked the woman, ‘Do you know who I am?” The woman said, “No”. The user said with the great relief: “Thank God’ and left the place.
The theme of the third Sunday of Advent is rejoicing in hope. Advent is a time for joy, not only because we are anticipating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, but also because God is already in our midst. Christian joy does not come from the absence of sorrow, pain or trouble, but from an awareness of the presence of Christ within our souls.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says, “Shout for joy, O Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel.” Zephaniah made this prophetic proclamation at the height of the Jewish exile when things appeared hopeless and unbearable. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Is 12), the prophet gives the same instruction, “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” St. Paul echoes the same message of joy in the second reading, taken from his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice… The Lord is in your midst… Fear not… be not discouraged… The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…” Paul was imprisoned when he made this appeal for rejoicing.
In the Gospel today, John the Baptist explains the secret of Christian joy as wholehearted commitment to God’s way by doing His will. A sad Christian is a contradiction in terms. According to him, happiness comes from doing our duties faithfully, doing good for others and sharing our blessings with others. John’s call to repentance is a call to joy and restoration. Repentance means a change in the purpose and direction of our lives.
Some people, undoubtedly, ridiculed John. Some were angered by him. But others knew deep down in their hearts they were indeed guilty of wrongdoing. For example, as we read in today’s gospel, tax collectors knew they were guilty of overcharging people. Soldiers knew they were guilty of bullying people. And all the people knew they were guilty of not sharing their surplus with those who didn’t even possess the necessities of life. The problem is, so many people today refuse to look deep down in their hearts and admit they’re guilty of wrongdoing.
John challenged people to look into their hearts and to acknowledge their sinfulness. He did more. He challenged them to look into their hearts and do something about what they saw. He challenged them to turn away from their sins and to turn back to God.
We are all beautiful people. We are all lovable people, but we are also vulnerable people. All of us have areas in our lives that need to be presented to Jesus for healing and forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Filled with joyful expectation that the Messiah was near, the people asked John, “What should we do?” He told them to act with justice, charity and honesty, letting their lives reflect their transformation. For us, that transformation occurs when Christ enters our lives, and it is to be reflected in our living in the ways John suggested.
There is an illustration found in Catherine Marshall’ book ‘Something More’. One day her daughter Linda was about to take a shower. Linda had one foot in the shower stall and the other foot on the bathroom rug. As she stood there in this awkward position, it suddenly occurred to her that this was a good picture of her life.
Linda had always wanted to commit her life to God, but she could never quite do it. She always kept one foot in and one foot out. Now, it seemed the moment had finally come when she must decide for God or against him.
Standing there, Linda thought about what choosing the Lord would cost her. The price would be high. But she was tired of living in two worlds and enjoying neither. Linda paused for a long time, took a deep breath, and said aloud, “Lord, I choose you!” With that she stepped into the shower. It was for her a true baptism.
It’s this kind of change of heart that John the Baptist is calling upon people to make. It’s a time for deciding not to go on living in two worlds and enjoying neither. It’s time for taking a deep breath and saying to God, “Lord, I choose you!