We might compare these weeks of Advent to a Treasure Hunt. With each successive week, the scriptures bring forth new clues which reveal a truth about the Mystery and then point us to the next clue and to the next—drawing us ever closer to the awesome Mystery of Emmanuel, God with us.
“Advent invokes that single-minded hunger –a yearning truly for God alone.” (Bill Wylie-Kellermann) As we enter this third week of Advent, we await with eager longing for God to reveal the God-self to us in human form, as one who lives among us. Monica Hellwig, in her book, Christ the Compassion of God, has noted: “The Incarnation is the expression of God’s extravagant love showered upon humankind in sending his Son, Jesus into the world. There is no greater gift that God could have given to humankind.”
It is interesting to note that the readings for Gaudete Sunday shift from a focus of expectant waiting for the second coming of Christ—to a focus on Jesus, the Incarnate One among us. The Prophet Zephaniah proclaims, “Cry out with joy and gladness for among you is the great and Holy one of Israel.” (4:15)
These same words echo forth from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again. Rejoice! Your gentleness shall be known to all. The Lord is near. ” (Phil. 4:4)
As we consider the Gospel of Luke, we hear John the Baptist proclaiming a message of Good News to the crowd—a crowd comprised of common folk and marginalized people along with some tax collectors and soldiers. John the Baptist was calling all people to right living, to repentance, and to a transformation of heart. Their response to his teaching was, “What shall we do?” John responded in a threefold way:
- Share what you have with those who need it.
- Whatever your job is, do it well and with justice
- Be content with what you are earning
As I was pondering these responses of John the Baptist, I was struck by the similarities of the world of John the Baptist and our own nation as we try to resolve the enormous problem of the fiscal cliff. The whole nation is waiting in expectant hope and holy longing as we wait for the news each day.
The same question that was asked of John the Baptist is being asked by our elected government officials. “What shall we do?” Do our elected officials have the courage and stamina to live out the responses demanded by John the Baptist and compromise for the good of the people.
- Share the wealth with the needy
- Act justly in all that you do
- Respect all people
We might ask ourselves, how is the Gospel message challenging us these last few weeks of Advent? Three times in the Gospel of this Sunday, we hear the phrase, “What should we do?” Each time, we hear John the Baptist reiterating: Reach out to the marginalized with what you have and they need; Take care of the marginalized in our society; Take care of their needs.
As we reflect upon his advice, we realize Advent calls us to search the scriptures with urgent expectancy, a patient watching, and attentive listening for the coming of the Word as it unfolds in our daily encounters of life. For it will most likely not be in very spectacular ways, but rather in the small, ordinary events of our lives that we will meet the marginal of our society and be challenged to serve them and take care of their needs. For example:
A mother stricken with grief was standing next to the coffin of her only son, her only child, who had been killed in a very tragic accident. As the mother was standing there alone, a disheveled, homeless man came into the room. As he approached the women, he said to her with emotion so deep he could hardly speak, “I just had to come and pay my respects to your son. I had to come. You know I live under the highway bridge and try to sell newspapers.” He said, “Your son came by every morning, on his way to school, to wish me a good day. He always had a cup of hot coffee for me and some days he even gave me his lunch sandwich. He treated me decent. He treated me decent. I just had to come to tell you what a wonderful friend he was and how much I will miss him.” He then shuffled his way out to the bridge again.
It was like the very oil of gladness that blesses those who mourn in lonely exile, to hear such a message about her son. (Ps, 61:3) As other mourners came, wondering what they could say to comfort this grieving mother, they were surprised to see this radiant, peaceful countenance on her face. The mother would comfort each person. She would tell each one as they came, “At least now I know where he is.”
For Christ has said: “When I was hungry, you gave me food, When I was thirsty you gave me to drink. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.” ( Matt, 5:3-12)
This young man had listened to the Gospel message accepted the challenge of the Gospel and lived it out each day as he brought coffee and food to the poor. He had prepared his heart to welcome Emmanuel—God with us—into his life, and is now enjoying the awesome presence of the Eternal Mystery prepared for him.
Listening to the Gospel in our lives, we will need to be alert as the poor are, for they need to be watchful and stay awake in order to survive. To respond to their need will take deep listening and responding with love. This kind of love demands great energy, active concern, tender respect, and a deep self-giving.
A woman discovers on her return home from her tour of Bentyleville, that she has lost her wallet. She hurriedly goes back to Bentyville, and inquires at the Lost and Found if anyone had found a wallet. Yes, someone had found it and brought it to them. As she identifies it correctly, she opens it and checks credit cards etc. To her delight, she found that everything was intact. No cards or cash had been removed.
In moments like these we recognize that God is with us—in our midst and someone has heard the challenge of the Gospel.
A first year student at the College of St Scholastica, walking to her car after grocery shopping, hears a homeless person on the street crying out for money to buy food as she passes by the person. She decides that instead of giving the person money she would give the whole bag of groceries that she had just purchased to the homeless person.
When we see manifestations of the kingdom at work in these ordinary ways, we know a new seed of hope has been planted in our lives and the lives of other people. As Joan Chittester has noted: “We need, as Vatican II defined us, to be prophetic people. We must be those who live at the center of society to leaven it, at the bottom of society to speak for it and on the edge of society to critique it—not because we fear it but because we love it.” (Benedictines. LX:2, 2007) We must choose again to practice both the commonplace of charity as well as tend the fire of charismatic justice that tries to change broken social and economic systems and structures in our world. (Benedictines. LX:2, 2007)
As we ponder and reflect upon the Word of God in these last weeks of Advent, we will recognize the presence of God in new and unexpected guises.
We might ask ourselves:
- Where have I glimpsed the face of God?
- What gifts have I given away this week?
- What are some clues that the reign of God is near?
The Prophet Zephaniah reminds us that when we put forth the effort to transform our lives, that
“The Lord our God is in our midst, a mighty savior;
God will rejoice over you with gladness
and renew you in God’s love. (Zeph 3:17)
St. Paul encourages us not to be anxious but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving to make our needs known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Sister Mary Josephine Torborg, O.S.B.
Associate Professor of Theology
and Religious Studies