The theme of joy runs through the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent. In the first reading, Zephaniah tells the Israelites: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, He has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.”
The author tells the Israelites to rejoice that God has delivered them from captivity. When they had fallen away from the living God, He allowed them to be removed from their homeland until they repented. That time is over.
Lest we falsely boast that we have yet to be taken into captivity, think again. True, we haven’t been forcibly removed from our homes and communities, but in many ways, we’re entering into spiritual captivity promoted by deists and atheists in our society.
Deists suggest God created the universe to run itself, and therefore He is no longer involved in it. We have no personal accountability to Him. Atheists deny the existence of God, and therefore man is accountable to no one.
Take a look at how this thinking has gripped our society. Godlessness is behind some of our government, news and sources of entertainment. Religious freedoms are being taken away. The highest court in the land has proclaimed the legality of same-sex marriage. To oppose homosexual activity is considered hate language.
The voices of the electronic media have become more vocal than the voices of religion. The voices of popular culture are changing our attitudes toward religion.
You may say, “That doesn’t affect me. I still go to church every Sunday!” I hope you do, but just how much of the popular culture is affecting your prayer life and your belief systems? For example, how often do you find yourself turning on the TV to kill the time, or out of boredom? I have found myself doing just that, then I think: “How stupid is that? Why not get out the Rosary and intercede for our families or our culture? Why not get out the Bible and reflect on one of the psalms?”
Anything I do along this line makes a huge difference for our families and for our country, because in this way, I avoid being sucked into being a blind consumer and purveyor of the subtle darkness of the popular media. I take a stand for God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior and to die on the cross for our sins. When I stand up against the popular culture, I take a stand for all Americans against the dark forces in our midst. I can’t save the world, but I can allow Jesus to save me from the darkness so that He can use me as a witness to others who may be unaware of what they are facing.
This can be a source of great joy: God is alive in our midst and I have the privilege of giving Him witness.
In the second reading, Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice and to let their “kindness … be known to all. The Lord is near.” Any time we rejoice in the midst of a dark world, we let the light of Jesus shine on our face to give others hope. When He is alive in our hearts, our faces show it. This brings others more hope than the often empty laughter on TV.
In the Gospel, people hear the firepower coming from John the Baptist, and it fills them with great expectation in the coming of the Messiah. They ask whether John the Baptist might be the Messiah. John answers: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Here we have the answer to prevent our country’s destruction and drift into godlessness. We need the firepower of the Holy Spirit setting our hearts on fire with prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the fellowship of Catholics who have the same hunger for the rebirth of our society.
Here we have the answer to perhaps an apathy that has allowed friends and family members to drift from church attendance without our ever saying anything. We shouldn’t tell them what to do but rather show them the love of Christ that has reached out to us and welcomed us into His friendship.
We aren’t interested in winning arguments but in winning hearts. We’re to show them the freedom and joy that comes from Jesus when He frees us from darkness. We don’t have to be slaves to the partisanship that has gripped our country. We can live in the midst of this partisanship without becoming angry at people who disagree with us.
We don’t have to be slaves to bitterness, anger and unforgiveness that so often grip us.
We can create a daily culture that sets us free. That culture is simply allowing the Holy Spirit to enter our lives more deeply and asking Him to help us to get more deeply into Scripture.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). There you have it. The formula for change is to invite the Holy Spirit on a daily basis to do a job on our hearts with His word.