December 10, 2018

Advent III (C) Dec 16th Sunday) Homily

One-page Summary: Advent III-C (Dec 16) Homily on Lk 3:10-18 (L/18)

The central theme of today’s readings is the command “Rejoice!” We are to do so mainly by realizing the presence of Jesus in our midst and by receiving him into our lives through our repentance, our renewal of life and our doing of God’s will. Today is called “Gaudete” Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). Today we light the rose candle of the Advent wreath, and the priest may wear rose vestments, to express our communal joy in the coming of Jesus as our SaviorWe rejoice because a) we are celebrating the day of Christ’s birth, b) we recognize his daily presence in our midst, and c) we wait for his return in glory. Scripture lessons:  In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah encourages Jerusalem and Israel to shout out for the joy of expecting its deliverance from the Lord. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Is 12:6), the prophet gives the same instruction, “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”  St. Paul echoes this message of joy in the second reading, a letter written from imprisonment: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again, rejoice…”  In the Gospel today, John the Baptist explains the secret of Christian joy as our wholehearted commitment to God’s way by the doing of His will.   John challenges people to generosity and sense of fairness so that others may have reason to rejoice. According to John, happiness comes from doing our duties faithfully, doing good for others and sharing our blessings with others in need. John’s call to repentance is a call to joy and restoration.  Repentance means a change in the purpose and direction of our lives.  John tells the people   to act with justice, charity and honesty, letting their lives reflect their transformation.  For us, that transformation occurs when Christ enters our lives, and it is to be reflected in our living in the ways John suggests.

Life Messages:  1) We are called to a change of life.  First, we should examine our relationships with others.  We must mend ruptures and frictions, face family responsibilities, work honestly and treat employees justly.  Our domestic and social lives must be put in order.   We must abandon our selfish thirst for consumption and, instead, be filled with the expectation of Jesus’ coming.

2) We need to remember that we are, like John the Baptist, Christ’s precursors: Parents, teachers and public servants act as Christ’s precursors by repenting of their sins, reforming their lives and bringing Christ into the lives of those entrusted to their care.  Parents are expected to instill in their children a true Christian spirit and an appreciation for Christian values by their own lives and behavior.  All public servants are to remember that they are God’s instruments and that they are to lead the people they serve to the feet of Jesus, so that they, too, may know him personally and accept him as their Savior, Lord and Brother.

Advent III-C (Dec 16) Zep 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18 (L/18) 

Homily starter anecdotes: #1: Don’t you give out warnings?” Patricia Greenlee tells a story about her son who is a West Virginia state trooper. Once he stopped a woman for going 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. After he handed her a ticket, she asked him, “Don’t you give out warnings?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “They’re all up and down the road. They say, ‘Speed Limit 55.’” People have a tendency to disregard the warning signs, don’t they? Sometimes that has dire consequences. Today’s Gospel presents John the Baptist warning the Jews with prophetic courage of their need for repentance and conversion.

#2: South Padre Island causeway tragedy: On September 1, 2001, a barge hit a support beam on the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway connecting Port Isabel in far south Texas to  the offshore South Padre Island. As a result, a portion of the causeway plunged into the Laguna Madre.  This all happened during the very early morning hours. Before any indication of this accident was conveyed to anybody, seven or eight automobiles drove through the opening and plummeted into the water several hundred feet below.  Eight people died; three survived.  It took several hours before authorities on both ends of the causeway were notified and all traffic warned of the disaster and the tragedy.  It was a horrible event.  Even worse, business on the island suffered greatly, as this bridge was the only way for trucks, cars or vacationers to reach the island.  Many were angry that plans needed to be canceled, businesses had to be shut down, and only ferries could be used to get to and depart from the island.  Now if we had been heading for South Padre Island that morning, would we not have rejoiced that the warning was there and that we had been warned, not left to discover, tragically, the reason for the emptiness of the broken causeway?  In today’s Gospel, John is warning a “brood of vipers” that they have to repent and renew their lives, if they are to receive the long-awaited Messiah into their midst.

