Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 12, 2021
St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church
Mansfield, Texas

Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

Three groups of people ask John the Baptist the practical question about what they should do to prepare the way of the Lord for the coming of the promised Messiah. John addresses each of these groups specifically. His first response is to the crowd. He instructs them, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” His second instruction is to the tax collectors who are Jews but work as bureaucrats for the Roman Empire: “Stop collecting more than what is proscribed.” His third admonition is addressed to the Gentile soldiers of the Roman Empire: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

This dialogue and these instructions of John are marked by a call to repent and to embrace charity but first that we do so with honesty. The preparation for the Lord’s coming requires conversion with concrete actions of charity and of justice in accord with the Ten Commandments and most especially honesty on the part of us who are preparing for His coming. God will judge us by our works and how they conform with the love we have for Him and for our neighbor in our hearts. He will not judge us on our appearances, nor on our words, or on our feelings.

These clear criteria for preparation for the Lord’s coming are a cause for our joy for us who live today and are called to repent, be converted, and prepare for His second coming into a world that increasingly looks more clearly to have much in common with the world in which John the Baptist prophesied and into which the Son of God was born at His first coming.

The world of John the Baptist was rife with corruption and polarization in the areas of business, politics, and religious practice. The instruction of John the Baptist to his audience who had come to see him in the periphery of the wilderness especially focused on a baptism of repentance that required honesty and concrete actions. The oppression of the Jewish nation by the Roman Empire included the imposition of a new world order with the emperor formally afforded the status of a god; it was a world order to which all subjugated peoples had to conform in areas of business, politics, and religion. For most of the subjugated people of the Roman Empire, which spread from northern France, through parts of Germany, and included all the territory in Europe and North Africa surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, this was not much of a problem because they were pagans and their respective gods were similar to each other. They had need only to change the names of their gods to fit into the new world order with its oligarchy.

This approach however was obviously unacceptable for the Jews who worshipped the one true God, so the Romans extracted taxes from the Jews in exchange for granting them permission to keep their religious practices of Temple worship in accord with the Covenant. This frequently led to extortion of the Jewish people by the Roman officials and political collusion by some Jewish leadership with the Roman authorities at the expense of the pious and observant Jew. It also led at times to the corrupt and dishonest practice among many of the Temple priests of charging large amounts of money in exchange for the performance of the rituals of worship and purification that were prescribed by the Law.

Such oppression and corruption also prompted resentment which led to periodic plots to overthrow the Romans that too frequently reduced religious fidelity and practice to actions that were interpreted primarily as being political. This led to religious-based partisan factions like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Scribes, and the Temple leadership. Each of these various groups were manipulated against each other by the dominant Roman oligarchs who played each group’s self-interest off that of the other groups. The Romans were dishonest, and each group eschewed justice and confidence in God by responding with a manipulation of the truth that was dishonest.

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment 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.” The cause of this joy about which Zephaniah proclaims is culminated in the coming of Christ as prophesied by John the Baptist as the greatest prophet born of woman. The joy that we celebrate comes directly from God and is the gift of His own Son who is born and defeats our ancient enemy, the serpent of Eden. The joy we celebrate is not a product or effect of this world but has come into this world for its salvation and transformation by Jesus Christ. It is this truth that enables Saint Paul to command the Philippians and us with the practical instruction, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”

Today when we face the oppression of the contemporary oligarchs either demanding that we conform our religious faith to their new and global world order; or when contemporary socialists and woke agitators attempt to manipulate us to form factions entrenched in fear and tempting us to violence, we know that the Lord is near, and we prepare for His coming. When we encounter the scandalous collusion and compromise of religious leadership with political factions for self-interest and are tempted against faith: we reaffirm our faith because we know that the Lord is near, and we prepare for His coming. When we are tempted to respond to the dishonesty of the voices of social media with dishonesty of our own to outdo the cunning with cunning, we focus on charity because we know with confidence that the Lord is near, and we prepare for His coming.

We rejoice because we have received the Divinely inspired direction of John the Baptist for what we should do to prepare for the Lord’s coming: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” “Stop collecting more than what is proscribed.” “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

We prepare our homes for the celebration of Christmas. Rightly so — there should be outward signs of the joy of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Yet Advent is before Christmas. The work of preparation comes before the activity of celebration. While Advent remains let us pray and make an honest examination of conscience. Let us return to honesty and charity even when we are told lies and hated by others. Let us throw away our idols and offer to God the humble gift of a contrite heart. Repentant hearts corrected by grace can receive Christ well and embrace all that He offers and all that He promises. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

%d bloggers like this: