1. Zephaniah 3, 14-18
- Shout for joy! From the very first verse, I know
I am listening to encouraging words; better yet, exultant lyrics: Be glad and exult with all your heart. The campaign song that closes a political convention, with all the hopeful candidates swaying in unison
on the main stage, might sound like this. Let me aim my rehearsals so that I
capture a similar mood.
- Of course there are some differences. Here we have a done
deal. God delivers on promises made. The
Lord has removed the judgment against you. We won!
- The prophet also speaks to our fears. You have no further misfortune to fear. Twice I hear
this command to lay aside our concerns.
- He will rejoice over you with gladness. Guess who has begun the song. If God has taken the lead, how can we hold back?
Is my God a God who applauds the people’s victory? Today I had better
speak of such a happy God.
- He will sing joyfully as one sings at festivals. My own experiences of peak excitement
have to do with political conventions, but people of every culture reserved their greatest exuberance and abandon to the festivals
at the end of harvest, such as vendimia in the grape-growing countries. I
imagine not so much a concert performer to whom we are listening and clapping our hands in passive applause, but a call-and-response
master like Pete Seeger whose song appeals to our own heart. Other examples can
serve our purpose, as long as they lead to the full participation to which the prophet has invited us.
- Climax: Twice the prophet reminds us that The Lord is in
- Message for our assembly: The end of our advent is the Lord. It is this expectation that allows us, that even demands for us to let loose the spirit
in us. “We wait in joyful hope,” as we pray in the Eucharist, and
we notice the tension (Now! Not yet!) in those words.
- I will challenge myself: To declare the verses with the joy we share
when the risen Christ is with us, like a caller inviting the couples into the dance.
2. Philippians 4, 4-7
- Rejoice in the Lord always! The apostle is ending
his letter to his beloved church and uses a conventional word of farewell. Then
he repeats it – I shall say it again, Rejoice! as if to say: Good-bye
– yes! I mean it, God be with you.
Maybe I can achieve an interpretation like that if I alter my accentuation on the second ‘rejoice.’
- Your kindness should be known to all. In other
words, the church should be on its best behavior in these last days: (because) The Lord is near. That is the reality that guides them and us, not some nationalistic slogan such as ‘Motherland,’
‘Vaterland’ or ‘God bless America.’
- Have no anxiety at all. I hear an echo of the prophet’s
advice in the first reading.
- The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The peace we seek is deeper and more lasting than a secular ‘peace in our time.’ It is ‘The peace of the Lord’ with which we bless each other in the Eucharist.
- The message for our assembly: There is no room for anxiety among us. Let
us help each other to whisk it away.
- Climax: The Lord is near, the code words of Advent.
- I will challenge myself: To read the apostle’s words with great restraint and warmth and finality. There is nothing left to say but this.
Gospel. Luke 3, 10-18
- What should we do? I hear this question three times
today. All the Gospels deal with the behavior that is proper for Christians. Luke wrote in Acts about the common life of the first disciples. This time he places practical admonitions in the mouth of John the Baptist.
- Share with the person who has none. I want my listeners
to overhear John today, and to carry away something for themselves. None of the
children of God should be left out of the festival banquet.
- Everyone shows deference to John, even tax collectors and soldiers. What
does he say to them? The same admonition we would give to officials today: to
remember that they are public servants first, benefiting the people rather than benefiting from them. I recall the discussions about business ethics, corporate citizenship and responsibility that I have in
- Now the people were filled with expectation, asking in their hearts. They are changing the subject, just as we do when we immediately ask whether a charismatic individual is
going to run for president. For this sentence I will pull out my best imitation
of a news anchor who has just interviewed the people in question.
- I am baptizing you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Let me avoid the scholarly controversy about the way the evangelists have made
John into a precursor of Jesus. Instead, I will remind the church that every
one of its members is called to be a precursor, to show Christ to each other and the world.
- His winnowing fan is in his hand. Here is another
reference to the final days. I cannot sleepwalk through these words, though I
don’t mean to raise hellfire either. Let me put everyone on notice that
these things will happen and that we must identify ourselves with the gathered wheat and not the burning chaff.
- He preached good news to the people. Let that be
the theme of everything I read in this passage, that I have good news, happy reports, joyful tidings.
- Climax: One mightier than I is coming. It forms an integral part
of the whole passage. We act as brothers and sisters because of him who became
- Message for our assembly: Everything in the Gospel is meant for the church to put into practice, even if it is set
earlier in time than the public ministry of Jesus.
- I will challenge myself: To make the words of John ring in the congregation’s hearts, as a challenge for us to
put them into action.
Toward the Eucharist: Could I imagine our communion procession as a