Advent 3 B - Rejoice - Homilies


Rejoice Sunday in Advent

TK: Notes

Prepare the Way of the Lord:

1) The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey (Aesop)

A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his side a countryman passed them and said, "You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?" So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way. 
But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides." So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along." Well, the man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours -- you and your hulking son?" The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.

2) By addressing what blocks the way:
a) mountain (our arrogance, pride, self-sufficiency),
b) valley (stupidities, knee-jerk reactions and decisions: Two things are constant in human nature, Einstein said, human ingenuity and human stupidity. But I'm not sure of the former, he added.)
c) Winding ways (crookedness, manipulations, easy ethics, excuses, smooth-talking)
d) Rough paths (rudeness, insensitivity, indifference)

3) Step Out and Prime the Pump

There’s an old story about a traveler who hiked for many miles across the Desert Mountains. His water supply was gone, and he knew that if he didn’t find water soon, he would surely die. In the distance, he noticed an abandoned cabin and hoped to find some water there. Once he made it to the cabin, he discovered an old well. Then he noticed a tin can tied to the pump, with a note inside.

The note said:

Dear stranger:
This water pump is in working condition, but the pump needs to be primed in order for the water to come out. Under the white rock, I buried a jar of water, out of the sun. There’s enough water in the jar to prime the pump, but not if you drink any first. When you are finished, please fill the jar and put it back as you found it for the next stranger who comes this way.

Just like this hiker, sometimes you have to be willing to pour in everything you have before you can see God’s increase flowing in your life. You have to be willing to trust that you can tap into His deep, abundant supply of resources. I encourage you to give God what you have in your hands today, and as you stay faithful to do your part, God will do His part. It takes faith and courage to “prime your pump,” but remember, God has already given you what you need to take the first step. When you put action behind your faith and trust God, He will pour wisdom, strength, and creativity into you and help you accomplish the dreams and desires He has placed in your heart.


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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration


Today is the day of John the Baptist. He was the last of the prophets whose mission was to bear witness to the Lord when he came among his people. He prepared the way for the Anointed One and pointed him out. Today John is the model for every one of us: we are called be prophets in our world; we are called to bear witness to the Christ; in the wilderness of human greed, injustice, and falsehood we are called to make straight the way of the Lord. 
Michel DeVerteuil  

“I am not fit to undo his sandal strap.” 
General Comments

Mark’s gospel has only a brief section on John the Baptist, and so in this Year B the reading for the Third Sunday of Advent is taken from St John.

The passage is clearly in two sections: the first is an extract from the prologue to St John’s gospel, and the second is from  St John’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist.
To get the full meaning of verses 6 to 8 it would be necessary to go back to the previous verse of the prologue in which St John affirms that light always shines in the dark and darkness cannot overpower this light. In this perspective the passage says that John was sent by God with the mission to “speak for the light,” a powerful metaphor of a lawyer bearing testimony that the light is trustworthy.

Textual Comments

Verses 19 to 21 give us a first dialogue between John the Baptist and the people whom St John calls “the Jews”, meaning those who are reluctant to accept God’s word. Enter into the personality of the Baptist as he, with growing impatience, refuses to allow himself to be put into any categories – a model of the great person establishing his own unique identity, just as the messengers are like us when we try to fit God’s new word into some time-worn category, putting new wine into old wineskins.

In verses 22 to 24 the story moves forward with John again refusing to let himself be categorised and affirming his mission humbly but courageously. He must reach out into the wilderness and let God’s saving word be heard among those who were neglected by the religious leaders of the time.

Verses 24 to 27 show us once more the humility of John the Baptist, using the same metaphors we had in last Sunday’s passage, although here we have in addition the contrast between him and “Christ”, “Elijah”, and “the prophet”. Let yourself be touched also by the Baptist’s conviction (not mentioned in St Mark’s account) that “the one who is to come after” is actually standing there even though the community does not see him.

Verse 28 is very symbolic: John is baptising on the far side of the Jordan, far away from the religious centers of the time. 

Prayer Reflection

Lord, there is much darkness around us in society,
in our church community, in our family, in our own hearts.
Eventually it gets us down. We become cynical and settle for mediocrity.
We thank you that someone always comes on the scene,
sent by you as a witness to speak for the light:
- on the world scene, people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa;
- in our country, teachers, workers, community leaders;
- a grandparent, one of our children, a friend.
They bear witness to the rest of us that somewhere in the dark
a light always shines,
a light that darkness cannot overpower,
and therefore we can all believe again.

Lord, goodness is always small, very frail and vulnerable,
whereas evil is loud and self-assertive,
dominating the news and our conversations.
We pray that your church may always speak for the light,
so that through her people might believe.

Lord, we get frustrated when we see the shortcomings of your church,
or our personal shortcomings.
That is because we have become self-important,
forgetting that we are not the light, only witnesses to speak for the light.

Lord, when someone speaks your word to us,
we look for endless reasons not to respond,
we put the person into a category -
“the same old message,” we say, “just another of those do-gooders,
we have heard it all before.”
We thank you for the times when your word became something new,
a voice penetrating right into the wilderness we were in,
so that we heard it and entered into a new relationship with you.

Lord, forgive us that we have confined your word to some restricted areas
whereas we leave others untouched:
- the world of economics and politics is cold and heartless;
- the food policies of the wealthy nations are causing famine among the poor;
- workplaces know only suspicion and confrontation.
Help us to be your voice crying out in those wildernesses
that you want to be present there too with your love and compassion,
and they must open themselves to you.

