Third Sunday - Advent - C - 2018 Zephaniah 3: 14-18. Philippians 4: 4-7. Luke 3: 10-18.
I was recently going through some 'Advent Preparation Resources', when I came across this comment: 'Do not prepare for the birth of the baby Jesus. That baby has already been born'! I was somewhat taken aback, but I read on to find this explanation: 'Jesus grew up, was killed and rose from the dead. Our Advent readings proclaim the freeing of a people, Jesus came to set free'. That makes sense. The theme of freedom runs throughout our Scriptures. In the Hebrew Bible, it begins with the people's emancipating Exodus from Egypt; in the Christian Scriptures, it revolves around Jesus' liberating resurrection.
Though Zephaniah is six centuries removed from the Exodus, his writings reproduce the joy and amazement which filled the Israelites as they matched 'dry-shod' through the sea. But now Egypt is no longer the enemy. Babylon is their present foe. Yet no matter the situation, Yahweh is still'in your midst, a mighty saviour. Here it is important to remember that with no concept of an after-life, our ancestors in the faith only knew salvation by experiencing freedom. Paul, a good Jew, shared that belief. We hear his voice in the words he penned to the Philippians: 'Rejoice in the Lord always...The Lord is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds'. And it was Jesus who brought Paul and his people that freedom - a reason indeed to rejoice. But this liberation didn't happen without the participation of those who were freed.
Here note that seven words in that quote from Paul are omitted: 'Your kindness should be known to all. Kindness, in that context can also be translated, 'considerateness, forbearance, fairness. But no matter what translation we use, Paul is reminding the Philippian church community of their responsibilities. People are only free when they form communities - form a group of people who take responsibility for one another. Paul frequently teaches that we form the Body of Christ. Nothing could more bind us together as one. In that context, notice how John the Baptist answers the query, 'What then should we do?' 'Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. Whoever has food should do likewise'. Tax collectors and soldiers receive a specific response,'Stop collecting more that is prescribed. Do not practice extortion; do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages'.
John says nothing about believing in specific dogmas or engaging in meaningful liturgies. His answer to anyone who asks is basically the same,'relate to people as someone who is responsible for them'. That is why his comment about Jesus is so important: 'One greater than I is coming. I am no worthy to loosen the throngs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.' In other words, 'The one I am preceding will be even more emphatic than I am, how you are to relate to one another. There is no other way Jesus can lead you to freedom'. Look around as these words are being proclaimed. Glance at those with whom you share responsible ties. Also be attentive to those who have become victims of social exclusion: the poor, home less, prisoners, refugees - those who are drowning in powerlessness and lack of motivation to face their future.
It is from our Christian communities - this community - that we can develop various initiatives to be near the most scandalous cases of social distress. Acquire knowledge of specific situations, mobilize people so that no one is left alone, contribute material resources. Take every opportunity to humanize our crazy consumerism. Contribute to denouncing the lack of compassion. Also in our concern about many aspects of present-day life, may we remember that we can so easily become 'captives of a bourgeois religion'. Does Christianity, as we are living it out have the power to change a society where greed is rampant? Is that, and other evils, distorting the religion of Jesus, and making our following of him devoid of genuine values such as solidarity, defense of the poor, compassion and justice?
Value and give thanks for the efforts of so many people who are rebelling against this 'captivity', committing themselves to specific acts of solidarity and cultivating a more simple, austere and humane lifestyle.