Advent 3 C

3 Advent Sunday C – Dec 16 - Homilies
Introduction:

Someone asked Saint Philip Neri (who happened to be playing cards at the time) what he would do if he learned that his death was imminent. Philip Neri replied that he would continue playing cards. The best preparation for the Lord's coming at any moment is to be doing what we ought to be doing. In the words of the old Shaker hymn: "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'Tis a gift to be free, 'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be."
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Today is called “Gaudete” Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). Today we light the rose candle of the Advent wreath, and the priest may wear rose vestments to express our communal joy in the coming of Jesus, as our Savior.  The theme of the third Sunday of Advent is rejoicing in hope.  Advent is a time for joy, not only because we are anticipating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, but also because God is already in our midst.  Christian joy does not come from the absence of sorrow, pain or trouble, but from an awareness of the presence of Christ within our souls.
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Background:

The Christmas stories in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are not meant to be literal history, like, let us say, detailed descriptions of the Battle of Gettysburg. Rather they are theological stories designed to tell us that with the birth of Jesus a new phase of the history of humankind had begun. The stories may not be true in all their details but they are True in the sense that they disclose to us a sudden, dramatic, and total transformation in the human condition.  

 As John Shea says in his book Starlight, we discover at Christmas, not only the light that is God and the light that Jesus came to bring to the world, but the light that is and has always been in us because we are creatures who share in the light of God, beings in whom the spark of God's light and love has always shone.  

Christmas reveals to us that like Mary and Joseph we too can be the light of the world and that indeed our own frail and often dim lights are not completely discontinuous from the light of Jesus, from the starlight that shone at Bethlehem.

Gospel Comments

On the third Sunday of Advent St Luke gives us a glimpse into the personality of that wonderful person, John the Baptist. In your meditation, let him remind you of great people you have known.

In verses 10 to 14 John speaks openly. Notice how he has a different word for each group which questions him. Notice too how the soldiers feel that even they can get a word of salvation.
Verses 15 to 18 give us a further insight into the kind of person John the Baptist was. He may have said these words in a moment of discouragement, in which case they express his trust that God would complete what was lacking in his ministry. But perhaps they tell us of his humility in the midst of his extraordinary success as a preacher.

John Littleton

Reflection
A sensible way to prepare for Christ’s arrival is to learn from the example of other people who have prepared well while they awaited his arrival. There are many such examples in the Bible and John the Baptist is one of the dominant and most striking.
John’s preparation for the Messiah’s arrival was characterised by his preaching. He preached a message of hope and repentance to dejected people — whose land was occupied by foreigners, who were often exploited by their religious leaders and who had become spiritually enslaved to sin. John also fasted and did penance in preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah and he urged other people to do the same.

John learnt that the only way to become disentangled from sin is through repentance and conversion. Thus his preaching focused on the urgency of repentance and he reassured the people about God’s providential care and complete fidelity towards them even when, at times, they were unfaithful and sinful. They could be certain that God’s promise to send the Saviour would soon be realised.
We are asked to emulate John’s example by being people who are repentant for our sins. We are invited to encourage other people to become repentant too. Christ and sin are incompatible. We cannot truly meet Christ as he comes into our lives each day unless we are without sin because it imprisons us and prevents us from recognising him.

Nowadays, many people have lost their sense of sin. They mistakenly think that sin does not exist. They presume that they can do whatever they wish. In effect, God gave us free will so that we can choose good instead of evil. In addition, the Church’s teaching guides us in our beliefs and practices so that we can prepare adequately for eternity with God.

Unfortunately, however, people have lost their sense of sin because they have also lost their sense of the sacred. They do not believe that the Word became flesh (that is, that God became human in Jesus Christ) specifically because people of every time and place are sinners and need to be saved from the effects of their sins.

During these Advent weeks, we can prepare for Christ’s arrival by imitating John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, and undergoing conversion from our sins. Advent is a particularly appropriate time to experience God’s forgiveness by celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, with genuine repentance and a determination to avoid the occasions of sin in the future. In this way we can truly look forward in hope to the Messiah’s arrival both at Christmas and at the Last Judgement.
In adopting the spirit of the Advent season, we wait purposefully for Christ’s arrival by preparing properly. John the Baptist is an ideal role model because of his fasting, penance and message of repentance. Reflecting on John, we pray that we too will become repentant for our sins so that we will be ready to meet the Lord whenever and however he comes.