#3: John was no “gander preacher”: Soren Kierkegaard the well-known philosopher of Denmark has a famous fable about geese. The geese in a certain farmyard decided to gather together every seventh day. At that time one of the ganders would mount the fence and preach to his fellow geese about their lofty destiny. The pulpit gander would recall the exploits of their forefathers and praise God for the gift of flight bestowed upon them. The congregation of fowl would flap their wings in hearty agreement. This routine happened every week. After each assembly the geese would break up and waddle to their respective places in the farmyard and eat the grain the kind farmer had scattered on the ground for them. On Monday morning the geese would chat about Sunday’s sermon and discuss what might happen if they took to the skies once again. They might get lost or even worse, they might get shot. There was little doubt among them that the best thing was to linger in the farmyard with its security. The sermons would stir them and that was sufficient. It was good to hear what they could be and do as long as they need not do it or be it. All the while they didn’t realize they were being fattened for the holiday tables of the farmer and his friends. That not only happened in a fable on fowl but can happen all too frequently in a Church service on Sunday. The people are told simply what they must do. When John was through preaching, the people asked questions about deeds … what they should do. They had been so guided in their thoughts that they were prompted by God’s Spirit to do that which was pleasing to the Lord.

Introduction: Today is called “Gaudete” Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). Today we light the rose candle of the Advent wreath, and the priest may wear rose vestments, to express our communal joy in the coming of Jesus, as our SaviorThe theme of the third Sunday of Advent is rejoicing in hope.  Advent is a time for joy, not only because we are anticipating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, but also because God is already in our midst.  Christian joy does not come from the absence of sorrow, pain or trouble, but from an awareness of the presence of Christ within our souls.  In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says, “Shout for joy, O Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel.” Zephaniah made this prophetic proclamation at the height of the Jewish exile when things appeared hopeless and unbearable. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Is 12:6), the prophet gives the same instruction, “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” St. Paul echoes the same message of joy in the second reading, taken from his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again, rejoice…  The Lord is in your midst…  Fear not… be not discouraged…  The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all…”  Paul was imprisoned when he made this appeal for rejoicing!  In the Gospel today, John the Baptist explains the secret of Christian joy as wholehearted commitment to God’s way lived out by doing His will.   A sad Christian is a contradiction in terms.  According to the Baptizer, happiness comes from doing our duties faithfully, doing good for others and sharing our blessings with others in need. John challenges people to generosity and sense of fairness, so that others may have reason to rejoice. John’s call to repentance is a call to joy and restoration.  Repentance means a change in the purpose and direction of our lives.  Filled with joyful expectation that the Messiah was near, the people ask John, “What should we do?”  He tells them to act with justice, charity and honesty, letting their lives reflect their transformation.  For us, that transformation occurs when Christ enters our lives, and it is to be reflected in our living in the ways John suggested. In other words, John reminds us that membership in the Church, knowing the teaching of the Church and the Bible, being baptized and going to Mass on Sundays are not enough. We must care for others and share our blessings with others.

First reading, Zephaniah 3:14-18, explained: Most Bible scholars believe that Zephaniah prophesied about 600 years before Jesus was born, while King Josiah was trying to reform Judaism.  The Lord God’s message through Zephaniah’s prophecy is four parts doom and violent gloom, and one-part hope. Prophesying in the turbulent years before Judah’s conquest by Babylonia (ca 640-609 BC), Zephaniah anticipates the disaster which is soon to befall his people.  But he also anticipates the goodness of God who will not abandon the people who have been called, consecrated and committed to God through the bonds of the covenant.  Our reading today is taken from this hopeful finale, encouraging the people to rejoice because the Lord has withdrawn his judgments and given the victory to his people among whom we are included.  Zephaniah is speaking to a people who have been burdened with war, destruction and displacement.  Their lives have been assaulted and their hopes have been dashed.  This is how he explains the reasons they will have for rejoicing: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you” (in other words, God has forgiven them); and “the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (that is to say, God is with them); “you have no further misfortune to fear” (i.e., He delivers them from evil).  The prophetic message  concludes by giving the assurance, “He will rejoice over you and renew you in His love” (He loves you and wants to reconcile you to Himself).  The whole reading gives us the same assurance. Fears raised by wars, terrorism, and the erosion of moral values need not prevent us from trusting that God will encircle us with love and will grant us the peace we so desperately seek.