Lord, we feel incompetent.
We ask ourselves how we can be preaching your gospel
when we are so far from being the Christ,
a great prophet like Elijah, or the promised Messiah.
Help us to be content to baptise with water,
trusting that you are standing with us even though we do not experience your presence,
that you will come after us and put right all we have done wrong,
and we are not fit to undo your sandal strap.

Lord, forgive us that we become complacent in your church,
as if grace is at work among us only.
Forgive us too that we become discouraged when we find the church not doing enough.
Remind us that John is baptising on the far side of the Jordan.

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Homily Notes

1. The last century has been littered by people who have claimed to have all the answers to the great human questions and who are only too willing share their ‘wisdom’ with everyone else.
There have been the great dictators: Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao – all knew what the world needed and left a trail of destruction in their wake.
Then there was a veritable army of lesser despots who knew the answers for everyone and were prepared to put up with any amount of suffering to impose their expert solutions.
Then there are the experts in personal affairs: how to get this right, or to do that properly, or how to be successful or slim or happy in ten lessons. All you have to do is buy their book or video and follow the instructions.

At this time of year there are even a slew of books on how to have the perfect Christmas, or Christmas party, or perfect Christmas cooking! All these experts have something in common: look to me and I will solve your problems. And, of course, there is no shortage of religious experts of every make and shape who have a sure-fire, quick and simple route to happiness and bliss.

2. Faced with such experts, many of us instinctively recoil for there is something deep inside us that says it cannot be a simple as that or there would not be such bother or that life is always more complex than the clarity provided in the various expert solutions. On the other hand, many of us faced with the complexity of the world and its problems long for a simple solution that will deliver security, clarity, and some happiness. So the experts are never without disciples (or people at least willing to listen to them or buy their books): and for many of the ‘experts’, that is success enough.

“The Christ …the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie”

3. John the Baptist is not such an expert. John the gospel-writer decisively moves the focus from him to the Anointed One. The Baptist’s vocation is to point away from himself to the Lamb. He is the witness to the truth, not its possessor. He is the way-maker, not the way. Faced with both those who would discredit him as a another religious fraud, or those who would adopt him as their saviour and leader, he makes the same response: ‘I am not the Christ … but among you stands one whom you do not know … who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’

4. Here lies the style of the witness of everyone who recognises the Christ: we point away from ourselves and towards the One who is to come, the One who brings the universe to its completion.

5. But does this mean that we present ‘Jesus as the answer to everything’? This is certainly a mode of witness that many Christians are eager to adopt. Jesus has the answer to every one of life’s problems. Jesus will make you happy. Jesus will make you secure. Jesus will give you the answers to all your questions from where the universe came from to what is the best way to vote. Or as the old school joke has it: whenever a religion teacher asks you a question, the safest answer to give is ‘Jesus’. The ‘Jesus is the Answer’ of advertising hoardings is not the Jesus we hear proclaimed in John’s gospel.

6. For John the gospel-writer Jesus is the way and that begins in a wilderness and while it does end in triumph, that triumph is the cry ‘It is completed’ upon the cross. As John pointed beyond himself and bore witness to the Christ, the Christ points beyond himself and bears witness to the Father (Jn 5:33-36). The Anointed One does not invite us to adopt a set of answers, much less sure-success remedies to life’s problems, but to embark on his way, to adopt his style, and to begin that journey from the midst of whatever wilderness we inhabit.

7. His way is the way of justice, gentleness, peace, and integrity. The Anointed One, the Christ, fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, and commends it to his followers as their way. For the spirit of the Lord has been given to us, we have been anointed so that we are made part of the whole Christ:

The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken,
To proclaim liberty to captives
and freedom to those in prison,
To proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

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Sean Goan
Gospel notes
 

Old Testament imagery of the future Messiah

From now until after Christmas we leave Mark’s gospel, but nonetheless for today the focus remains on John the Baptist. As in Mark, John’s gospel has no story of the birth of Jesus but right from the outset it emphasises the divine origin of Jesus, the light of the world, the Word made flesh. The role of the Baptist is to bear witness to who Jesus really is and that is what we see in the text for today. John always directs the focus away from himself and points to the one who is coming, and once again the quotation from Is 40 is heard. The level of expectation is high, as can be seen from the questions being put to John but his only interest. 

Reflection

In the gospel John the Baptist describes Jesus as ‘standing among you, unknown to you’. In John’s time this was because Jesus had not yet begun his ministry, but in our own day these words have a particular relevance. We live by faith in Jesus the crucified and risen Lord present in our world. In preparing for Christmas we want to renew our awareness of that presence and to help others be aware of it. In Advent we, like John, are called to be witnesses to the light he brings. In small but important ways we can bring light into the lives of those around us. Simple acts of kindness, sharing our time, talents or resources with those in need, is the only way Christ’s light will shine for many people this Christmas. In our time, through the gift of the Spirit, the Word becomes flesh in us.
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1.     From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

God has revealed himself to his people through the incarnation of his Word, Jesus the Christ.  In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer points to this revelation as standing “among you whom you do not recognize.” 

Forms of “baptism” were common in the Judaism of Gospel times -- in some Jewish communities, it was through baptism rather than circumcision that a Gentile became a Jew.  But John’s baptism was distinctive:  His baptism at the Jordan was a rite of repentance and metanoia -- a conversion of heart and spirit.  The Baptizer’s ministry fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36: 25-26): that, at the dawn of a new age, the God of Israel would purify his people from their sins with clear water and instill in them a new heart and spirit. 

HOMILY POINTS:

Light is the central image of today’s Gospel:  John proclaims the coming of the Messiah as the light who will shatter the darkness that envelops our world, the light who illuminates our vision with compassion and justice. 

