In the first reading the prophet Zephaniah invites the Israelites to shout for joy: “Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has repealed your sentence. The King of Israel is in your midst; you have nothing to fear.” Christianity is a religion of Joy and if we are not happy Christians there is something wrong with our faith. Even when there is nothing in particular to rejoice about in our own lives, we can still rejoice that the Lord has been good to our fellow human beings, to our community, to our world. Those who seek will always discover the marvels the Lord has done and is doing for us. We rejoice because the Lord himself rejoices over us. We are his beloved in whom he is well pleased. Viktor Frankl in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ narrates how one day in the concentration camp, the Gestapo ordered him to strip. He obediently did as directed and stood before his persecutors stark naked but with his head held high. The only possession on his person was his wedding band. Walking up to him, one of the guards grabbed his hand and forcibly pulled it off his finger. Viktor sheepishly submitted –he just had no alternative. But even as he suffered this shameful indignity, he said to himself, “You can take away my wife, you can take away my children, you can strip me of my clothes, but there is one thing no person can ever take from me –and that is my freedom to choose how I react to what happens to me!” That was Viktor Frankl’s resolute determination and that was the secret of his ultimate victory. In his own words: “Happiness is a choice which ultimately transforms our tragedies into triumphs.”- No one takes away our joy and happiness! It is our choice!
In the Gospel Luke puts before us the central figure of John the Baptist and his uncompromising message. We like to believe that God is all gentle and loving, that he accepts us as we are, and is ready to forgive us. But this can lead us to complacency. When John spoke to the people at the Jordan he confronted them and challenged them. He pointed out the way they needed to repent, to change. To receive the love of God, to let them be filled with Joy they had to get rid of the barriers that sin had created in their lives. Moved by his clarion call the people asked him, “What must we do?” No doubt John the Baptist had a disturbing effect on the people when he showed up on the banks of the Jordan. Some people undoubtedly ridiculed him, others were angered by him, others deep down in their hearts knew that they were guilty of wrongdoing. All of us are guilty of some wrongdoing in our lives. “What must we do?” Admit our guilt and ask for forgiveness!
A number of years ago the Dean of American Psychiatry, Dr. Karl Menninger, surprised a lot of people by writing a book called 'Whatever Became of Sin?’ He began it with a humorous but thought provoking story. One sunny morning in September 1972, a street preacher appeared on a busy corner of downtown Chicago. As office workers hurried by on their way to lunch, the street preacher would suddenly raise his arm, point a bony finger at an office worker, and shout, “Guilty!” Then he would stiffen up, pause a few moments and start over again. He’d raise his right arm, point his finger to an office worker and shout, “Guilty!” “The effect on the pedestrians was almost eerie,” said Dr. Menninger. They would glance at the preacher, look away, glance back and hurry on.
What should we do?
John calls his hearers to common sense change. Anna Quindlen is a Pulitzer Prize author, and writes a biweekly column in Newsweek magazine. She has a new book – ‘A Short guide to Life’, in which she doesn't address people's finances and careers, her usual writing domain. Rather, while respecting people's need to work, develop their careers and put food on the table, she reminds her readers that a career is not our identity. She calls for developing meaningful relationships. She understands that many people must work two or three jobs for survival but, she says, there are a lot of people of comfortable means who have made work their identity and let their family relationships and friendships suffer as a consequence. She warns that one day these people are going to look up and notice that their lives are empty and significant people are nowhere to be found. Such modern voices are a warning similar to the one John addresses to his hearers. Look at your lives. What must be changed so as to put first things first?
The Lord is near! A guru once revealed the route by which he was led to God’s realization. “First,” he said, “God took me to the Land of Action and after many years to the Land of Sorrows.” He continued, “Then, I was taken to the Land of Love where I was emptied of everything, next, God took me to the Land of Silence, where I pondered the mysteries of life.” The impatient disciples asked, “What was the final stage?” The guru replied, “God finally said that I’d see God’s innermost self, and, God led me to the Land of Joy.” Jesus brings joy because he binds broken hearts and breaks captives’ chains. His joy will be ours if we too, in the power of the Spirit, help him free the broken hearted and captives. But this, demands breaking our own chains first. Are we ready?
Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds; Francis Gonsalves, SJ
I recall a very artistic presentation of our modern regard for the truth in a movie entitled The Candidate some years ago. The hero was an activist lawyer who agreed to run for public office. The media people were astounded at his first press conference. He spoke on a host of major issues with such directness that some of the journalists literally gasped at his answers. But he “learned” as the screenplay unfolded. He became more evasive; he parried the well-aimed thrusts of reporters with cleverly worded but empty slogans. He “learned” so well that he, the hopeless underdog, won the election. And then - he had no idea of what he was committed to! What a sad ending. -It is refreshing to read this Sunday of a man named John who unaffectedly speaks the simple truth. His ability to do so comes, no doubt, from his mystical relationship with a Nazarene carpenter who would say, a few years later, “I am the truth.”
