Third Advent: What Should We Do?
It was just so exciting. The people who heard John the Baptist could feel the dynamism of his words. More than that, they were told that they would not just be witnesses to the things that were about to happen. They were told that they would be an intimate part of these events. Not the so called religious elite of their day, not the Pharisees and scribes and Temple priests, but they, everyday people, were entrusted with the message that the world was being renewed, the message that the Christ was coming.
“What should we do?” they asked the prophet John, the Baptizer John. “What should we do?”
He told them that going through the motions of religion would not be good enough. Maintaining the status quo of their society would not be good enough. Their lives had to change. They needed to care for the poor and the hungry. The tax collectors were told to be honest. The soldiers were told to stop bullying people. Everyone was told to live his or her life sincerely, honestly, compassionately.
What should we do? How should we react to this burning within us, this presence of Jesus. The exercise of Advent is to place ourselves in the days before the Lord, but that is really not possible. Jesus has already come. He is here, in this Church. He is here, in our hearts. What should we do when we are on fire with the Lord?
I ask myself that question this Advent because the presence of Christ means more to me than ever before in my life. I am sure most of you also feel the same way. So, what should we do? What should I do?
First of all, we have to stop acting as though worshiping God was a boring routine, a chore that had to be completed to get into heaven. We worship God because we need Him, not because He needs us. We are united to Him to protect us from the moral diseases of our fallen world. More than that, better than that, we are united to Him because we really love the Lord.
Second, we have to stop belittling ourselves, thinking that we are not good enough to proclaim Jesus Christ. So many of our people do this. Many of you drop your children off for religious education or youth ministry and let the parish usurp the role of parents as first teachers in the ways of the faith. Many of you say, “Who am I to speak about God to my children? I have not always been a good Christian.” Allow me to remind you who you are. You are children of God, created in His Image and Likeness and redeemed by His Blood. You are people whom God loves. And just as a loving Father or Mother looks at their children and sees that spouse they love so much, God looks at your children and sees you and sees me, people He loves so very much.
God does not give up on us. We can’t give up on ourselves. If we need it, God will provide us with the sacrament of forgiveness, penance, but we do not have the right to belittle ourselves. We are to proclaim that Christ is coming. We are to prepare the way of the Lord. God is calling on us all to speak about His Presence and His Love to our children, to our Teens, our neighbors, our families and friends, and even to strangers. We can do this, and we must do this.
“Oh, that’s easy for you to say, Father. You’ve had years and years of education in theology. I don’t know enough about the faith to teach others.” I sincerely doubt that. Many of you know the faith and morals extremely well. But even if you are not all that familiar with this or that teaching, you still know the fundamentals of Catholicism. You know that God loves you. You know that God is with you. You know that there are times that you have to call on Him for special support, to carry you through crises. You love Him, and He loves you. You have all the knowledge you need to proclaim Jesus Christ.
What else do we need to do to proclaim the Presence of the Lord? John the Baptist makes it clear that we proclaim the Kingdom in the way we treat others. You folks have been wonderful in the way that you have reached out to the poor of our area in the Advent Giving Tree, in your continual support for our Pregnancy Center, our Community Life Ministry, Caritas Ministry, and so forth. Whenever there is a special collection, you are generous. When the parish has a need, I just have to hint, and you respond. These are important ways of ushering the Messiah into people’s life.
There are even more fundamental actions we need to take, though. We need to treat others justly. We need to treat others with dignity. We need to treat others with respect, respect for our children, respect for our parents, respect for our women. We need to be loving. We need to be compassionate. We need to be forgiving.
The world is not a kind place. Be it in business, in school, in the neighborhood, or even in families, people are continually looking for ways to knock others down, and to step on their fallen bodies, their destroyed reputations. This cannot be our way, the way of people who proclaim Jesus Christ. We treat others with justice and dignity and respect because Christ loves us and loves them. We cannot sacrifice the Love of the Lord for temporary, and, in fact, immoral gain.
We need to be loving, not in a syrupy way, but loving in a Christian way, a sacrificial way. We become Christ-like when we put the needs of others before our wants and even before our needs. This may mean visiting someone who has lost a loved one and who is now hurting deeply at Christmas. Maybe we went to the wake or funeral. That might have seemed hard at the time, but it is harder now to support those who are hurting and be exposed once again to their pain when you and I want to laugh and celebrate Jesus’ birth. But others need us. Their needs are more important than our wants. We need to be loving as Christ was loving.
We also need to be compassionate and forgiving. It is amazing how the one part of our brain that always functions at full capacity is the “Grudge Center”. We may forget all sorts of things, but we always remember hurt feeling, nasty words, and unjustified attacks. The grudge center doesn’t do us any good. It just keeps bad memories alive. Many people who have hurt us want to come back into our lives. Cards or gifts are often their way of saying, “Please let me back in.” We proclaim the Lord’s Presence in our lives and in our world by letting go of the past and letting God’s love and compassion and forgiveness accompany someone into our heart not just at Christmas but throughout the year.
“What should we do? Christmas is upon us. How can we prepare the world for the Kingdom of God? We should rejoice. We should live our lives in the joy of the Lord. “Rejoice in the Lord, always, I say it again, rejoice!” Paul’s words to the Philippians in our second reading, the Rose Candle and Vestments for this Sunday, remind us that we are people of joy. We need to provide others with examples of our joy. That is how we can help others prepare for the Kingdom.
After all, joy is contagious.