Through baptism, we take on the role of “Christ bearers.”  Like John’s proclamation at the River Jordan, we are called to be witnesses of God's love by the love we extend to others; precursors of his justice by our unfailing commitment to what is right and good; lamps reflecting the light of God's Christ in our forgiveness, mercy and compassion. 

2.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil: 

Valesa - a Nightmare

is a docu-drama which was written in Poland under a pseudonym and then smuggled out of the country. It tells the story of political prisoners like Lech Walesa. Near the end of the play a prisoner priest, who usually offers a solitary Mass, is joined by the rest of the prisoners at considerable risk to celebrate the Eucharist. At this moment, the play reaches a climax with the deafening scream of crows - a Polish symbol for the Communist military regime under General Jaruzelski. The cawing of the crows suddenly gives way to the soft chirping of spring birds and the comforting notes of a piano concerto - a symbol of the optimism of the Polish people that one day their quest for religious and political freedom will be realized. Valesa – a Nightmare shows how Christ can come into our lives even in the worst of circumstances. The Lord came to Lech Walesa in a Communist prison through Walesa’s faith and prayers, through his Polish culture and pride, through his fellow political prisoners and through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. [Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds)  

Rejoicing worshippers:

There is a story told about a man from Louisville, Kentucky, who had to travel to St. Louis on business.  This was years ago when Christians kept Sunday as a very special day.  For this man, "keeping the Sabbath," also meant not riding the trains on Sunday.  Thus, after he finished up his business late Saturday night, he had to stay over in St. Louis until the following Monday morning.  On Sunday morning, he left the hotel looking for a place to worship.  The streets were quite deserted, but finally he saw a policeman and asked him for directions to the nearest church. The stranger thanked the policeman for the information and was about to walk off when he turned and asked the policeman: "Why have you recommended that particular church? It looks like a Catholic church.  There must be several churches nearby that you could have recommended."  The policeman smiled and replied: "I'm not a church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking church-people in St. Louis and they claim that they have received Jesus and they are happily taking him to their homes.  I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend."  The Scripture for today reminds us that every Sunday in every Christian church must be a Gaudete Sunday or “Rejoice Sunday.” 

The film, Pay It Forward:

Based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde has a premise that underlies the source of joy and happiness celebrated in today’s liturgy.  It tells the story of a seventh grade teacher (Eugene Simonet) and his eleven-year-old student (Trevor).  On the first day of class, the teacher puts this challenge on the blackboard: “Think of something new that will change the world and then act on what you have thought.”  The idea captivates the boy, who lives with his single parent, an alcoholic mother.  The boy attempts to put this idea into practice by helping people, who will, in turn, "pay it forward" by helping others.  The boy draws a circle in his homework book and puts his name in the middle.  From that circle, he extends three lines, at the ends of which are three more circles.  In the first circle he writes his mother’s name.  He will try to get her to give up her alcoholism.  In the second circle he writes the name of a classmate who is being bullied by the larger boys in school.  He will make it his duty to defend this fellow.  In the third circle, he writes the name of his teacher, whom he will try to persuade to fall in love with his mother.  These are huge challenges for a seventh grade boy.  The film then shows the steep obstacles he faces in his attempt to improve his world.  In the end, Pay It Forward inspires us with the possibilities of making the world a better place by transforming one person at a time through a series of “random acts of kindness” and love.  The movie teaches us that when someone does a good deed for us, we should "pay it forward” by making “an act of faith in the goodness of people.”  The net result is lasting peace and joy, the common theme of today’s readings.

"Return of a Runaway Child."

On January 7, 1980, Katheleen drove her daughter, Wavie, to Citrus High School in Inverness, Florida. It was the last time she would see Wavie for a long time. When the sixteen-year-old daughter did not return from school that day, Katheleen and her husband, Jesse, sought help from the police, the FBI, the governor, and even from national TV networks. Jesse and Katheleen, working people, were not about to give up. They printed thousands of fliers and delivered stacks of bulletins to truck stops across Florida and Georgia. Thousands of people responded. Some said they saw her. Exhausting many of their resources, they never gave up. On Tuesday, June 29, 1982, they received a call that located Wavie in Twin Cities, Georgia. By six o’clock the next morning, Wavie’s parents were in the tiny Georgia town, overjoyed at finding their daughter. Later, Wavie told her story. She really had not intended to run away from home. But on that January day, friendly strangers had offered her a ride to a nearby truck stop--and then on to Georgia. The farther she got away from home, the more frightened she was of being punished for leaving. Each hour away from home made it harder to return. She feared the reunion. Dozens of times she had dialed her parent’s phone number, but hung up in panic before they answered. She was afraid of returning home at the very same time her parents were exhausting all of their resources to find her. (Gary Turbak, "Return of a Runaway Child," Reader’s Digest, November, 1982, pp. 97-102). The great beauty of the Christmas message is that God hasn’t given up the search for us. Into the world of darkness, the Great Light came to lead us back home. “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1: 9). In today’s gospel, John the Baptist introduces this “Light of the world.” 

“Come home to Christmas”: 

Dr. Fred B. Craddock tells of a young couple securing the professional services of a real estate agent to find them a "home". The real estate agent responded by saying, "I can find you a house but not a home." The agent was right. Only Christ can make a "Home." Yes, we can come home to Christmas, come home to the God who is searching for us--and who is the only One who can give us a home. We can come home to God who can set us "free" again. We don’t have to come home to Christmas only in our dreams. We can come home by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior today. He is asking us, “Will you come?” 

“Would you mind handing in the broom?"

