It is helpful to our spiritual life to spend more than a glancing moment in our reading of Christmas Cards we are receiving, with their notes of good wishes both printed and handwritten. It is good for our souls also to spend time with the pictures or drawings on those cards and notes. We look quickly at the signature. Do that first, as is natural, and then again after spending time quietly with the card. It will become a prayer and a preparation for the Advent Liturgy.
The first two chapters from the book from which our First Reading is taken, are full of prophesies against the nation, the leaders and the people of Israel. Disasters will befall God’s people because of their false worship and disregard for the needs of the poor. All this sad-bad news is replaced by the glad-news we hear today from the third chapter.
The very first verses of the Book of Zephaniah cry out that God is going to sweep away all living things from the face of the earth. The leaders, the judges, the prophets, and the priests have all defiled the nation and the city of Jerusalem. What we hear is a pledge and an announcement that this very same God of troubling vengeance has remained faithful and actually is in “her” presence. Fear and disheartening have been driven away and the victorious warrior is now singing and dancing with joy over Her return.
The images in this poem are celebrational and reflective of the ritual festivals of this agricultural land. Instead of a sweeping away, there is a gathering up. Rather than banishment, there is inclusion. The people are to shout for joy that what was held against them has been removed and they are to relate gratefully with their new and loving King.
It is “Rejoice Sunday” which is always the theme of the liturgical readings for this, the Third Sunday of Advent. This year the Third Sunday is a mere nine days before the celebration of the liturgy of the Nativity. The sense of joyful anticipation is emphasized. Jesus, as Victorious Warrior, is drawing near. The Second Reading for today echoes strongly this spirit Someone very good to us and for us is near and we will be better for that Someone’s arrival.
John is still in center stage predicting the imminent arrival of the Messiah. In response to this preaching, various groups of people line up to find out what they must do to be ready. In a sense we are back to wanting to know what’s going to be expected what will make them ready for the event. The crowds, the tax collectors, the soldiers and presumably other groups of influential people, stepped up to make sure they would be wearing the proper clothes and appearing just right and ready.
John tells each in turn to let go of the natural inclinations of their trade or lifestyle. Basically John is telling them to be freed from their fullness of self to receive a life that leads to the fullness of life. John the Baptist uses a familiar farm image to describe one of the missions of the One who is to come. The Waited-For will have a large fan in His hand and will separate the precious grains of wheat from the expendable chaff. The grain are those who will receive life through the Messiah and in turn give that life through their deeds. The chaff will be those who will choose other ways of receiving meaning for their lives.
Luke ends this revelation with John continuing distributing “Good News”. The rejoicing is both the giving and the receiving of the News of the coming of the presence of the Good. This is a partial reason for the giving of gifts during this Advent and Christmas season. Gifts are meant to express something about the giver, the receiver and something about the relationship between both.
The seven sacraments within the Catholic Church say the same kind of things as gifts of God. I would like to propose that in the spirit of Advent and Christmas we give, not presents, but sacraments. These big and little things are gestures expressive of the giver, the receiver and the relationship between both. God does this in the sending of the Good News in Christ. The things we give must have accompanying notes verbally expressing or making explicit what is being said by the gift. We are saying something about our feelings, our reverence for the receiver and something explicit about our union or love. The gift says something of the good news about our relationship and the words complete it and make it all a Christmas “Presence” and Christmas sacrament within the present we are sharing.
John was preparing to present Jesus and made it explicit by his preaching. In giving and receiving Christmas sacraments we are symbolizing in our little spiritual way, exactly what God is doing every time we gather at the Eucharist and every time we live out God’s Grace.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” Phil. 4, 4-5
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