The liturgy of the 3rd Sunday of advent is full of reassurance and comfort for us. In the past it was known as “Gaudete Sunday,” the Latin word meaning “rejoice.” The liturgy then tells us to be happy, not to worry, that the Lord is near And if we want the peace of God to be in our hearts and in our thoughts – our hearts that are always seeking to possess the things of this world – our circumstances, but moreover about our future – then that peace will be ours if we simply and trustfully ask God for it. Scripture tells us to do precisely this where it says, “There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving.” Note as well that it tells us not to wait until after God grants our requests before thanking him. Even as we ask, we should be giving thanks. One of the things we should thank God for at the end of this year has been the Christian witness given by so many good people in our time.
Wherever there is evil, God will ensure that resolute and saintly souls will rise up to combat it. Such was the call, the prophetic witness associated with the person of St. John the Baptist, as described in the readings for this Christmas preparation period. People were prepared to walk all the way from Jerusalem down to the vicinity of Jericho in the deep Jordan valley, on the edge of the desert – all of fifteen miles each way – in order to see John, this charismatic figure who until then had lived the life of a recluse in the desert around the Dead Sea. Having seen him, many moreover wanted to stay and listen to his message and be baptized by him. But the reaction also of many of them to John was one of uncertainty – that uncertainty which surfaces in all of us when we take time to cast a critical eye on the kind of life we are leading.
“What must we do?” they asked him. And John spelt out the answer for them in no uncertain terms. While their seeking for guidance showed their willingness to change, it also showed that they were lacking in the Holy Spirit, in that fire in which according to the Baptist, Christ when he comes will baptize. For not only does the Holy Spirit guide us, he pleads for us with sighs too deep for words. “Love and do what you will,” was to be the motto of St. Augustine; meaning that if people have total inner commitment to God then they will be incapable of doing wrong. They will know instinctively what is right from the promptings of the Spirit within them.
John the Baptist however attempted to effect this inner change in his listener’s hearts by telling them not to be grasping, not to exact from others more than a just return for their services but rather to help those in need. “If anyone has two cloaks, he must share with the man who has none.” “Give your blood,” the ancient monks in the desert used to say, “and you will possess the Spirit.” The society to which John was addressing himself – as indeed Jesus did later – was to collapse because of its lack of spiritual depth, its over concern with externals as evidenced by the Pharisees, its pursuit of a narrow minded nationalism as seen in the Zealots who resorted to violence and assassination in their hatred of the Romans.
The greatest danger to the continuation of any society becomes a reality when most of its members become motivated by selfish concerns, greed and covetousness. The message that our own society invariably highlights is not, alas, that of sharing cloaks but of wearing outfits that are better, more comfortable, more in keeping with the size of one’s pay differential. The sad thing is that all this unbridled seeking for earthly comforts, this concern with the cares of life pulls us further and further away from the yearning for himself that God has placed within all of us. It turns us away from the things of the Spirit and from the pursuit of religious idealism. Prayerfully then and in the presence of God, let us give thanks to the Father in this mass for the gift of his divine Son, who in its celebration, makes us one with himself. Let us ask for the peace of God as Sacred Scripture urges us, for that abiding peace which is so much greater than we can ever understand, so much greater than anything in this world can ever offer us. And we can be assured that for all who faithfully do this the reward will be everlasting.