There is an old story of a small boy who was asked on a dark night to go out on the back porch and bring in a broom. He was afraid. There was no light out there. And he frankly told his parents that he was scared of the dark. His parents reassured him, "You don't need to be scared. God is everywhere. He is with you even in the dark." So the boy went to the back door, opened a crack, and whispered, "God, if You're really out there, would you mind handing in the broom?" None of us enjoys the dark, and if we, with all of our scientific knowledge and understanding of our world are still uneasy about darkness, just imagine how infinitely worse was the plight of primitive people. To understand the force of Jesus' claim to be the Light of the world, we must remember just how much light meant to people in ancient times. 

Are you OK?

There is an old story of a father who, on a dark, stormy night in the midst of the thunder's crash and the lightning's flash, awakened and thought of his small son alone in his bedroom upstairs who might be scared of it all. So he rushed upstairs with his flashlight to check on the boy to see if he was all right. He was flashing the light around the room when the boy awakened, and said, with a startled cry, "Who's there? Who's in my room?" The father's first thought was to flash his light in the face of the boy, but then he thought, "No. If I do that, I will frighten him all the more." So he turned the light on his own face. And the little boy said, "Oh, it's you, Dad." The father said, "Yes, it's Dad. I'm just up here checking on things. Everything's O.K., so go on back to sleep." And the little boy did. That is what the Incarnation is all about. God's shining the light in His own face so that you and I might know that everything really is O.K.  

“Have You Ever Heard John Preach?”

As Rev. Fred Craddock once asked, “Have You Ever Heard John Preach?” John the Baptist was easily the most famous preacher of his generation. The historian Josephus once wrote that in his estimation, this man John was a vastly more important and impressive figure than his cousin known as Jesus. Even years after Jesus' death and resurrection, when the apostles visited the city of Ephesus to proclaim the gospel, they ran across a large building that called itself "The First Church of John the Baptizer." The members of this congregation had all been baptized into the name of John. When the apostles inquired if they had been baptized into also the name of Jesus, the people replied, "Who's that? Never heard of him." Years earlier it was John, not Jesus, who got King Herod's attention. So he arrested and eventually executed John. And once Jesus began to make a bit of a stir himself, Herod's first reaction was to say, "That must be John again! He's back from the dead!" Most scholars believe that the Gospel of John, as written by John the Apostle, places Jesus in the correct perspective assigning to John the Baptist the role of a witness and forerunner.  

The cutest smile of inner joy:

A number of years ago, young college student was working as an intern at his college’s Museum of Natural History.  One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop, he saw an elderly couple come in with a little girl in a wheelchair.  As he looked closer at this girl, he saw that she was kind of perched on her chair.  The student realized that she had no arms or legs, just a head, neck and torso.  She was wearing a little white dress with red polka dots.  As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and looked back at the girl, who was giving him the cutest and the largest smile he had ever seen.  All of a sudden her handicap was gone and all that the young man saw was this beautiful girl, whose smile just melted him and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about.  She took him from the world of an unhappy college student and brought him into her world; a world of smiles, love and warmth.  With the lighting of the third rose candle of the Advent Wreath and the priest’s wearing the rose vestments today, we are reminded that we are called to live with joy in our world of sorrows and pain. (HO) 

“Rejoice always” the Lord is near: 

[This is a little story from an Irish Lady].  I heard a knock at the door.  Two children in ragged, outgrown coats got inside as I opened the door.  “Any old papers, lady?”  I was busy.  I wanted to say no until I looked down at their feet.  Thin little sandals, sopped with sleet.  “Come in, and I’ll make you a cup of hot cocoa.”  There was no conversation.  Their soggy sandals left marks upon the hearthstone.  I served them cocoa and toast with jam to fortify them against the chill outside.  Then I went back to the kitchen and started again on my household budget….  The silence in the front room struck me.  I looked in.  The girl held the empty cup in her hands, looking at it.  The boy asked in a flat voice, “Lady…, are you rich?”  “Am I rich?  Mercy, no!”  I looked at my shabby slipcovers.  The girl put her cup back in its saucer carefully.  “Your cups match your saucers.”  Her voice was old, with a hunger that was not of the stomach.  They left then, holding their bundles of papers against the wind.  They hadn’t said, “Thank you.”  They didn’t need to.  They had done more than that.  They told me that my plain blue pottery cups and saucers matched.  I boiled the potatoes and stirred the gravy.  Potatoes and brown gravy, a roof over my head and my man with a good steady job:  I was lucky.  I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room.  The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet upon the hearthstone.  Were not they the foot prints of the Lord who visited me to intensify my joy by His presence?  I let the prints remain.  I wanted those footprints there in case I ever forget again how very rich I am.  The message in the first and the second reading is clear – “rejoice always” the Lord is near – and the Lord will surprise you because you will find him not in the comfortable and the easy – but rather in the ones who challenge us and wake us up as those children did. (HO)  

Unfinished play:

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer. When he died in 1864, he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centered on a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would be like. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared. The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It too ended without the main character putting in an appearance. Everyone talked about the Messiah. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, told the people what he would be like. They told the people what he would do. But the Messiah never appeared until the time of the last prophet John the Baptist. Mark Link in Sunday Homilies,  quoted by Fr. Botelho. 

 “Why are you outside?”

Not involved: Henry David Thoreau was an American writer who authored the renowned essay “Civil Disobedience.” He championed the freedom of the individual over the law of the land. He distinguished between “law” and “right.” He wrote: “What the majority passes is the ‘law’ and what the individual conscience sees is the ‘right’, and what matters most is the ‘right’ and not the ‘law’.” Once, Thoreau was imprisoned for a night. He had refused to pay the poll-tax as a protest against the government’s support of slavery and its unjust war against Mexico, presumably in support of slave trade intentions. When he was arrested, he hoped that some of his friends would follow his example and fill the jails, and in this way persuade the government to change its stance on the issue of slavery. In this he was disappointed. Not only did his friends not join him, one friend paid the tax on his behalf and got him released the very next day. When he was in the prison, Emerson, another American writer, came to visit him. He said to Thoreau: “Thoreau, Thoreau, why are you inside (jail)?” And Thoreau replied, “Emerson, Emerson, why are you outside?” Thoreau was a great lover of truth. He suffered because he spoke and stood for truth. Emerson said in his obituary of Thoreau, “He was a great speaker and actor of truth.” Today’s gospel presents the frankness and humility of John the Baptist. John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies, quoted by Fr. Botelho. 

