The Scriptures for the Third Sunday of Advent draw attention to the growing popularity of John the Baptist and the Messianic prophecy from the prophet Zephaniah. Let us enter this week continuing to prepare for our celebration of Christmas this year and growing more attentive to the mission to bring Jesus into the world through our lives.
John the Baptist sees great crowds and hears questions of conversion in this part of Luke’s Gospel. Some people even wonder if he is the Messiah. They ask him questions and he responds in a very Messianic way. He reminds people to remember the poor as they accumulate more than what they need. There might be a lesson for each of us in that teaching. He reminds us to make sure that the hungry are fed and the strangers are welcome and to quit accumulating unnecessary possessions while others suffer. There might be a lesson for us in that as well. But many people are drawn to him thinking that he is the Messiah.
John quickly makes a distinction between himself and the promised one. John reminds listeners that the one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, while he baptizes with water and repentance. He talks about how unworthy he is to even untie the thongs on the promised one’s sandals. And he uses a very clear image of a winnowing fan that will separate the chaff from the wheat.
Even though the winnowing fan can be seen as a scary image, the people who are listening to him hear it as good news. Can we hear it in the same way? Instead of becoming afraid or defensive of the message John the Baptist gives us, can we hear it in a new way, so that it affects how we live all the time and not just during Advent? Throughout Advent, Giving Trees and No Hunger Holidays are a reminder that there are people who do without food, clothing and shelter all year long. There is much generosity that happens at this time of year. Will it become a habit or is it simply seasonal? I know that many volunteer regularly at soup kitchens or shelters, but those touch a small minority of the many people who are in need. What would really help is if we would do the same things on a regular basis. In the same way that you mark meetings onto your calendar, might we be able to mark acts of generosity there as well? Is there a way to ask ourselves, prior to purchasing something, if we really need what we are buying or if we could put those resources toward food, shelter and clothing for those most in need? When we begin to do that on a regular basis it will become a habit, one that is able to change the face of the earth one person at a time. And isn’t that good news?
What will it take to separate us from the insecurity that demands that we keep amassing more resources than we will ever need? We think there will be a time when we will be satisfied but that doesn’t seem to work. Insecurities aren’t satisfied by things that don’t last. They are only satisfied by eternal things, words and promises that we know are backed up by a power greater than ourselves. The Prophet Zephaniah reminds us of some of those promises that have been given since the Old Testament. God’s message to us again is to not be afraid. Fear is at the root of insecurity and anxiety and only God can give us the assurance that will help us live with our anxieties. God holds us in the palm of His hand and will never abandon us. God will give us everything that we need; He has created us with a heart built for love. We can practice that love here on earth but it will only truly be satisfied when we are one with God. God is always here for us if we ask and are willing to take one day at a time, not as we would have it but as God would have it.
This Third Week of Advent could quickly be absorbed by our celebrations of Christmas. Let us make this week a week of practicing the habits of preparation so that we are working on God’s time and not our own.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.