Tend to What Is at Hand

12-16-2018Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian F. Manning

For many centuries we have called the Third Sunday in Advent “Gaudete (“rejoice”) Sunday.” We change the color of our vestments at Mass from the somber Advent purple to a deep and vibrant rose. Note that this week’s Advent wreath candle is also rose or pink. Our readings for this Sunday reflect this bright color in purpose and meaning. In fact, the whole speed and rhythm of Advent picks up today. As Christmas gets closer and closer, the more restrained mood of Advent’s early days is abandoned. The famous “O Antiphons” are sung and proclaimed beginning this week. You can feel Christmas in the air. We can feel or intuit that something very big is about to happen. And this weekend the liturgy is urging us to employ this sense to recognize that Emmanuel, God-with-us, really is with us now.

By this time of year, Pandora and other sources are awash in Christmas carols. Department stores are all geared up for their final holiday sale blitzes. Amazon and all the internet order sites are “cooking with gas.” Schedules are getting filled with Christmas shopping, pageants, preparations, and the occasional moment or two of panic. Very young children find it more and more difficult to wait. All three of today’s readings speak to this “change in feeling.”

The great prophet Zephaniah calls for celebration. Indeed he knows that the Messiah, the “King of Israel, the Lord,” is here among us. This Savior comes to celebrate with us, to dance and sing, to share in our revelry. With the Savior’s presence, we know we have nothing to fear. Enemies are banished forever and all judgment is lifted. All we need do is to rejoice in God’s presence.

Our beloved Paul issues a twofold call for jubilation and praise. After all, the Lord is near at hand! What is there to be worried about? What is there to fear? The Lord comes to cover God’s people with peace.

In our Gospel passage, John the Baptizer’s listeners clearly want to know what to do to be ready for the Lord’s coming. John gives them no elaborate plan. The prophet’s response is simple: Keep on doing what you’re doing, but do so with very great care and a deep sense of justice. John calls on his listeners who possess more than they need to give to those in greater need. He advocates that those who must tax not to be taxing, not to overburden, not to defraud. He reminds those who bear arms that they are not to be bullies, to wield their weapons if need be, but sparingly, and also to blunt their blows.

Bear in mind that our readings indicate that our final Advent preparations need not be anything out of the ordinary. Great joy is the ever-present emotion for those who recognize that the Messiah is present. We do not need to create complex plans and strategies. Our Advent work is to tend to what is at hand, to be in charge of our own souls, and also to be responsive to all who are near and dear; all three clear and achievable tasks.

This is why the Baptizer in today’s Gospel passage was so particular in his preparation advice. We need to hear his words this day and follow them for the remainder of Advent in preparation for Christmas Day.

Fr. Brian