Second Reading, Philippians 4:4-17, explained: The entire letter emphasizes the relationships which the followers of Jesus are expected to develop.  Paul was very fond of, and confident in, the Philippian Christians because they belonged to the first Church that Paul established on European soil, in the Roman province of Macedonia.  Previously, Paul had preached the Gospel in Philippi and founded a small community of Christians there.  Having been persecuted and beaten by the Pharisees, however, he had been forced to leave.  Now, writing from prison (perhaps in Ephesus), awaiting trial, and with his helper Epaphroditus seriously ill, Paul can still command the Philippians to “Rejoice.” They have to ignore the petty internal rivalries of its ministering members like Evodia and Syntyche, the presence of hostile Jews as neighbors and the unwelcome presence of the Romans.  Since all believe that Jesus will return very soon in glory to judge the world (“The Lord is near”), Paul feels the need to bolster their courage. He reminds the Philippians and us that the Lord Jesus is the motive and guarantor of our joy, which is to be shared with everyone in the form of kindness and serenity. He encourages the Philippians to be kind to all, to rejoice without any anxiety and to raise prayers of petition and thanksgiving to God in order to enable their hearts to be filled with the peace of God. Paul reminds us, too, that God’s presence in our world not only gives us a reason to rejoice but also gives us a reason to relate kindly to those around us.  Fr. Tony de Mello says in his book, Awareness, “We have everything we need here and now to be happy.  The problem is that we identify our happiness with people or things we don’t have and often can’t have.”

Gospel exegesis: John’s central message — repentance leading to renewal of lifeJohn here preaches fervently, urging his listeners to make preparations for the coming of the Messiah.  Even though John’s preaching is characterized by scathing criticism, his call for reform is still described by Luke as “the Good News,” because the arrival of the Messiah will initiate a new reign of forgiveness, healing and salvation.  The repentance which John preaches calls for a change in behavior and not just regret for the past. According to Scott Hahn “Repentance” translates a Greek word, metanoia (literally, “change of mind”). It means a radical life-change involving a two-fold “turning” – away from sin (see Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30) and toward God for His mercy and acceptance (see Sirach 17:20-21; Hosea 6:1). It requires “good fruits as evidence of our repentance” (see Luke 3:8). That’s why John tells the crowds, soldiers and tax collector, and us as well, that we must prove their Faith through works of charity, honesty and social justice.  John demands that we share our goods with one another, emphasizing the principle of social justice that God will never absolve the man who is content to have too much while others have too little.  John also insists that a man should not leave his job to work out his own salvation.  Instead, he should do his job as it should be done.  He calls people to fidelity in the very circumstances of their lives.  Let the tax-collector be a good tax-collector and let the soldier be a good soldier.  In other words, it is a man’s duty to serve God where God has set him.  “Bloom where you are planted,” St. Francis De Sales used to say.  We are expected to become transformational agents where we are.  And if the work environment is such that we are unable to deal honestly and fairly with other people, we should probably find a new job.  No wonder John’s stirring message created a restless yearning for God in the hearts of the crowd, prompting them to ask the eager question, “What should we do?” Some of the people from every walk of life thronging to John come out of curiosity, but others, clearly motivated by religious fervor, seek John’s advice about the direction their lives should take.  John has a message for each group of listeners. “John’s water-baptism was intended to produce repentance, but Jesus’ Baptism was to accomplish a purification and a refinement.” (Joseph Fitzmyer: The Gospel According to Luke). Where John advocates fairness and equity, Jesus issues a call to perfection.

Instructions to the general public: John advises people, not to be dreamers or planners only, but doers moved by sincerity and commitment. John tells the ordinary people to share what they have – their clothes and food – with those who are in need.  If they are really sorry for their sins, that is, if they really want to change their lives, they will become brothers and sisters to all others, including strangers.