Thomas O’Loughlin

The figure of John the Baptist is seen as central to today’s liturgy and so we have this rarely read section from Luke. In all four gospels the work and preaching of the Baptist is seen as the divinely appointed preparation for the ministry of the Christ: Mt 3:1-12; Mk 1:1-8; Lk 3:1-19; and Jn 1:6-8. The presence of this precise theme preaching / preparing in all four gospels (distinct from any other material they have on John the Baptist) show that this was a fundamental element in the kerygma: part hearing the good news of the Paschal Mystery is that the Baptist has prepared the way. It is to maintain continuity with structural element of the preaching that it is part of our liturgy to recall, indeed celebrate, the ministry of the Baptist on the Second and Third Sundays of Advent in all three years of the lectionary cycle. If we are going to celebrate the beginning of the Christ- event in the festivals of the Nativity, Epiphany, and Baptism, then we must have celebrated the work of the Baptist beforehand.

Now that we have established the kerygmatic context of this gospel reading, we can look at the precise text in greater detail. Luke’s account of the preaching of the Baptist is by far the longest, and most of today’s passage is found only in Luke. The whole passage has as its central theme that the arrival of the Christ is at hand: he is already on earth and ready to pronounce judgement. The time of decision is not in some future time, but has started already for his ‘winnowing fork’ is in his hand. However, as part of the reaction to the presence of the Messiah — provoking this reaction from his hearers is the Baptist’s work of preparing the way — Luke has an ethical component: verses 10- 14 which are wholly without parallel in the gospel tradition.

If the axe is laid to the tree (v 9), then the people who want to prepare, ‘the multitudes,’ must now ask: ‘What then shall we do?’ The replies cover
(1) everyone — they must care for the poor: if the time of the Messiah is come there can be no one in need of clothing or food in the land;
(2) civic officials — injustice in society is irreconcilable in these times; and
(3) soldiers — there can be no exploitation now. This ethical dimension in Luke’s presentation shows that while the early Christians were holding up the Baptist as a model to the churches, they also considered moral behaviour an essential part of their discipleship. This ethical aspect of welcoming the Christ in this gospel should be a spring board to some searching questions of each community about its own work in society to create the justice worthy of the coming of the Lord. Such ethical questions about Christian obligations to establish the just society are often forced onto the gospel text, but today it emerges directly as an Advent theme.

HOMILY NOTES

1. During Advent we hear several basic elements of the Christian preaching over and over again in the liturgy:

*Prepare a way for the Lord’;
*The Lord is near’;
*Repent and believe’;
*The Lord will come· again to judge the living and the dead’;
*We must be people of hope’.

2. In the run-up to Christmas we hear around· us several basic elements of the creed of the consumerist first-world:

*We need lots of stuff for the party’;
*Always in a hurry to get to the shops’;
*We’re flying to Madagascar for the holidays’;
*Toys are so expensive – lucky that the credit card does not come in till January’;
*I am fed up with all the Christmas-hype’.

3. Two groups of five sound bites -and as sound bites we hear and use all ten of them – which are also tokens I symptoms of two radically opposed lifestyles, belief systems, visions of the universe.

4. The Christian vision involves, fundamentally, going out from the individual to the other: other people, society, the world in which we live, God. It ihvolves radically challeng­ing our selfishness and the belief that selfishness is the motor that makes the human world go round. We could imagine it as a picture of myself with arrows pointing outWards, then of our gathering for the Eucharist with arrows poihting out­wards, then of our society or the whole body of Christians and arrows pointing outwards from it.

5. The consumerist vision puts me at the centre of the universe AND all the arrows point inwards: have I got what I want for my happiness, have I got what I desire, am I satisfied, is there the amount of pleasure that I desire? Others only become in­volved in that we pool our selfishness so that we can have more fun together. The arrows point inwards and it does not matter whose labour is exploited so that I can have what I want – that is over the horizon and hidden from me. It is ir­relevant if others do not have enough to eat, have poor health care, suffer in ignorance for want of proper education, that I consume more of the earth’s resources than whole villages in the developing world.

6. But can we say that the Lord is near when we may contribute to a society that exploits the poor? Can we claim to be prepar­ing the way of the Lord while children die of malnutrition, while whole societies in sub-Saharan Africa are devastated by AIDS and are without drugs to stem its effects? Can we reo joice in the Lord’s coming while we simply find things bor­ing and seek new amusements but at the same time know that there are people in society who are in want?

7. Preparing a way for the Lord is simple, indeed a bit of fun, if it is just putting up the holly, doing the shopping, and maybe popping along to a Carol Service: but it is much more than that.

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Scripture Prayer 

The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry.” …St Ambrose
Lord, we thank you for people who are direct and honest like John the Baptist.
When we ask them what we must do, they don’t beat around the bush but tell us openly:
those who have two tunics must share with those who have none,
and those with something to eat must do the same.
Lord, John the Baptist knew his people.
When the tax collectors came for baptism he told them exactly what they must do,
and so too with the soldiers.
Lord, we pray for the Church today.

