Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent ©, December 16th, 2018:
If Jesus wrote you a Christmas card, what would it say? This is the Third Sunday of Advent, so we have enough information from the readings in Sacred Scripture these past three weeks to get an idea. Jesus would write that He is coming. He is coming to reconcile us to His Father because His Father wishes this. Jesus would add to His Christmas card to us from today’s readings that He is near, in fact, in our midst, so rejoice. And do these things to prepare your hearts and souls for Him when He arrives. The final thing Jesus would write in His Christmas card to us is that all of this should be regarded as Good News.
From the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, notice all of the imperatives to us: “Shout for joy;” “Sing joyfully;” “Be glad;” “exult with all your heart.” We are to do these things because “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in His love, Who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days”(Zeph 3:17-18). We will rejoice over this good news: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, He has turned away your enemies”(Zeph 3:15).
St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians tells the Philippian Christians to live in joy, gentleness, in peace in Christ, and in freedom from the cares (of this sinful world). We are to be trustful and thankful in prayer. The imperatives are to rejoice, be kind, be calm, to pray, to petition with thanks, and have faith that God’s peace will guard you.
In today’s gospel, St. John the Baptist is again the main character. Those who have come to him with an uplifted heart to be baptized ask him what they must do. So he tells them. John the Baptist tells them to repent. Repentance is a man’s expression of sorrow for his sins. He is to express this sorrow by words and deeds. John tells them to share with the poor and to practice social justice. Then he instructs the tax collectors and soldiers who came to him for baptism to do their jobs fairly and honestly. John directs his message to everyone, even the most despised people of Jewish society (tax collectors and soldiers). John’s attitude towards the despised and lowly anticipates the attitude Jesus Christ will have toward sinners. John demands social justice, generosity, and honesty. John demands in his baptism with water that the person baptized must undergo a thorough change of disposition to prepare for Jesus’s coming. John’s baptism was one of immersion, symbolized by washing but more importantly, rebirth, new life. We die in the waters of baptism and we rise, reborn in a new life.
John the Baptist tells those who come to be baptized one more thing. He is not the Messiah. John’s official message is that “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”(Luke 3:16). One mightier than I is coming. He will purify you of your sinfulness by His Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus’s graces will purify our uplifted, repentant souls.
John the Baptist also says “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”(Luke 3:16). That sounds like nice poetry. But John intends it to show just how lowly he is and how mighty the Messiah is. Loosening the thongs of one’s sandals in Jewish society was reserved for the lowest of the slaves. It was a Gentile slave to a Jewish master who would loosen the thongs his sandals. As great as the people think John the Baptist is, he tells them he is nothing compared to this coming Messiah. He will “…gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”(Luke 3:17). In all of this, rejoice. This Messiah is near and in our midst. He loves us. He has removed the judgment from us and He has told us to repent of our sins so that we can further prepare for His intimate and personal coming in our souls.
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