Instructions to the tax collectors: John preaches against greed, selfishness and the abuse of power and position.  The tax collectors, to whom the Baptizer speaks here, worked for a person like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2), a “chief” tax collector who bids for the right to collect taxes and to make his profit from what remains after he has first paid Rome’s portion.  So, the Baptizer addresses mainly the employees of the chief tax collectors and urges them to be satisfied with “the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3:13), that is, their commission.

Advice to the soldiers: There were no Roman legions stationed in Palestine at this time, and Palestinian Judeans had been exempt from service in Roman armies since the time of Julius Caesar.  These soldiers, therefore, were Judean men enlisted in the service of Herod Antipas, despised because they worked for Rome’s puppet king and strove to enforce the will of Rome, the occupying power, upon their fellow-Jews.  The Baptizer advises them not to practice extortion or blackmail, but to be content with their pay, or rations and provisions.

Life Messages:  1) We are called to a change of life.  John the Baptist, the stern and uncompromising preacher, challenges our superficial attempts at change, demanding that we take a deeper look.  Obeying the commandments is a good start, but we must then examine our relationships with others.  We must mend ruptures and frictions, face family responsibilities, work honestly and treat employees justly.  Start where you are, John says.  Our domestic and social lives must be put in order.  John’s voice is sober and runs counter to the intoxicating voices around us.  He calls for rectitude and social consciousness.   We must abandon our selfish thirst for consumption, and instead, be filled with the expectation of Jesus’ coming.  Hence, let us celebrate the memory of Jesus’ first advent at Bethlehem, prepare for his daily advent in our lives through his presence within us and in people around us, and wait for his third advent or “second coming” (“Parousia”) at the end of the world, with joyful expectation.

2) We need to remember that we are, like John the Baptist, Christ’s precursors: Parents, teachers and public servants are also Christ’s precursors, carrying out the mission of bringing to Christ those entrusted to their care.  Parents are expected to instill in their children a true Christian spirit and an appreciation for Christian values by their own lives and behavior.  Teachers, too, have to play the role of John the Baptist.  A Christian teacher must be always aware of being Christian in the presence of students, whatever the subject being taught, so that his or her Christian personality may leave a lasting impression on his or her students.  All public servants are to remember that they are God’s instruments and that they are to lead the people they serve to the feet of Jesus, so that they may know Him personally as Savior, Lord and Brother. A nurse is not to hold back compassion from those deemed “not worthy.”  A teacher is to teach with enthusiasm and love.  A salesperson is not to present the product as more valuable than it is, nor to overcharge people for products or services.  Leaders are not to hold themselves above others.  Anyone who has more of anything than he or she needs should share it.

3) We need to apply John’s message of caring and sharing: In the light of John the Baptist’s advice, we might consider what we can share with others this Christmas. John does not ask us to give everything we have but only to share —  to adopt an abandoned baby, perhaps,  or to offer a meal to a hungry person, or to visit a sick neighbor, or to share in the funeral expenses of a poor neighbor, to practice active love and compassion, and to have social awareness. Further, we must do an honest job. It means that a teacher should value  his students and reach out to them, doctors and  nurses should  treat their patients with attentiveness and understanding, attorneys should be defenders of justice for all, lawmakers should listen to the needs of their constituents,  citizens should exercise their right to vote justly,  workers should  do a just day’s work for their pay and  employers should pay fair wages without discrimination,  a married man or woman should give the  spouse the first place in his or her  heart, an employee should entertain his customers well, working  honestly for the hours they are paid, and we should help the government by paying  our taxes properly.

4) What should we do in preparation for Christmas?  This is the same question the Jews asked John.  His answer, to them and to us, is the same:   “Repent and reform your lives,” and prayerfully wait for the Messiah.  Our Blessed Mother, in her many apparitions, urgently calls us to more fervent prayer.  Let us remember that the Mass is the most powerful of prayers.  We must be a Eucharistic people, living and experiencing the presence of Jesus in our hearts.  Let us remember that conversion is through Jesus, whom we encounter in the Sacraments.  Regular monthly Confession makes us strong and enables us to receive more grace in the Eucharist.  Let us read the Bible and pray the Rosary daily.  We might also fast once a week all year round, rather than just in Advent and Lent; after all, we sin all year round!  Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to turn off TV programs that show explicit sexual behavior, violence and the use of foul language.  Let us spend some time every week in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Let us forgive those who offend us and pray for them.  Finally, let us share our love with others as selfless and humble service.  “Do small things but with great love” (St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Mother Teresa”).

