The Gospel for December 13th, 2015, Gaudete Sunday: “The Preaching of John the Baptist” Continued
Luke 3: 10-18
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it would should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
My reading of this gospel, as with last week’s gospel, owes a great deal to the influence of Matthew Kelly’s interpretation of this series of Advent readings in his CD “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.” As Kelly does, I wish to connect John the Baptist’s message to the experience of genuine joy, as the third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete, or Joy Sunday, represented by a rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath.
In last week’s gospel, the people who have heeded John’s message of repentance and been baptized ask him, “What should we do?” He replies, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (11).
Why are his directions so specific? I think he is grounding the largely interior experiences of repentance and baptism in the more concrete, external behavior of good works. Jesus calls us to action to love each other as He loves us. We do that when we help those in need as Jesus does. In so doing, we draw nearer to Him and to His love.
True as this may be, the question may still be asked, why this reading on Joy Sunday? What is the connection between good works and joy? I propose the answer is that it reveals the true nature of joy in living, which is nearness to Christ. This passage is rich with opportunities to be nearer to Christ that are not necessarily obvious in a modern world that equates joy with self-gratification. In the baptism John and the Church administers one in joined to Christ, creating a pathway for nearness. Those who repent turn away from sin and toward Christ, moving nearer to Him on that path. Finally, there is John’s instruction to give from our surplus to those in need, as Christ gives from His abundant love, drawing us near to Him once again. This opportunity for good works is always available to walk the path toward holiness, even we when temporarily turn back in our sinfulness. Consider St. Paul’s words in the auxillary reading to the Phillipians: “Rejoice to the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (4: 4-5). Yes, we rejoice–we experience joy–when the Lord in near. So John’s message is critical this Advent season as we prepare for the coming of Christ. We should not wait for Him to come to us; but instead, we should move nearer to Him in joyful unselfishness. In this approach will we celebrate the joy of Christmas as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi did, in the presence of our Lord, for He is near.