Alice in the wonderland experience:

When Alice fell through the rabbit-hole into Wonderland, she was convinced that she had fallen right through the earth and was destined to come out where people would be upside down. She referred to such reversals as Antipathies—though she did wonder whether or not that was the right word. Alice may not have chosen the correct word, but she was on target when it came to identifying the way we feel when our world is turned upside down. That is, of course, when the reversal that we experience resembles the collapse of the stock market. We would be overcome by entirely different emotions if we had won the lottery. When she finally landed, Alice discovered that the world was not upside down, but it certainly was out of proportion to her size. She had to change, to get smaller in order to enter that mysterious world. The Third Sunday of Advent invites us into a world of reversals, a world where the captives are freed, where the hungry are filled and where the rich are sent away empty. It is certainly a world where things are turned upside down. From the point of view of social order, such reversals could be considered Antipathies. But from God’s point of view, they are the signs of transformation. In order to appreciate the strength of today’s message from Isaiah, we must remember that he was speaking to people who were dispossessed, people in need of a message of hope, a promise of some kind of economic reversal. This same description of reversal is found in the passage from Luke. There we see that the lowly enjoy the blessings that God promised long ago (Dianne Bergant) 

After the baptism of his baby brother in church one Sunday,

little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.  His father asked him three times what was wrong.  Finally, the boy replied, "That priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys!"  Father got the message and they began to go to church regularly...  Needless to say the family had a bit of catching up to do.  One day the Sunday School Teacher asked Johnny, "Now, Johnny, tell me – do you say prayers before eating?”  “No ma'am," little Johnny replies, "I don't have to.  My Mom is a good cook."  

Sign on a church bulletin board:

"Merry Christmas to our Christian friends. Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends. And to our atheist friends, good luck. 

3.     From Sermons.com

As a child I remember that the most difficult part of Christmas was simply waiting for it to come. From Thanksgiving to December 25 seemed more like an eternity than a month. Days seemed like weeks. Weeks felt like seasons. Time seemed to stand still.
Waiting is foreign to our society. It seems unnatural. We hunger for immediate gratification. The idea of delayed satisfaction is a stranger to our thinking.

The symbols of our unwillingness to wait are all around us. Fast food chains boom because we don't have time to eat. We stand in crooked lines, then yell out an order, get it down in five minutes and then get back to the rat race. We haven't got time to sit down and read a book anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that we have condensed versions of the Bible. In kitchens all over America there are gadgets to get the meal prepared quickly. I would guess Mr. Coffee started it all. Simply spoon in the coffee and pour water. The coffee is made before you can even find a cup. When we become sick we want to be made well now, not later. Medicine, doctors, pastoral care and love are often rejected if they are not swift.

I, like you, accept most of our no-wait approach to life, with the exception of instant potatoes, which are intolerable. But the truth is that, though we do not like waiting, waiting is a part of living. We must wait for payday, a break, quitting time, and for the mailman. When you do your Christmas shopping, you had certainly better be prepared to wait in a line to get checked out, wait to get a parking place, and wait through at least four red lights before making a left hand turn on Poplar Ave.

But there are also very serious matters for which we wait. Some wait for health to return, some for the coming of food stamps, some for marriage or remarriage. We must wait for peace. A scared child waits for the coming of morning, and a scared adult awaits death. And an expectant mother waits for delivery. Waiting can be pure agony. It's like the jury is out.

The problem is that scripture time and time again tells us that God's clock is wound in a different way. Time is different to him. We look at seconds; he looks at the ages. Waiting, not hurrying is one of his characteristics. And this waiting God tells his people that often, they too must wait.

And that is where the story of Christmas really begins. It begins thousands of years before the birth of Christ. They longed for that one who would bring light out of darkness, and make the blind to see. They Longed for that one who would turn their sorrow into joy, and vanquish their enemies. But, God said, you must wait. Let us look at how God's people have waited throughout the ages... 

  1. Waiting in the Old Testament
  2. John the Baptist's Waiting
  3. The Waiting in Advent
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The five year old nephew of the bride was chosen to be in charge of carrying the rings down the aisle. At the wedding rehearsal he was unusually unruly. He kept leaping out at people, baring his teeth at and then chasing the flower girls. He growled and snarled as he practiced going down the aisle. He brandished the pillow like a pistol. Finally his mother pulled him aside and demanded to know why he was behaving so badly.  

"But Mom," he explained, "I have to act fierce - I'm the 'Ring Bear.'"

Like so many of us that little boy misunderstood just what role he was supposed to play. He thought he was called to be big, imposing, fearsome, large and in charge. He thought he was to BE the "star of the show." He thought the spotlight was his.

But he wasn't supposed to BE a bear, he was supposed to offer the supportive role of "ring bearer." His role was important. The pastor, not to mention the bride and groom, needed those rings down front. But the focus of the wedding ceremony was not on the ring bearer. The reason for the wedding celebration was not him.

In this week's Advent gospel text John, the author of the fourth gospel, has no trouble distinguishing the one who "bears witness" to the light from the One who actually IS the light...
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Why Do We Try to Know It All?

