Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
The first reading from the prophet Zephaniah echoes in my being. It’s refrain from the prophet Isaiah follows in step. Shout for joy, be glad and exult with all your being for Jesus Christ has already taken away the judgment for our sins by his death on the cross. He has brought us into his new kingdom of love and mercy through our sacrament of baptism that St. Luke mentions in today’s gospel. The Isaiah response proclaims some 500 years before Jesus came to earth in physical form, that God is indeed our savior so we are confident and unafraid. Our strength, courage and hope are in Jesus. He is with us. In Jesus we draw joy from the fountains of his grace.
In St. Luke’s gospel passage we are looking briefly at the difference in the repentance that John the Baptist is preaching and what Jesus will add to the conversion theme. John does not claim to be the coming savior. He claims to be unworthy to untie his sandal straps. The change of mind both are speaking about is a change in our thinking about God’s purpose for our life here. It is not a very watered down Christianity of just attending church on Christmas, Easter or a few Sundays during the year but a radical understanding of the kingdom of God.
When John is forcefully preaching repentance he answers his audience in simple, honest and just behavior. He speaks of sharing their goods with the less fortunate; to tax collectors he urges collecting a just wage. For the soldiers John urges no extortion, being just and being satisfied with their wages. Simple ways of moral behavior.
Luke then compares the water baptism of repentance for a just human behavior with that of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism will be with water, the Holy Spirit and fire. Christ’s baptism fulfills the Jewish understanding and takes his disciples in a very different and radical direction back to what God originally wanted for the salvation of the entire world. His new kingdom will be very different. Jesus will reach out to liberate the poor and invite them into a kingdom of justice and sharing. A kingdom of divine power where we become the best we can be and help others to be better at working to change the world. This means bearing good fruit.
How can we be better and get closer to Jesus? As I have been saying, once Jesus came to earth he has never left us. He is not here in bodily form as he once was in Palestine. He is born again every day all over the world when the bread and wine are changed at Mass into his body and blood as food for us. This food energizes us to perform good works for others. What we do to the least persons around us we do for Jesus. All of this is a "big order." But Jesus gives us some of his power to do this. As we do it we are often filled with joy.
The older translation of the Philippians text today is much clearer and nice to memorize. "Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! Everyone should see how unselfish you are. The Lord is near. (Always with us.) Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus."
Thursday we begin the 7- day Christmas Novena from December 17 to 24, the "O Antiphons," preparing for Christ’s Birthday. These weekdays before Christmas are especially enriched in the Alleluia refrain before the Gospel and as the antiphon for the Marian Hymn at Evening Prayer. They are a very unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas Liturgy. Each O Antiphon combines a praise invocation of the work of the Messiah with a petition for his second coming as our Savior.
Have a blessed week
+ Fr. Bob Hilz
(© 2015 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR))