2008-2009 Christian Liturgical Year: Third Sunday of Advent

[See Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11 (8b), 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28]

Today’s readings might first give the impression that the prologue to the story of the Savior’s birth is dragging on a bit. Isaiah is still speaking of the good which will arrive in the wake of the conquering God. The gospel reading is again about the forerunner, John the Baptist, who reacts righteously this time against any suggestion he might be that mysterious Savior.

Our attention spans are limited. We live in a world where even our so-called leisure time is hectic. Publishers give us works where the action is well under way by the end of the first paragraph, training us to avoid spending the time to learn context and historical background. But we allow ourselves to be so trained, and the publishers and their pet authors aren’t the only ones to give us a distorted view of God’s Creation. Our commercial leaders and bankers make investment decisions as if the world had been freshly created that morn and awaited the shaping hand of one strong-willed executive or another. Our political leaders act in that sort of cynically naive way, waging bloody wars in countries whose histories remain unknown to Presidents and Senators and all their advisers.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us:

Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.

Encounter God’s world, even corrupted regions if you have the strength and calling, with courage and faith and hope. Speak the truths we have been given in the Gospel, the Good News of our Savior, but remain open to what we can learn about God’s Creation even from pagans and atheists. Test what passes for knowledge in the world around us, test its truth and plausibility. Test any presentation of truths or plausible speculations for consistency with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Hold fast to what is good, remembering that even by standards of self-interest, salvation is worth more than wealth and comfort and prestige in our mortal lives.

Encounter God’s world as a Christian. That means you make your decisions according to your duties to God and then according to legitimate but more ephemeral duties. As we await the Prince of Peace on this globe covered by wars and other acts of violence, we need to pay particular attention to our duties as Christians to not commit acts of violence unless they at least satisfy just-war doctrines and other Christian ideas of justice. (Some may go further and choose to not even resist violence in self-defense in imitation of Christ, but I’ll assume we can at least defend ourselves for now.)

When our government calls upon us or our children to fight a war, do we have a duty to obey the government first and then to do our Christian duty by putting clergymen in uniform to bless us as we do what might be wrong by Christian standards of justice? Do we go to heaven by doing what our governments tell us to do or by doing what’s right by the standards of justice given us by Christ and the prophets who came before Him?

More generally, as we live our lives in marketplaces, political and commercial, do we quench that often inconvenient Spirit or remain open to the movement of the Spirit? Do we turn from the various prophets who seem to speak truly of uncomfortable truths and turn to those who assure us that we can be greedy or hateful in a Christian way? Do we test the claims of the human institutions which promise prosperity and honor if we but obey them or do swallow those claims whole? Do we hold fast to what is good even when there’s a price to be paid or do we prefer to please the gods of the marketplaces? Do we abstain from every form of evil or do we merely avoid those which we don’t find attractive or necessary to our personal success?

The Son of God approaches but He brings justice and not just mercy. And that strange and often obnoxious man in camel hides, he who lives on locust and wild-honey, is staring us in the face, his eyes blazing with passion and accusing us of being luke-warm as he calls us to repent before the Lord arrives. The story is not just that of God come as a cute baby in a manger. The story is that of God who comes to collect those who are His own. Do you belong to God or to the Principalities and Powers? Do you obey God and then do your duty by your country within those Christian restraints or do you obey your country and seek to satisfy your duties to God within the constraints of your country’s orders?

[Biblical quotations from RSV, Catholic Edition as printed by Thomas Nelson Publishers for Ignatius Press.]

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