Joke of the week:

#1: He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none” (Lk 3:11):  I once heard of a Christian speaker who declared rhetorically, expecting the answer “Yes”‘: “If you had two houses, you would give one to the poor, wouldn’t you?” “Yes,” said the man to whom the question was directed, “indeed I would.” “And if you had two cars,” went on the speaker, “you would keep one and give the other away?” “Yes, of course,” said the man. “And if you had two shirts, you would give one away?” “Hey, wait a minute,” said the man, “I’ve got two shirts.”

# 2: Usher Seats Pastor’s Mother: An elderly woman walked into the local country church. A friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked.                                                                                                                                                                                            “The front row please,” she answered.                                                                         “You really don’t want to do that,” the usher said. “The pastor is really boring with his long Advent homilies.”                                                                                      “Do you happen to know who I am?” asked the woman.                                         “No,” said the usher.                                                                                                        “I’m the pastor’s mother,” she replied indignantly.                                                   “Do you know who I am?” the usher asked.                                                                “No,” she said. “Good.”   Said the usher.

WEBSITES FOR WEEKDAY HOMILIES                                                                     1) Daily gospels (Barclay’s Catholic version) http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/

2) Saint of the day: http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saintofday/

3) http://www.cdowk.org/daily_reflections/index.html

4)  Text Week homilies: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk3b.htm

5) John’s preaching in YouTube: https://youtu.be/tBukGcc8p-E

6) Sermons for kids: https://www.sermons4kids.com/

7) Resources for children’s liturgy: http://www.4catholiceducators.com/gospel-mark_10_e.htm

8) The Catholic Tool Book: http://catholicblogger1.blogspot.com/

 

15- Additional anecdotes: 1) Rejoicing in facial paralysis: A few years ago The Reader’s Digest reported the story of an attractive and successful business woman who noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair one morning.  As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor.  Her worst fears were confirmed.  The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery.  When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like that of a mummy.  She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping.  When the bandages were removed after a week, she was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a facial paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor.  Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had to make a choice whether to laugh or to cry.  She decided to laugh.  Although the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis, the decision to laugh in the face of adversity allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy, giving encouragement to those with similar paralysis.

2) Preaching a cross-less Christ: Calling for dynamic preaching at a Congress on the Word of God in Washington, Archbishop, now Venerable, Fulton J. Sheen said, “People are not listening to us because we are often preaching sociological drivel instead of Christ crucified. A cross-less Christ is the emasculated, weak defense of an economic and social gospel, a Christ that never speaks of repentance.” If we preach a Christ who doesn’t deal with sin but rather supports our position, then we are using God for our purposes. To use God for any purpose is always wrong whether it be to get votes or to bolster our own economic position. John the Baptist was willing to be used as God’s man with God’s message. And that message is pointed with power. It was never like the satirical suggestion in Charles Merrill Smith’s book, How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious.

