For Dec. 16, 2012: 3 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Zephaniah 3:14-20

Zephaniah, a prophet of the seventh century BC, mostly denounces Israel’s corruption and failure to follow God’s ways. In his book, however, is this passage with the remarkable image of God as both warrior and lover, singing out loud for joy in all God’s people and, at the last, bringing them home. Canticle 9 or Isaiah 12:2-6, familiar as an Easter Vigil response, continues to ring out the growing joy of Advent.

The Response            Canticle 9, Isaiah 12:2-6

The Epistle            Philippians 4:4-7

In last week’s epistle, Paul exulted in the Christians at Philippi. In closing the epistle, he sends them out into the world, lovingly challenging them to do four important tasks to open them to the peace of God: rejoice; again, rejoice; become notorious for being gentle; instead of worrying, pray. We do well to pay heed and follow suit.

The Gospel            Luke 3:7-18

 

Further thoughts

Violence has staggered our nation’s heart this Advent tide of 2012: twenty children will not wake on December 25 to bulging stockings and holiday feasts or whatever else their parents had had in store for the day, and six households must cope with the sudden loss of the beloved mother or aunt who made the best latkes or always brought “A Visit from St. Nicholas” most vividly to life in her reading.

But the sword always lies over Christmas—the sword that, as Simeon prophesied, would later pierce Mary’s heart when she saw her son hanging on the cross, the blood that symbolizes the holy days of the protomartyr Stephen on December 26 and John the apostle on December 27; and December 28 is the commemoration of the Holy Innocents whom paranoid Herod, stung by the Wise Men’s word of an infant born to be king, ordered his thugs to slaughter.

Whether one ascribes evil to a literal Satan outside of us or to the abundant flaws and fears within us, it cannot be denied that the powers of darkness are very strong. Under such circumstances, the exultation of Zephaniah and Isaiah sounds much more like wishful thinking than like fulfillment, and it is small wonder that some in our society have called for armed guards to be stationed in every school.

The hard reality is that we cannot possibly muster enough guards to station at every school, every mall, every theatre, every post office, every jogging trail, every lonely stretch of road or inner-city curbside, every public restroom, or every child’s bedroom.

What we can do is what John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah told us to do: repent, share what we have with those who have less, refrain from grasping for more money or for more power over others than is appropriate—in short, to look after one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to love one another. Doing so day by day won’t hew down the sick or evil person who is armed and bent on mayhem. But to guide that person not to resort to mayhem in the first place, what better hope have we than practicing the love of Christ?

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