by Dan Loch
This Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete (“Rejoice!”) Sunday. Rejoice because Christmas is near. The First Reading says to “Shout for joy” because “The LORD, your God is in your midst.” The Second Reading is “Rejoice in the Lord always. …Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” The Responsorial repeats “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” Then, all of a sudden, Luke’s Gospel talks of baptizing with scary fire and threatens me with burning in “unquenchable fire”. Where’s the “good news”? What happened to the joy?
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He told them: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise. Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Luke is thought to be a native of Antioch, an ancient Greek city and the third largest city in the Roman Empire. His Gospel is addressed to an educated, Greek-speaking, urban audience. He tells us what happened, and also what it all means. This Sunday he deals with practical, everyday issues – how to live as a Christian in a demanding, urban, money-driven, multi-racial, often scary society, one like ours. We live as Christ in the choices we make with others at the supermarket, the job, and in the car, the money we spend, the opinions we wear, the assertions we make, the fairness we show, and the thanks we give for what we have.
John the Baptist’s answers were not comfortable to those who expected a more “religious” answer, such as “Pray longer in church.” Instead, John gets to the heart of the Gospel, the “good news.” Is being a Christian more than one hour of worship each week? I can desire God “in [my] midst” or I can seek money, possessions, and control, but I cannot have both. This sounds impossible, but the Baptist gives hope to people looking forward to the coming of “the Christ,” the Messiah.
John baptized with water for repentance, cleansing, and a change of heart, a decision to live life differently. John tells me what I must decide to do, then speaks of what the Christ will do – baptize me not just with water, but with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” I decide, then the fire
of the Spirit will purify and transform me. God’s gift of an immersion in a personal Pentecost gives me power to choose Christian values. As Christmas gets near, I ask “What should I do?”, listen for an answer, and rejoice when I get it. The answers are all around me – opportunities to share with the person who has none, to be honest, to be truthful, to give thanks for what I have. Christmas, the not-yet, is already here. Christ is born in me. Gaudete!