3) Pay It Forward:  The film, Pay It Forward, (based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde) has the same premise that underlies the source of the joy and happiness celebrated in today’s liturgy.  The film tells the story of a seventh-grade teacher (Eugene Simonet) and his eleven-year-old student (Trevor).  On the first day of class, the teacher puts this challenge on the blackboard: “Think of something new that will change the world, and then act on what you have thought.”  The idea captivates the boy, who lives with his single parent, an alcoholic mother.  The boy attempts to put this idea into practice by helping people, who will, in turn, “pay it forward” by helping others.  The boy draws a circle in his homework book and puts his name in the middle.  From that circle, he extends three lines, at the end of which are three more circles.  In the first circle he writes his mother’s name.  He will try to get her to give up her alcoholism.  In the second circle he writes the name of a classmate who is being bullied by the larger boys in school.  He will make it his duty to defend this fellow.  In the third circle, he writes the name of his teacher, whom he will try to persuade to fall in love with his mother.  These are huge challenges for the boy.  The film then shows the steep obstacles he faces in his attempt to improve his world.  In the end, Pay It Forward inspires us to imagine the possibilities of making the world a better place, transforming one person at a time by a series of “random acts of kindness” and love.  The movie teaches us that when someone does a good deed for us, we should “pay it forward” by making “an act of faith in the goodness of people.”  The net result is lasting peace and joy, the central theme of Advent third Sunday’s readings.
4) Why not spank instead of baptizing by immersing in water: Bob Beasley belongs to a Baptist Church in Canada, a Church that follows the Baptist tradition of baptizing by immersion. Returning home from Church one Sunday, his little girl asked, “Daddy, why did the pastor push that guy under the water? Why, daddy?” Bob’s wife tried to answer her question, but the little girl, named Rena, just wouldn’t be satisfied. Later that night Bob and his wife tried to provide an answer from a Baptist perspective that a child’s mind could comprehend. They talked about sin and told Rena that when people decide to live for Jesus and to “be good,” they are baptized. They explained that water symbolizes that Jesus washes people from sin; when they come out of the water “clean,” it means they are going to try to be “good” from then on. Rena thought about this for a moment and responded, “Why didn’t the Preacher just spank him?” (Cited by Dale Bigham, http://www.ardenroadbaptist.com/sermon/ephesians/ephesians28.html.)

5) John the Baptist’s challenge  for a new beginning: In fact, so often in history the very best people in society find themselves on the other side, opposing God, as the Pharisees did.  It’s only later that we see God’s hand at work. Let’s look at our own society. It’s difficult for young people today to believe, but some of the people in this congregation remember the time when African-American men and women were, by law, second-class citizens. In some parts of our country they were not allowed into the better restaurants or hotels. They had to use separate drinking fountains and rest rooms. They had to ride in the back seats of public transportation. And, of course, many children went to segregated schools. This was the law, and many white people, even Church people, supported. it. Barely 100 years earlier, landowners primarily in the South held, or “owned,” African-Americans as slaves. Imagine that–owning another person–in the United States! What would make anyone think they had such a right? As we look back on it now, we realize how barbaric and horrible it was, and we are ashamed. Yet, only 55 years ago, when civil rights marchers took to the streets in 1963 demanding equal rights, there were many religious people who denounced them as agents of the devil. You and I can see today that surely God has been at work in our country making us the kind of society we should be, but often we only recognize the hand of God in the rear-view mirror.

6) About John’s sermon: Humorous newspaper columnist Dave Barry once made an interesting observation: “If there really is a God, who created the entire universe with all its glories,” wrote Barry, “and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He will not use, as his messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.”  Barry’s probably right. I certainly would not look to a TV preacher–even one with a good hairstyle–to bring me an accurate depiction of God.  But I have to ask what would Dave Barry do with John the Baptist? Bad hair wouldn’t even begin to describe John’s distinctive appearance. According to Matthew’s Gospel, John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (3:4) And when he preached, he outright insulted his congregation. He called them a brood of vipers!  Imagine if I began my sermon by addressing you as snakes. “Listen up, you lizards!” Obviously, John never read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. [(http://www.bright.net/~coth/latebreak.htm. Walter Brueggemann & Charles Campbell, The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness (Fortress, 1996).]

7)  Fat CEO pay checks: what would John say? In 2002, the average CEO compensation package equaled $10.83 million according to the New York Times. While pay cuts for the most richly rewarded CEOs reduced the size of the average compensation package, most CEOs actually got pay raises. Median CEO pay increased by 6 percent last year – more than twice the growth of workers’ paychecks. How much did you make? And while shareholders – including workers who depend on the stock market for their retirement savings and pensions – lost some $7 trillion by the time the market finished its collapse, today’s CEO pay packages are roughly equal to the levels attained back in the glory days. At the same time, workers’ retirement savings have suffered through the worst stock market decline since the Great Depression, hundreds of millions of dollars have been doled out in special retirement plan deals to executives.   [http://www.aflcio.org/corporateamerica/paywatch/] Hmm. Is any of this fair or right? What do you think John would say? “Then some soldiers asked [John], ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.'”

