“The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10)
On this Sunday of joy in which we light the rose colored candle to signal that Christmas is drawing nearer and nearer, we gather to listen to the words of Scripture. The people gather around John the Baptist “with great expectation” thinking that he is the Christ asking “what should we do?” because they long for salvation. St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, and in the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah we are told to shout for joy and sing joyfully because the king, the Lord, is in our midst.
The Book of Zephaniah is a small book towards the back of the Old Testament that only has three chapters. Yesterday, I was discussing the first reading with a priest friend of mine as we were exchanging homily ideas and he told me to look at the first verses of chapter 3 (we start reading from verse 14 in today’s reading.) The first verses strike a far different tone:
“Ah! Rebellious and polluted, the tyrannical city! It listens to no voice, accepts no correction; In the Lord it has not trusted, nor drawn near to its God. (v. 1-2)”
(Read that verse and think of our world, our nation right now…I’ll come back to it later.)
Verses 8 and 9 say: “Therefore, wait for me—oracle of the LORD—until the day when I arise as accuser; for it is my decision to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, in order to pour out upon them my wrath, all my blazing anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth will be consumed.
For then I will make pure the speech of the peoples, that they all may call upon the name of the Lord.”
When I read those 4 verses, I told my friend that I did not want to focus on the wrath of God on this Sunday that is supposed to be dedicated to joy. But I was thinking like humans do and not like God. We think of wrath and we think of violence and destruction, but God’s wrath aims to restore and purify. As my friend pointed out to me, “After the wrath of God there is restoration. The world may show us a wrath that is not God’s [since] God’s wrath is passion for restoring what has been broken or people who have turned away from him. [Therefore] if God wants to restore what is broken…then what we see in Connecticut, Oregon, Arizona, Virginia Tech, [Aurora], and everywhere else, we must trust that God WANTS to restore, but more importantly, we must TRUST that God is ever present in our world.”
And there it is…
It may seem difficult to see God in this world when we see what happened in that small town in Connecticut on Friday, but somehow, like we did in 9/11 and all those tragedies listed above, we must seek Him amidst the horrors of this world because ultimately our hope comes only from above.
There is only one solution to what ails this nation. His name is Jesus Christ. Now more than ever we must allow Christ to be born in the hearts all men and women. Yes, there are no simple nor immediate solutions to this recent wave of shootings. We simply pray and turn to Christ. This one in particular struck a very raw nerve for me as it did for all of us because it involved children. And in my anger, my confusion, and in the heat of the moment I vented, like most of us do, on social media. I made comment, a very simplistic comment at that, about ridding guns off our streets because when something bad happens you want to point the finger at something or someone. (I took it down because it sparked a furor the likes of which I’ve never seen on my page and was diverting attention from the fact that we needed to pray for the victims and for these children and their families. Yet, a part of me wishes that some of these people where as passionate about the Gospel as they are about their guns.) I know this issue is very complex and reaches farther than just mere gun control but wouldn’t we all want to live in a world where arms and violence did not exist. But like I said, it’s not that simple. I’m just a priest that likes to keep his eyes and his dreams fixed on heaven praying that we may experience some of that paradise down here. The only solution is to center our lives, our culture, and most importantly our families on Jesus Christ. He must reign in each and every one of our hearts so that we can slowly start to transform this culture of death that glorifies violence, and like the first verse of the third chapter of Zephaniah said, transform a city, a nation, a people, and a culture that does not hear the voice of God nor draws near to him. Yet God himself wants to renew and restore this very people. He wants to restore and re-create each one of us so that we can radiate with the love and the joy of his only begotten Son.
So we come back to the question that was asked of John the Baptist: “what should we do?” In a word: repent. That was the central message of John as prepared the way of the Lord. We repent by letting God’s holy wrath overwhelm and cleanse our hearts of all impurities so that we can be bearers of his joy just like Mary was the bearer of Joy himself: Christ the Lord.
Even though we approach the altar of the Lord with heavy hearts this Sunday, we must not let anyone take away the joy that Christ has given to us and that we so eagerly expect this Christmas. We mourn as a nation, but we also pray for our nation that we may return to the Lord so that we may never experience this sorrow again. Accept the invitation the Lord is offering you to be cleanse your heart in the sacrament of confession this Advent so that we may be ready to receive Him with hearts restored and renewed this Christmas. Then we will be able to spread his joy one person at a time and slowly start turning our nation back to God. Our world, now more than ever, needs this joy, needs repentance, needs this Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!