It seems to be a relatively late hobby, peculiar to western Christianity, to contrive a sort of 'unified field theory' of the Bible that can include all facts and explain all things. That, of course, would require us to comprehend God. However, a mind can only comprehend something less complex than itself - so if we could comprehend God, He would not be God. For this reason, the historic Church teaches that we can know God, but we cannot comprehend Him, much as a husband might jokingly complain that he knows his wife quite well, but he can't begin to understand her.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who died in 386, explained this teaching in his Catechetical Lectures: "Is it really true that because I cannot drink the whole river I will not take water from it in moderation for my benefit? If, when going into some great garden, I cannot eat all the fruits, would you wish that I go away from it completely hungry?" St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who died in 430, was contemplating this same topic while walking along the seashore. He saw a small boy scooping water from the sea with a seashell and pouring it into a pit in the sand. He noticed that it is impossible for the boy to scoop up all the sea, but it is possible for him to know the sea by scooping it.
Why do we ignore the plain teachings of scripture and attempt to know all things? Scripture plainly teaches that our knowledge is not complete, and if our knowledge is not complete, it means we will always have puzzles.

Kenneth W. Collins, How Old Is the Universe?
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The Royal Doors Are Opening! 

In the Orthodox Church, the sanctuary is separated from the congregation by a wall pierced by several doors. The central ones, known as the royal doors, are opened at certain critical points in the service.

Eugene Trubetskoy, a Russian prince and a religious philosopher, made reference to this in his dying words, when he cried out, "The royal doors are opening! The great Liturgy is about to begin." [Quoted in George Every, Richard Harries, and Kallistos Ware, eds., The Time of the Spirit: Readings through the Christian Year (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), p. 43.] What he had seen so often in the church's liturgy on earth was now apparent to him in the liturgy which takes places in heaven. The royal doors were opening in a new and astounding way.

We might do well, all of us, especially in this time of Advent, to recognize how the death of a Christian is like that. The royal doors open. The great Liturgy is about to begin.
Charles Hoffacker, God's Doorman
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The President as a Mouse

This may sound ridiculous but it gives us an idea of what it means when we say God became human and made his dwelling among us. Imagine the most powerful and prestigious person in the world, let's say the president of the United States, of his own free-will becomes a mouse - small, furry, insignificant, and extremely helpless and vulnerable. He chooses to become a mouse because he wants to live among all other mice. He leaves the White House, and the prestige and honor that go with his office. He becomes a mouse in order to help all other mice. 

You see, there are mousetraps in kitchens all around the world. The people who own these kitchens are determined to kill every last mouse. And one after another the mice are killed. The President shouts at the mice until he is hoarse to warn them of the danger and shoos them away but the smelly cheese on the deadly mousetraps is just too inviting. And so the most powerful man in the world happily becomes a mouse because he loves all mice and wants to do something to save them.

In a similar way and in a more radical way the all-powerful and eternal God has chosen to plunge himself into the arena of human life as you and I live it, and take on the flesh and bones of our humanity.

Vince Gerhardy, God Has a Word for You
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What Are You Looking For? 

Chaim Potok was an intensely religious man; a Jew who explored the dimensions of faith in our lives. From an early age, Potok knew he wanted to be a writer. But his mother wasn't so sure. When he went away to college she said, "Son, now I know you want to be a writer. But I want you to think about brain surgery. You'll keep a lot of people from dying. And you'll make a lot of money." To which Potok responded, "No, Mama, I want to be a writer."

But, "No," is not what Mama wanted to hear. So, every vacation break for four years she would repeat her comments about his becoming a brain surgeon and keeping people from dying and making a lot of money, and always his response was the same. Finally the son had enough, and, when the same mantra began, he cut off his mother with exasperation, and with great passion he told his mother, "Mama, I don't want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live."

This morning's Gospel Lesson from John is a "call" story, but unlike so many call stories in scripture this one is not crisp, dramatic, or decisive. Today there is no flashing light, no booming voice, no clear instructions as to what the disciples are to do. Instead, what we hear is Jesus asking a question - a strange, penetrating question. But it is the question that forms the foundation for understanding "call" for understanding vocation. The question is: "What are you looking for?"

Susan R. Andrews, Sermons for Sundays: In Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: The Offense Of Grace, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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Open Up to the Living God 

Some time ago, a young executive of the '60s generation came up to me and said, "You know, I think my generation emphasized external, societal morality while the previous generation emphasized internal, personal morality. That generation believed a moral person would produce a moral society. My generation believed a moral society would produce a moral person." But John addressed both. If his was a voice that spoke out for social justice and structures of morality, it was also a voice that spoke inwardly for individual integrity. If it was a mistake to believe moral people automatically produce a moral society, it was also a mistake to believe a moral society will produce moral people. A good structure administered by corrupt people can produce corruption. And a good person administering a bad structure can still produce corruption. These days we don't like John's message of personal repentance. If we have the courage, we much prefer to talk about problems out there -- about political and economic reform, about accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness in our educational system, about urban renewal and social action. These should be talked about.

But John presses his message of change even further, right on into the heart of every hearer. And the message is -- repent, turn around, open up, make God the center of your life instead of self, or family, or business, or profession, or sports, or success, or power, or money, or popularity, or status. Turn away from those lifeless, death-dealing idols, says John. Open up to the living God. Make a straight path to your heart for him.