8) “He’s a pretty good duck for the shape he’s in.” Charles L. Allen once told about a wild duck. This duck could fly high and far, but one day he landed in a barnyard. There life was less exciting but easier. The duck began to eat and live with the tame ducks and gradually he forgot how to fly. He became fat and lazy. In the spring and fall, however, as the wild ducks flew overhead, something stirred inside him, but he could not rise to join them. A poem about this duck ends with these lines: He’s a pretty good duck for the shape he’s in, But he isn’t the duck that he might have been. [Charles L. Allen, In Quest of God’s Power (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1952).] Maybe you are not the man or woman you intend to be. And certainly, none of us are all God intends for us to be. Fortunately, such a state of perfection is not a requirement for Baptism. Indeed, Baptism is an admission of our need for God’s mercy and grace.

9) “Always winter and never Christmas”: In the second chapter of C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, little Lucy stumbles through the back of a wardrobe into the imaginary country of Narnia. Although it’s summer in England (where the wardrobe sits), it’s winter in Narnia. Shivering in the cold, Lucy soon meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus, who tells her what wintertime is like in Narnia. The wintertime is perpetual, says Mr. Tumnus, and is the result of someone called the White Witch. “It’s she who makes it always winter (here),” Tumnus says, “Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” (2) What a wonderful description of a world without Christ: “Always winter and never Christmas . . .”

10) The birthmark: Repentance is relationship. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story titled, “The Birthmark.” It is a story about a man who married a very beautiful woman who had a birthmark on her left cheek. She had always thought of it as a beauty spot, but her husband saw the birthmark to be a sign of imperfection, a flaw. It began wearing on him so much that all he could see was that birthmark. He could not see her beauty, her graciousness, or her great personality. He could only focus on what he perceived to be a flaw. He hounded her until she finally submitted to surgery to remove the so-called flaw. The birthmark eventually faded and so did she. In Hawthorne’s mind, that birthmark was tied to her identity and shortly after its removal, she died. A man who sought perfection ended up with nothing. That is not the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is not the God that we come to worship today. Nevertheless, when we think about Advent and hear words like “repentance” and “perfection,” many times we get negative connotations in our minds. But today’s Gospel tells us that is something positive. Repentance means to change the direction of your life. It means to make a 180-degree turn, start walking toward God, His vision, His aim, and His goal for your life.

11) Conversion: During the Korean War, Communist forces invaded the city of Hungnam and began mass executions of Koreans who were suspected of sympathizing with the American cause.  The American Navy responded to this atrocity by sending 200 ships to evacuate the refugees from Hungnam.
On December 22, 1950, Captain Leonard LaRue and his crew steered their ship, Meredith Victory, in to the Hungnam harbor.  The Meredith Victory was only supposed to be delivering jet fuel, but they were immediately called into service as a refugee ship.  Over 14,000 desperate Korean refugees crowded onto the ship.  Captain LaRue said a silent prayer as his men pulled up the anchor and headed for South Korea.  Over the next few days, the crew and passengers endured freezing temperatures.  There was only enough food and water to keep them all from starving, but not enough to satisfy their hunger.  They were in constant danger from enemy fire.  But as they sailed for a safe port, Captain LaRue took comfort in the thought that Mary and Joseph and Jesus had also known hunger and cold and danger.  In the midst of hardship, Captain LaRue also reported a change in his men’s attitudes.  They gave away their own food and clothing to the refugees.  Seven babies were born on the ship, each one delivered by teams of unskilled sailors.  On Christmas Day, 1950, the Meredith Victory landed in safe harbor.  Not a single life had been lost on the voyage.  Captain Leonard LaRue received high military awards from the South Korean and the U.S. government for his part in the refugee rescue.
Four years later, Captain LaRue left the military to join a Benedictine monastery, where he spent the rest of his life.  In his journals, he once wrote, “The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that, on that Christmastide in the bleak and bitter waters off the shore of Korea, God’s hand was at the helm of my ship.” [Thomas Fleming, “Precious Cargo,” Guideposts (December 2002), pp. 29-32] And indeed it was.