“We all want to be famous people, but the moment we want to be something
we are no longer free.”
…Krishnamurti
Lord, give us the humility of John the Baptist.
When a feeling of expectancy grows
and our followers begin to think that we might be some kind of Messiah,
help us to declare before them all that we are merely baptising with water.
There is one who is more powerful than we are
and he baptises with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

“We are a resourceful people but deadly scared of our own natively-inspired success.”
…Clifford Sealey, Trinidadian poet
Lord, often we do not accomplish what we can because we are afraid of failure.
We must be content to baptise with water,
trusting that someone will come after us who is more powerful than we are,
and he will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

“Something happened between me and the earth. The land recognised me.”
…Earl Lovelace as he landed on African soil for the first time, November 1991
Lord, we thank you for the moments of grace when we feel we are connected
with the whole of creation and all of our history.
We know then that your winnowing fan is in your hand,
that evil is merely chaff which you will burn in a fire that will never go out,
whereas we are your precious wheat which you will gather into your barn.

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 ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1) Girl Named Jeanne Marie:

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Jeanne Marie who was afraid of the dark. She wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless all the lights in her room were on. You couldn’t never tell, she argued, who’d sneak into her room at night if it were dark. She absolutely refused to go into her closet because, like the boy in comics several years ago, she thought monsters might lurk in the closet especially at night. She claimed that she could hear the monsters talking about what they were going to do to her. Although she like snow, she hated winter because it was dark so much of the time. She didn’t like to go off to the country for vacation because there were no street lights and the dark was very scary indeed. 

 The monsters who had hidden in her closet now wandered the streets of the summer village and lurked in the woods. She was frightened when she went to the movies because the theaters were too dark. Her mother said to her once aren’t you old enough now not to be afraid of the dark. She said, no, the older she got the more reasons she should think of for being afraid of the dark.

She came home from school one day with the story of the midnight sun in Sweden in the summer. Lets live there, she said. But in the winter the sun hardly ever shines there, her mommy said. Well, where does it go. To the South Pole. Well, lets live there. It’s too cold. I don’t care, so long as it’s not dark. Then one day her mommy and daddy took her to midnight Mass in the church. It was totally dark inside. Jeanne Marie was terrified. Then the priest flicked the switch and the church was filled with light. Oh, said Jeanne Marie, it’s so pretty. Light always comes on, doesn’t it mommy? If you wait long enough.

2) “Don’t you give out warnings?”  

Patricia Greenlee tells a story about her son who is a West Virginia state trooper. Once he stopped a woman for going 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. After he handed her a ticket, she asked him, “Don’t you give out warnings?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “They’re all up and down the road. They say, ‘Speed Limit 55.’” People have a tendency to disregard the warning signs, don’t they? Sometimes with dire consequences. Today’s gospel presents John the Baptist warning the Jews of the need of repentance and conversion with prophetic courage. 
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3) South Padre Island causeway tragedy:  

A few  years ago, a barge hit a support beam on the causeway going from Port Isabel to South Padre Island in far south Texas. As a result, a portion of the causeway plunged into the Laguna Madre.  This all happened during the very early morning hours. Before any indication of this accident was conveyed to anybody, seven or eight automobiles drove through the opening and plummeted into the water several hundred feet below.  Every person in those cars died.  It took several hours before authorities on both ends of the causeway were notified and all traffic warned of the disaster and the tragedy.  It was a horrible event.  Even worse, business on the island suffered greatly, as this bridge was the only way for trucks, cars or vacationers to reach the island.  Many were angry that plans needed to be canceled, businesses had to be shut down, and only ferries could be used to get to and depart from the island.  Now if we had been heading for South Padre Island that morning, would we not have rejoiced that the warning was there and that we had been warned, not left to discover, tragically, the reason for the emptiness of the broken causeway?  In today’s gospel, John is warning a "brood of vipers" that they have to repent and renew their lives, if they are to receive the long awaited Messiah into their midst.
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4) Why not spank instead of baptizing:  

