3d Sunday of Advent
Dec. 12, 1982
Zeph. 3: 14-18a
Luke 3: 10-18
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson
“The Lord your God is in your midst” (Zeph 3: 17).
When we were small, how many times were we comforted by the presence of our parents? How little we worried as long as mom or dad was close by, no matter where we were or what we were doing! In a similar manner, YWHW means to reassure his troubled people: “Don’t be afraid; the Lord your God is in your midst,” says Zephaniah twice in today’s first reading. “Shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel,” Isaiah proclaims in the responsory (12:6). “Rejoice! The Lord is at hand,” Paul assures the Philippians (4:4-5).
No doubt we also heard a few times, “Just wait till your father gets home,” or “I’m going to let your father know about this.” That expectation might be compared to John the Baptist’s warning, “One who is mightier than I is coming…; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
Advent is a
season for a Church in tension: the
Church waiting on joyful expectation for the revelation of our Savior, the
Church waiting also in its imperfections for the Savior’s return in glory and
|The Preaching of John the Baptist (Henri Antoine de Favanne)|
The Savior has been revealed in our midst. The ancient Israel and we, the new Israel, enjoy God’s presence among us. Our God, the God of Zephaniah and Jesus, is not a distant God but a caring God who is close to us, even in our midst.
Where should we look for the Lord in our midst? We can begin with his providence. Most of us are in the habit of thanking God daily for the food he sets on our tables. God is in our midst in his material blessings great and small.
God is present in the community of believers. Jesus tells us that when 2 or 3 assemble in his name, he is in their midst. That doesn’t mean only when we gather for the liturgy or for formal prayer. It means whenever we believers commune together and live our faith before one another. The Church always reminds us that each family is a “little church,” a smaller group of Christ’s followers. God is in our midst when we act to one another as Christ does: when I am patient with your grumpiness, when you visit me when I am sick, when this one teaches that one to pray, to forgive, and to be generous.
“The Lord your God is in your midst” in his sacred Word. Each Sunday we listen to a portion of the Scriptures; our Constitutions (#59) urge us to take up the Word daily, not only in Mass but privately and personally. God speaks to us in our private hearts, consoling us in sorrow, doubling our joy, reproving our faults, calming our fears. Do we have a task that overwhelms us? “The Lord God is my strength and my song” (Is 12:2). Are we in need? “Have no anxiety about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). Paul puts thanksgiving in there with supreme confidence in God’s presence to us “in Christ Jesus” (4:7). Are we rejoicing in the love of a friend, a dear one? “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will renew you in his love” (Zeph 3:17).
The Lord is in our midst sacramentally, in the Bread by which he nourishes our inner selves and strengthens us by walking our earthly pilgrimage with us; and in his ministers, who make him present, blessing, forgiving, and teaching.
Each Advent-Christmas season, we remember that our God had been so close to as to be engulfed among us. He still dwells with us in Word, sacrament, and one another. He has taken away our sin and enables us to stand with him before the Father. And we are joyful.
There is also the other side of us, the side that needs the forgiveness, the repentance. You, who are selfish, share! Take no more from others than is your due. Do violence to no one. Accuse no one falsely. (Cf. Luke 3:10-14.) Now it isn’t John the Baptist reproving our daily sinfulness, but the living Word of God. As the prophets and John once promised judgment for Israel, so now does Jesus, the Church, this Advent season. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).
Luke calls this preaching “good news” (3:18). It sounds a little frightening to me. Why “good news”? Perhaps for 2 reasons. 1st, it promises, again, God’s presence to redress wrongs and violences done to us. And 2d, because it allows us to repent of our wrongdoing in this time of expectation and waiting. The Holy One of Israel is in our midst, and he will heal us when we look at ourselves and say to him, “What shall I do?” (cf. Luke 3:10). But woe to us if we see no need to change our lives, if Christ’s presence makes no difference to us, if we can hear his Word and receive his sacrament without letting them make an impact on our lives.
We are sinners; we need to change. Need we despair of God’s presence? No. He encourages us as he did Israel; “Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” (Zeph 3:16-17). In these last 2 weeks of Advent, let us expose our weakness to him and allow his strength to take hold of us. Let his presence among and within us be a manifestation of his salvation to the world.