12) The contrast of a secular culture with yearning for spiritual renewal: We are living in a secular society with a spiritual culture. Religion’s influence may be fading, but spiritual renewal flourishes. A spiritual tsunami is coming and is already being felt. People no longer want to know about God. People want to know God. People want to experience “the Beyond” in “the Within.” A USA Today feature article, “Hollywood immersed in a Spiritual Rebirth,” announced that “as movie makers are being bashed more than ever for glorifying wrongdoing at its lowest levels, new films are reaching more blatantly than ever into religious imagery to harvest heavenly heroes” [Ann Oldenburg, “Hollywood Immersed in a Spiritual Rebirth,” USA Today (November 1, 1996), 1-D]. For example, take our fascination, even fixation, with haloed heroes, as Oldenburg suggests. The ever-growing angel attraction of the last decade (Denzel Washington is an angel, Whitney Houston a preacher’s wife in the Disney movie The Preacher’s Wife; Greg Kinnear is a post office angel in Dear God; John Travolta is an angel who drinks beer in Michael). It has at last come to a head in prime time. CBS’s Touched by an Angel has become one of the most popular prime-time shows and the first explicitly religious drama to break into the Nielsen Top 10 in the ratings service’s 46-year history. The first big movie of DreamWorks SKG, the powerhouse studio run by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, is Biblical, an animated telling of the story of Moses called The Prince of Egypt. As of 1997, there were 71,200 Christian Internet sites, 28,600 of which were Catholic, 11,800 Methodist and 11,000 Baptist. There were 27,100 Islam sites; and Christianity Online was named in 1996 one of the most popular sites on America Online. It’s time for the Church to say, “The truth is not out there; the truth is in here, right here, right now in the Bible and today’s need is repentance, conversion and renewal of life as John the Baptist challenges us in today’s Gospel.“ 

13) Meeting God face to face: An Old Russian story tells of a farmer named Diametric who, like Simeon in the gospel of St. Luke (2:26), wishes to see God face to face before he dies. He prays to St. Nikolai who promises to grant his wish. The saint goes on to specify the place and the day of the encounter. As the time for encounter draws near, Diametric sets out on his long journey. He has only one thing in mind: his appointment with God. But along the road, he meets an old farmer whose cart has broken down. Now he has dilemma: must he stop to help the farmer or hurry on to his appointment with God? His kind heart wins and he stays to fix the farmer’s cart. It takes him hours to finish the task and he never makes it to the meeting place. That night, St. Nikolai appears to him in a dream and says: “My friend, you have encountered the Lord. It happened when you helped that unknown man in need.” (Quoted by Fr. Benitez).

14) “Then I’ll begin to be happy at three o’clock!” In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s mystical parable, The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince, 1943), the young protagonist from another planet finds himself stranded on earth. Frightened and bewildered, he is helped on his day by a fox. When circumstances make it necessary for the two to separate for a while, the fox insists that they set an exact time for their next meeting. When the little prince questions the fox about his insistence upon an exact time, the fox replies, “If I know you’ll be coming at four o’clock, then I’ll begin to be happy at three o’clock!” In a sense, the prophet Zephaniah wished to stir the same excitement in his contemporaries. “It’s almost time for God to come.” he seems to be saying. . . “that day is fast approaching; therefore, you can already begin to be happy!” (Sanchez Files).

15) “Do you think it will ever stop?!”  One morning, as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens: 1835-1910) and a companion were walking home from Church, they heard a loud rumble of thunder and almost immediately rain began to fall heavily. As they scurried for shelter, Twain’s friend asked, “Do you think it will ever stop?!” “It always has”, quipped the author. Twain’s healthy optimism underscores the necessity of seeing things as they are. Rather than exaggerate life’s little difficulties into enormous disasters and thereby end up “drowning in a teacup”, optimistic people cultivate a perspective which helps them to cope sensibly as circumstances arise. When Paul challenged the believers in Philippi to develop a similar optimism, he was also quick to remind them of the advantages that were theirs. They could, indeed, rejoice and even rejoice always, not simply because they had learned to exercise a positive outlook toward life, but because God, the source of all peace was near!

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 4) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed or previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of FaithAdult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.