Maurice A. Fetty, How to Profit from Prophets, CSS Publishing Company
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Advent: Time to Listen 

Barbara Brown Taylor tells about the day W. H. Auden read some of his poetry at Princeton . The hall was packed with hundreds of students and faculty. They had come to hear "the great one." But when Auden (then an old man) began to read, his voice was so soft that even the microphone couldn't pick him up. So people began whispering to their neighbor: "What did he say?" And those who thought they had heard a part of what he'd said, whispered back the part they'd heard - or what they remembered from a prior reading of Auden, triggered (in that moment) by what they thought they'd heard. While others, not quite hearing - and not quite knowing - guessed at what he was saying. And pretty soon, the whispers drowned out the poet.  

Which, if you ask me, is what sometimes happens in our churches, else why would there be so much interest in the word of God, yet so little clarity about the word of God? Unless, of course, we all whisper better than we listen.  

Sometimes I wish God would scream. Or shout. At least raise his voice. Getting in my face, as it were. As to why God doesn't, I have no answer. I wish I did.

What I do know is what I just read. That God came to the world (with the barest hint of a whisper) in the form of a child. A speechless child.
 
William A. Ritter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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The Harvest of Love

That blessed saint, Helen Keller once wrote: "Christmas is the harvest time of love. Souls are drawn to other souls. All that we have read and thought and hoped comes to fruition at this happy time. Our spirits are astir. We feel within us a strong desire to serve. A strange, subtle force, a new kindness animates man and child. A new spirit is growing in us. No longer are we content to relieve pain, to sweeten sorrow, to give the crust of charity. We dare to give friendship, service, the equal loaf of bread and love."

Peace, power and purpose. "The light shines in the darkness..." In these very busy days of preparation, may His peace, His power and His purpose dwell in our hearts.
Helen Keller
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Only When I'm Alone 

It may be that one of our own challenges is to know who we aren't. There's a story about a woman finding herself alone in an elevator with the famous and very handsome Robert Redford. As the elevator moved up the floors, the woman, like many of us might, found herself uncontrollably staring at the movie star. Finally, in her excitement and nervousness, she blurted out: "Are you the real Robert Redford?" To which Redford responded, "Only when I'm alone."

That story reveals that Robert Redford is not simply another pretty face, but he has grown into a wisdom that must serve him well. For like John the Baptist, he obviously knows who he is not.  

Mary Lynn Tobin, Finding Our Voice
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Letting God Bless You 

In his book, Letting God Bless, You John Killinger concludes with the challenge:

Permit God to bless you. Don't look around you and think how hard life is. Look around and see how filled with mystery and goodness it is. See how wonderful the world looks when you know God is at work redeeming it and setting up the anti-structures, so that humility and purity and compassion and longing for justice and peace will all be fulfilled and rewarded in the eternal scheme of things.  

Give thanks to God for the richness of existence.
Then look around to see who you can share it with.
That will make you even richer. 

If you will learn to live this way every day, you will always have a song in your heart and the path before you will be lined with flowers. Joy will spring up inside you like a fountain, and you will lie down to sleep at night with peace in your soul. And you will say, "Blessed be the name of our God forever and ever, who calls us to a new rule where righteousness will be the order of the day forever!"

This Advent season, my friends, let us make the critical choice of permitting God to bless us and to fill us with a new sense of hope and purposeful living. Let us live in the assurance that the present darkness is not our final destination, that there is indeed much more yet to come. Along the way we will begin to experience joy springing up within us like a fountain. Thanks be to God, who blesses us with love and grace beyond measure. 

Joel D. Kline, The Critical Choice

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4. Fr. Jude Botelho
Our common everyday experience tells us that for everything of value there is need of preparation so that it turns out well and beneficial for us. If we are going for an interview we prepare ourselves and rehearse our responses. For exams we prepare well in advance if we want good grades. In sports there are months and months of daily training, exercises, diet and tough routines. If we are to prepare a delicious meal for special guests we don’t leave things to turn out well by chance!

Are we prepared for God’s coming? Have an exciting week in joyful anticipation of His coming!
         
                     
 

Reflection
Today’s readings sound the note of joy. But we could ask what is there to be happy about. After all there are so many things that it depresses us and makes us sad. Yet we are asked to rejoice, to be a Christian we have to have joy in our lives. What can be the source of our joy? Isaiah will point out that we should rejoice in the Lord!  Isaiah believes he has been chosen to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to bring liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison, to proclaim a year of favour.  This is joyful news that God will do all these things for us. He is coming He will not delay, He is faithful to his promises. He will come! Whatever your situation, He will come!

Rejoice, the Spirit can and does change us!
A couple enjoyed a happy married life for a year and a half and as usual began to go through hard times. Their family deserted them as theirs was a love marriage. The first child died after three months, and the man’s job was at stake. However, the news of the second child delighted them for some time and they could bear all hardships. Soon, at the time of delivery the doctor declared that the baby was dead in the womb of the mother and that the mother could not conceive any longer. This was a big jolt to the man who was on the periphery of his spiritual life unlike his wife who was firmly rooted and grounded in her commitment to the Lord and the Church. The man went into drinking. His company sent him abroad so that he might improve his behavior but all in vain. He came back home in a worse condition. However, his wife’s prayer-life moved him and he agreed to go for a retreat where he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in such a might way that he decided to give his life totally to the Lord. Today he is a known retreat preacher along with his wife.
Robert D’Souza in ‘Liturgy and Life’

In the Gospel we have John pointing out to the people that he is not the messiah, he is not the prophet, he is not Elijah but the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. He reminds them that there is one person in their midst who is greater than he is, but they do not recognise Him. John is merely a witness, pointing out to the one who is coming so that they might not miss him. He is the light, He is their hope, He is the promised one! If we do not see him, accept him, believe in Him, then the source of our joy is lost. We have missed the one who can bring meaning into our lives! Our sin is the sin of ignorance! We did not know He was in our midst. He came unto his own and his own did not recognise Him. God comes in strange ways!