Bob Beasley belongs to a Baptist Church in Canada, a church that follows the Baptist tradition of baptizing by immersion. Returning home from church one Sunday, his little girl asked, “Daddy, why did the pastor push that guy under the water? Why, daddy?” Bob’s wife tried to answer her question, but the little girl, named Rena, just wouldn’t be satisfied. Later that night Bob and his wife tried to provide an answer from a Baptist perspective that a child’s mind could comprehend. They talked about sin and told Rena that when people decide to live for Jesus and to “be good,” they are baptized. They explained that water symbolizes that Jesus washes people from sin; when they come out of the water “clean,” it means they are going to try to be “good” from then on. Rena thought about this for a moment and responded, “Why didn’t the Preacher just spank him?” (Cited by Dale Bigham)
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5) "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none" (Lk 3: 11): 
I once heard of a Christian speaker who declared rhetorically, expecting the answer "Yes"': "If you had two houses, you would give one to the poor, wouldn't you?" "Yes," said the man to whom the question was directed, "indeed I would." "And if you had two cars," went on the speaker, "you would keep one and give the other away?" "Yes, of course," said the man. "And if you had two shirts, you would give one away?" "Hey, wait a minute," said the man, "I've got two shirts." 
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6) Usher Seats Pastor's Mother:

An elderly woman walked into the local country church. A friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked.   "The front row please," she answered.   "You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastor is really boring with his long Advent homilies."  "Do you happen to know who I am?" asked the woman.    "No," said the usher.   "I'm the pastor's mother," she replied indignantly.  "Do you know who I am?" the usher asked.   "No," she said. "Good."   Said the usher.
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 7) The martyrs in dungeons:
 
waiting to be tortured and/or killed, waiting to die, waited in peace.  And St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint of Auschwitz, who asked that he be killed instead of Franciszek Gajownachek, a young father whom the Nazis had picked for execution, sat in peace in the starvation cell united to God, waiting to die.  St. Margaret Ward also showed the courage of her conviction and the peace that union with Christ brings regardless of what was happening around her or to her.  You probably never heard of her.  I think it is important that we be aware of the heroic women of our Church as well as the heroic men.  Margaret Ward was an English Catholic during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  St. Margaret refused to tell the whereabouts of a priest she helped escape from prison.  She was arrested and tortured.  Then her captors pretended to be merciful and told her that this all would all end if she renounced her faith.  With all these horrible things happening to her, she still remained at peace until they finally killed her.  Her persecutors simply could not take the peace of Christ from her. And they tried with the viciousness of the devils they were. 
8) You Must Get Past John
William Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, says that John the Baptist reminds us of boundaries we must respect and gates we must pass through. At Duke, Willimon reminds the students, "If you are going to graduate, you must first get past the English Department. If you are going to practice law, you must pass the bar. If you want to get to medical school you must survive Organic Chemistry." Likewise, "If you want to get to the joy of Bethlehem in the presence of Jesus, you must get past John the Baptist in the desert." The word from John is "repent," which means "about-face" or turning 180 degrees.

Richard A. Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World.
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9) Seeing God  

There is a story going around about a man who wanted to see and hear God. So he went out to a hilltop and yelled and pleaded with God. "Speak to me!" And a bird sang. And disappointed he again begged God to speak to him and all he heard was the sound of children playing in the distance. "Please God, touch me!" he cried and the wind blew across his cheek. And discouraged at not having his plea answered the man prayed, "God, show yourself to me!" And a butterfly flew across his path. And when he got home, convinced that God had forsaken him, his daughter ran out to greet him, but he felt abandoned by God.  

Now hearing a story like this, it is easy to see God. But in this story this man was as certain about what it means to see and hear God as we are about the end of the stories we heard today. 

Sally Sedgwick
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10) Time to Act

Once the eminent philosopher John Dewey found his son in the bathroom. The floor was flooded and he was mopping furiously trying to contain the water in that room, keeping the damage to a minimum. The professor began thinking, trying to understand the deeper ramifications of the situation. After a few moments, the son said, "Dad, this is not the time to philosophize. It is time to mop!" 
Baptism is our statement that we are ready to stop philosophizing and ready to start mopping. Zig Ziglar reminds us that the largest locomotive in the world can be held in its tracks while standing still simply by placing a single one-inch block of wood in front of each of the eight drive wheels. The same locomotive moving at 100 miles per hour can crash through a wall of steel reinforced concrete five feet thick, but it must be moving first.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.sermons.com
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11) The Wayward Bus

In John Steinbeck's story "The Wayward Bus" a dilapidated old bus takes a cross country shortcut on its journey to Los Angeles, and gets stuck in the mud. While the drivers go for assistance, the passengers take refuge in a cave. It is a curious company of people and it is obvious that the author is attempting to get across the point that these people are lost spiritually as well as literally. As they enter into this cave, the author calls the reader's attention to the fact that as they enter they must pass a word that has been scrawled with paint over the entrance. The word is repent. Although Steinbeck calls that to the reader's attention it is interesting that none of the passengers pay any attention to it whatsoever. 

