We are to rejoice because the Lord’s coming and is getting so close. ‘The Lord is near.’ So we lit the third candle, the rose-coloured one, to lighten our expectant mood so to speak.
We have many reasons to rejoice definitely. Our Christmas shopping might be done by now. We’ve got the ham for Christmas already, or the seafood for Christmas dinner. We have booked the restaurant to for families and friends. They’re all good and if we have then, then we are to rejoice. But we must not forget the real reason for rejoicing here- the God who comes to be with us (Emmanuel), the God who comes to save us, the God who is in love with us and has come to write his own love story with us. This is really a reason to rejoice.
But how can we rejoice when we hear of the 900 plus lives lost due to the typhoon that hit the Philippines just two weeks ago? How can we rejoice when we hear of some 20 schoolchildren (5-10) years old, and few teachers killed by a young gunman in Connecticut in the US just very recently?
We might ask: How can we rejoice when it seemed that this loving God has allowed all these things to happen?
The Prophet Zephaniah, in our first Reading today would give us one reason to rejoice. We have to note that this prophet wrote this during the exile. The Israelites were driven away from their homeland. We can only speculate how hard it might have been for them. We can only imagine their nostalgia. We can only imagine their longing to be able to go back to their beloved homeland. They must have been fed up by the foreign interference in their lives. They must have been affected so much by the decline of morals in Babylon. With all these as a context, Zephaniah as a prophet, offered them hope. He reminded them of the reason to be happy and that is because even if they were in exile, God is still in their midst. He didn’t leave them. He didn’t abandon them. He still loved them.
And this is really a cause for rejoicing here. Thus, we heard Zephaniah urging the people: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud…Have no fear.”
Another reason for rejoicing is given by St Paul in our Second Reading today. And St Paul would say because God is near. This means that God’s coming is not only getting so close, but also because God is so near to us. Though St Paul when he wrote this, was already in prison, yet this didn’t stop him from proclaiming and for expressing out his conviction that this God of ours is so close to us, that we are in the Lord. And because of this, we are to rejoice. Because of this we know that we have reason to believe that God cares for us no matter what, God listens to our cries, and God loves us all the same.
But how can we really rejoice in the Lord? How can we really be happy in our Christian life?
Sure if we google this question we will find thousands of way to be happy. However, in this season of Advent we are reminded that what can make us truly happy is not a thing but someone- and it is he whom we are joyfully waiting for. Our gospel today offers us a way to be happy and that is to be true to ourselves in what we are called to be and to care for our neighbours. We see this in the answer of John the Baptist to the questions of the people to him. “What must we do?” asked the crowd, the tax collectors and the some of the soldiers to show their repentance, to live out their being a true descendant of Abraham (as the friend of God) and to bear good fruit (Lk 3:7-9). To answer them, John would tell them to be true to themselves and in what they are called to do. He didn’t call them to change their way of life but to make good use of what they are doing now, to be the best of who they really are, for the benefit of others and ultimately for the glory of God. So John had to tell them: Share tunics to those who have none. To the tax collectors he said: Don’t overcharge. To the soldiers he said: No more bullying, don’t use your power to the disadvantage of another. Be content with your pay.
So then, if we want to rejoice and be happy, let’s care for one another.
Another way to be happy if John were to say to us now is to accept who we really are in all our flaws and imperfections. It is not good and it is not making us happy and contented if we pretend to be someone we are not.
Again the example of John the Baptist shines through here. He accepted who he really was. He didn’t pretend to be someone else. It could have been a great temptation for him to take on what people think of him. He could have easily drawn them to him and told them he was the messiah they’ve been waiting for. But no, he didn’t dare to do just that. He knew who he really was and he accepted it. So he declared humbly: Someone is coming…who is more powerful than I am, and I am not even fit to undo the strap of his sandals. What a statement of humility! What a conviction! John’s humility is like this: that he didn’t think less of himself (i.e. putting himself down), but he thinks of himself less (i.e. focused on his mission) He is more focused on to his role as the pre-cursor of the Lord, as the one crying out: prepare the way of the Lord.
So in this third Sunday let us rejoice for the hope of the Lord’s coming will soon be realized in us. We will soon receive him as our food in the Eucharist. We will soon be celebrating that great day in our human history when God has chosen not only to walk with us but to really become like us in all things except sin because he loves us so much. So with this realization and with St Paul’s invitation, let us rejoice in the Lord always. Amen.