As we are just nine days from the feast of Christ’s birth, this third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday. And the encouragement to rejoice and be happy in our relationship with Jesus opens the Second Reading from St Paul and underlines this message.
Nevertheless, it is the somewhat austere person of John the Baptist who confronts us in the Gospel. He was the cousin of Jesus and an itinerant preacher who in first century Palestine emerged from an area north of the Dead Sea, in the neighbourhood of Jericho. John believed that the coming of the Messiah was imminent and his role was to challenge people to be ready for it.
Of all the different groups who came into contact with John, St Luke today mentions only three (Luke 3:10-18).
The first is described as ‘all the people’, that is the general population. When they asked ‘must we do?’, John said they should share their food and clothing with those who had little. In other words, don’t be greedy or selfish – respond generously to the needs you see around you.
The second group to approach John was tax collectors. They were despised by the general population for collaborating with the Roman occupying power by collecting taxes from their fellow Jews. The Romans turned a blind eye to them collecting more than was due and lining their own pockets. John’s response to them was interesting – he didn’t say they should quit their jobs but asked them to “exact no more than your rate” – in other words, don’t rip off people, be fair and just.
The third group to approach John was Jews serving as soldiers for Herod, the Jewish puppet king installed by the Romans. They too were despised for enforcing the will of Rome. John’s message to them was not to abandon their livelihoods but to be just in their dealings with people – no intimidation and extortion, no blackmail; be content with your pay, or rations and provisions.
In summary John’s message was: whatever your profession, livelihood or status, you prepare for Christ’s coming by being fair and just in your dealings with others, and responding generously to those who are in need.
If you have a busy or even chaotic life at this time of year, you may be struggling to make any preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas. So, perhaps, in response to John the Baptists we might make a determined efforts in the coming days not to be mean, selfish or greedy; not to be self-absorbed or preoccupied with our own problems; instead to be outgoing and think of others and their needs, not just my own; and wherever we become aware of poor and vulnerable people, to do the best we can to help them.
An even greater challenge comes to us from St Paul in the Second Reading. He says that if you can surrender your anxieties, fears and worries to God, and trust in God’s providence for all your needs and challenges, then you will have a happiness and that ‘peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand’. We will pray for this in the Intercession today. What many of us would not give to have just it?
Holy Name, Jesmond
16 December 2018