All too often this is our story. Yet, John the Baptist calls upon us to take our sinning seriously. Why? Because God does? Repentance is not just changing our minds, or feeling sorry for something that we have done, or even making bold resolves that we will never participate in certain conduct again. Instead, repentance means to turn around and go in another direction. What John the Baptist wanted his audience to hear was: Turn your life toward this one called Messiah. This is not negative or down-faced. Rather, it breaks the chains of oppression and death that hold us back.

 Repent Your Way to a Merry Christmas, Brett Blair and Staff
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12) Preparation

A few years ago as the world watched the beginning game of the World Series in San Francisco there was suddenly an interruption of the opening interview. The screen blinked and went blank. When the program resumed: A Special News Bulletin. The San Francisco metropolitan area had experienced a serious earthquake. We all watched the live pictures as the huge fire in the Marina area burned. A remote camera crew was there and we saw the firemen fighting the fires. The scene I remember the most, however, was a group of people standing around just looking at the destruction and looking at the fire. All of a sudden a cop came up to the crowd and yelled out to them: What are you people doing just standing there. You must get prepared immediately. Go home and fill your bathtubs up with water. Be prepared to live without city services for 72 hours. The sun will set in another hour and your time is running out. Go hence and get prepared.
A long, long time ago a man came on the scene by the name of John the Baptist. John's message was not told in soft monotones, but rather there was an urgent screaming in his voice. "Why are you not getting ready?" he yelled to the Hebrews. Why are you just standing there. Don't you see that your time is running out on you. You need to be preparing the way. Making the path straight. Go and get ready. 

That message may sound very strange to our modern ears, but the simple truth is that is Jesus were standing here in the flesh this morning and we asked him to give a list of the preachers who were most instrumental upon him, he would have listed the name of John the Baptist. There is just simply no question about that. There was no single human being who was more influential upon the life and career of Jesus than John.

Staff
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13) Christian Hope Had Changed His Life

Some years ago a military airplane crashed at Sonderstrom Air Force Base in Greenland. Twenty-two people were killed. The runway and the nearby fields were strewn with bodies. It was a tragic and horrible moment. There was only one chaplain on the base at the time... and the entire burden was laid on him to bring comfort and the Word of Christ to a shocked community staggered by the horrendous accident. But there was little time to mourn that day. The grisly task of gathering up and identifying the bodies needed to be done.
And so, the chaplain, along with a young lieutenant who had been assigned the duties of a mortuary officer and a group of volunteers went about the awful business of picking up the mutilated bodies and trying to identify the dead, so that their families and loved ones back home could be notified. It was a heart-breaking and exhausting task, but it had to be done. The people worked in shocked silence well into the night until they almost dropped from fatigue. When every last remnant of death had been picked up, they each went silently to their individual rooms.

That night, after midnight, there was a knock on the chaplain's door. Outside stood the young lieutenant, the Mortuary Officer. He said nothing. He just stood there and wept. After some moments, the young lieutenant spoke through his tears and he said to the chaplain, "As we were picking up the bodies today, I realized something. I realized that the only other people out there with us were the people who go to church here. I have always been an unbeliever, and I used to ridicule these same people who were out there with us. Yet they are the only persons who would, or perhaps could, do what we had to do today. It must have been their Christian spirit that could help them see beyond the horror to the hope."

That tragic day turned around the life of that young lieutenant. As he had admitted, he had never been religious, had seldom gone to church except for weddings and funerals, but from that time on he was a new man. Christ was born in his heart. From that time forward, he took an active part in the Christian ministry of that base. Then he did an unheard thing - he extended his tour of duty in Greenland for an extra year. He was the first person in the history of that base to do that. He did it because he wanted to be able to tell others the story of how the power of the Christian Hope had changed his life.

If you want to give your loved ones a great Christmas present this year, give them the gift of Christian Hope. On page after page of the New Testament we find it: the Good News that God will win, that nothing can defeat Him; that ultimately God and goodness will have the victory and that when we put our hope in Him, nothing, not even death, can separate us from His watch care and His love and His triumph. Once each year, Christmas comes along to renew our hope and to remind us that the darkness of this world cannot overcome the light of the world.

James W. Moore, ChristianGlobe Sermons
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14) Blessed Are They Who Find Christmas... 
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the age-old story of a babe born in Bethlehem. To them a little child will always mean hope and promise to a troubled world.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the Christmas star. Their lives may ever reflect its beauty and light.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the joy of giving lovingly to others. They shall share the gladness and joy of the shepherds and wise men of old.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the fragrant greens, the cheerful holly and soft flicker of candles. To them shall come bright memories of love and happiness...