You do not recognize him
‘Valesa – a Nightmare’ is a docu-drama which was written in Poland under a pseudonym and then smuggled out of the country. It tells the story of political prisoners like Lech Walesa. Near the end of the play a prisoner priest, who usually offers a solitary Mass, is joined by the rest of the prisoners at considerable risk to celebrate the Eucharist. At this moment, the play reaches a climax with the deafening scream of crows - a Polish symbol for the Communist military regime under General Jaruzelski. The cawing of the crows suddenly gives way to the soft chirping of spring birds and the comforting notes of a piano concerto - a symbol of the optimism of the Polish people that one day their quest for religious and political freedom will be realized.  ‘Valesa – a Nightmare’ shows how Christ can come into our lives even in the worst of circumstances. The Lord came to Lech Walesa in a Communist prison through Walesa’s faith and prayers, through his Polish culture and pride, through his fellow political prisoners and through the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Something More
A vivid illustration of what John was challenging people to do is found in Catherine Marshall’s book Something More. One day her daughter Linda was about to take a shower. Linda had one foot in the shower stall and the other foot on the bathroom rug. As she stood there in this awkward position, it suddenly occurred to her that this was a good picture of her life. Linda had always wanted to commit her life to God, but she could never quite do it. She always kept one foot in and one foot out. Now, it seemed the moment had finally come when she must decide for God or against him. Standing there, Linda thought about what choosing the Lord would cost her. The price would be high. But she was tired of living in two worlds and enjoying neither. Linda paused for a long time, took a deep breath, and said aloud, “Lord, I choose you!” With that, she stepped into the shower. It was for her a true baptism. It’s this kind of a change of heart that John was calling upon people to make.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Witnessing to the Light
A king came along whose wife gave birth to twins, both boys. They were christened Peter and Paul. The father loved both of them equally. But to whom should he leave the ring? He fell very ill, and thinking that he was about to die, he hit on the following plan. He got another ring made exactly like the first. It was so good that even he was unable to tell them apart. Then he called in his two sons separately and gave each of them a ring. But when Peter found out that his brother had also got a ring he made a terrible scene. He had to be sure that he himself had the magic ring and not the look alike. The king consulted a wise man to help him decide the issue. After examining the rings the latter declared: “I cannot tell which of you is wearing the magic ring, you yourself will be able to tell.” “How?” they asked earnestly. “It’s quite simple. Whichever of you displays the greater amount of goodness in his life will prove beyond doubt that he possesses the magic ring.” It was agreed. As it happened, the king recovered from his illness and reigned for many years more. When at least he was nearing death he called in his two sons once more. Now was the time to finally decide which of them had the magic ring. Peter was the first to come in. He began to claim adamantly that he possessed it. But then the people who knew him best were asked their opinion.  His wife told how over the years he had shown her very little affection. His children said that he was never at home. His servants complained that he had been very hard on them and had paid them poor wages. His neighbours told how he was forever stirring up trouble among them. And so it went on. Paul came in. He made no claims whatsoever. But when the people who knew him best were asked what kind of man he was they were loud in their praise of him. He had proved to be a loving husband, and a kind father to his children. He had treated his servants with respect and generosity. He had been a force for peace and goodwill among his neighbours. In fact, not a single one had a bad word to say about him. Then the king spoke: “Peter you have witnessed to the presence of the ring, but only with your words. Paul on the other hand, has witnessed to it with his deeds, that is, with his life. To me it is obvious that his witness is the greater and the more convincing. Therefore, I declare that his ring is the genuine one. Now Paul I ask you to produce it. “I no longer have it”, Paul answered. “What do you mean you no longer have it?” asked the King. “One day many years ago a poor woman and her child came to my gate and I gave it to her so that she could sell it and buy food and clothes.” Far from being angry, the king was very pleased on hearing this. It merely confirmed him in his belief that the verdict he had reached was in fact the correct one. And in due course Paul ascended the throne and donned the crown. The second son in some ways reminds us of that great man John the Baptist. In today’s Gospel we are told that John was a witness to the light. “He was not the light, but only a witness for the light”. The light of course was Christ.
Flor McCarthy in ‘Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'

Prepare the way for Him!
A religious sociologist, Dr. Dean Hoge, has written a book entitled ‘Converts, Dropouts and Returnees’. Very briefly, he narrates his experiences with individuals, who either left the Catholic Church or had been reconverted, and what led them to take that important decision. And he found that “the happiest Catholics were the dropout Catholics” –persons who had left the Catholic Church for a time, but returned. Even more, he found that the best recruiters of dropout Catholics are the dropouts themselves. More specifically, Dr. Dean Hoge found that two-thirds of the thousands of Catholics who return to the faith each year do so because a neighbour, a friend or a relative invited them to return. This is where each and everyone of us can play a vital role in the return of many. And we could begin just by inviting them to attend a service this Christmas. We have been anointed for this very specific outreach; so let the Holy Spirit speak through you in preparing the way for the Lord.
James Valladares in ‘Your words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They are Life’

Are we ready?

A guru once revealed the route by which he was led to God-realization. “First,” he said, God took me to the Land of Action and after many years to the Land of Sorrows.” He continued. “I was taken to the Land of Love where I was emptied of everything; next God took me to the Land of Silence, where I pondered the mysteries of life.” The impatient disciple asked, “What was the final stage?” The guru replied, God finally said that I’d see God’s innermost Self, and God led me to the Land of Joy.” Jesus brings joy because he binds the broken hearts and breaks captives’ chains. His joy will be ours if we too, in the power of the Spirit, help him free the brokenhearted and captives. But, this demands breaking our own chains first. Are we ready?
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

May we be joyful witnesses of God’s love in the world today!