This week our readings and liturgical texts have a joyful character. This is reflected by a change of liturgical colour. On the Third Sunday of Advent, instead of purple, rose may be worn. A lighter, happier colour. Our liturgical colours express something of the character of the day or season we are celebrating, and helps us to enter into the mysteries and live them out in our worship.
It is fair to say that we are currently in need of good news. Thankfully there is a message of hope and joy in our reading from the prophet Zephaniah. After Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians, Zephaniah prophesies its rebuilding and restoration. These prophecies also look to Jesus as the ultimate restoration of Israel, and her true hope:
‘The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion;’ (Zeph 3:15-16)
Christ comes to save His people from fear. This is reinforced in the next verse:
‘The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save’ (Zeph 3:17)
Jesus’ name means ‘God is salvation’, and He comes to save God’s people, which is why the Church celebrates His coming during this Advent season. Christ’s coming will bring healing and reconciliation, something humanity longs for:
‘Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.’ (Zeph 3:19)
God longs to heal our sin, to take outcast humanity and gather it into the feast of the Kingdom. God wants to clothe us in a garment of praise and thanksgiving, which is the garment of our Baptism, when we put on Christ. God longs to feed us with Himself, so that we might be nourished by Him, and have life in Him, for all eternity. This is the hope which Advent brings, and it is the cause of our joy.
The knowledge of salvation in the reason for the joy of St Paul and the Christians in Philippi: for them the Lord’s coming is imminent. The message Paul wishes to share with his fellow Christians is: Be happy, pray, and don’t get worried — God in Christ wants to give you peace. This is how we should live as Christians, and we do, though it is good to be reminded of it from time to time.
Reminding people of profound, and sometimes uncomfortable truths is the cornerstone of the prophetic vocation. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist begins by warning the people of his own day against spiritual lethargy. It is easy to get complacent, and two thousand years later, we need to hear the same message. John’s words left his original hearers scratching their heads and questioning:
‘“What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”’ (Lk 3:10-11)
“What then shall we do?” this is the question most, if not all of us, would ask. The answer can be found in verse 8: ‘Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.’ The next step after repentance and belief in God is to live out our faith in our lives. Luke’s Gospel tends to focus on the poor, so John the Baptist’s advice is particularly welcome. Caring for the poor and needy, supplying the basic needs of food and clothing, are the starting point of Christian charity. Once people’s basic needs have been met, then it is possible to start dealing with other problems. This is reflected in the Gospel:
‘Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”’ (Lk 3:12-14)
Tax collectors were well-known in the Ancient World for charging people extra, and keeping the surplus themselves. It was expected, and so the right to collect taxes was auctioned off to the highest bidder. It was a corrupt system, which John seeks to reform. Likewise, soldiers are in a position to misuse their power and use it to extort money from the weak and vulnerable. John makes it clear that this is not how people should behave.
John’s proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom leads people to wonder whether he is the Messiah. John the Baptist has this to say on the subject:
‘“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork 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.”’ (Lk 3:16-17)
John understands his mission as to prepare the way for Jesus, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then the chaff of human sin will be burned away, preparing us for Heaven. This is good news, the reason for our everlasting hope, and the cause of our rejoicing.
Christ comes to free the world from the effects of wrongdoing. On the Cross Jesus bears the burden of our misdeeds, healing our wounds and restoring our relationship with God. So let us rejoice and invite others to share in the joy of the Lord so that the world come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.