Sunday Morning Insights; Eugene F. Lauer
Todays reading from the Book of Zephaniah was written around 640 B.C. when Assyrian gods were being worshipped even in Jerusalem. Although most of Zephaniah is gloomy, here he presented hope, to reside in the remnant of the Jews that would remain faithful. The city and the people are to rejoice because the Lord is coming to save them. Twice he states that despite sad things that are happening, God is in their midst.
God is in the midst of our sadness too, and like the people of that time, we must remove our arrogance and pride in order to receive him. To rub it in, the psalmist, despite our fears and weaknesses, cheerily demands that we cry out with joy, that we be confident and unafraid. Sing and shout for joy for great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel.
The Source Of Joy Folklore tells the story of a Guru who sought to learn from the Master the stages he had passed through his quest for the divine. He said, God first led me by the hand into the Land of Action, where I dwelt for several years. Then he returned and led me into the land of Sorrows; there I lived until my heart was purged of every inordinate attachment. Thats when I found myself in the Land of Love, whose burning flames consumed whatever was left in me of self. This brought me to the Land of Silence, where the mysteries of life and death were bared before my wondering eyes. Was that the final stage of your quest? they asked. No, the Master said. One day God said, Today I shall take you to the innermost sanctuary, to the heart of God himself. And I was led into the Land of Laughter.-Harold Buetow
Paul in his letter to the Philippians asks them to be happy. I want you to be happy in the Lord always. What I want is your happiness. He asks them to be unselfish and keep away all worries, for there is no need to worry. If there is anything that we need we only have to ask the Lord who always answers our prayers. In every situation we should be thankful, in tears as well as in laughter. The experience of his peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts.
Praising In Pain Hanna R. Higgins, the author of the book Clouds and Sunshine was a bedridden invalid for over fifty years. As a young girl she was afflicted with a strange bone disease, and her legs had to be amputated. She lived through intense suffering and pain, bearing everything patiently and cheerfully as she was a completely committed Christian. Everyone who came to meet and talk to her went away feeling blessed. She used to call her bed the Thanksgiving Corner. She rejoiced in the Lord and radiated Christian joy, peace and glory. Her prayer list for missionaries and workers included over 200 names and she prayed without ceasing. Her book was written when she was 77 and she says, I long for all to rove, as I do, that with our loving Saviours help, it is possible to be happy even under trying circumstances.
Daniel Sundararaj in Manna for the Soul
Todays gospel expands the theme of joy. This joy is born out of the belief that the Lord is very near. He stands among us. John the Baptist points out the way to Christ, which is also the way to happiness. The crowds ask him, What must we do to be happy? John tailored his answers to the questioners. Johns answer to the crowds in general had to do with charity; that they share what they have with the less fortunate. The answer to the tax collectors concerned social justice: they are to avoid dishonesty,
greed and ill-gotten wealth. The answer to the soldiers and the power-holders was that they should stop bullying, and blackmailing. All these questioners liked what they heard though the answers were blunt and forthright. This was good news that John gave them. Could he be the Messiah?
But John was clear about his identity. He received his identity in relationship to Christ. I am not the one, I am unfit to untie his sandal. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John is a witness, his role is to point away from himself to the Other, the one more worthy by far. The greatness of the Baptist is manifested in the utterly unselfish way he hands over to Jesus. He says it is his joy to be friend
of the Bridegroom, and to hand over the bride to him. John is the voice, Jesus is the Word. John is the lamp, Jesus is the light. Like John the Baptist we are not asked to be anything beyond ourselves. I am not and need not pretend to be the Christ, nor a great prophet. Our task is to offer ourselves to be his witness, his voice and his lamp. We are to recognize his presence within us.
Listening to the words of John the Baptist, the people realize the necessity of changing something in their way of life. Like them, we ask: What must we do? The first condition of any conversion is to abandon our self-sufficiency and to recognize the need to be profoundly touched by some word, which will take us out of ourselves. Let each of us then take stock of our situation and see how best to fulfill our
obligations of social justice, mutual support and charity in our particular circumstances and work. The many individuals who cast a first glance at themselves and accept to open themselves to the unforeseeable ways of god in the concrete reality of their daily lives become a people with a feeling of expectancy.
Someone is coming who will continue within our hearts the itinerary, which is already begun. Today too precursors arise who prepare the way, asking in our day the fundamental question about life and death. Gods prophets point always to another more powerful than themselves: Jesus Christ, who still comes to baptize each one in fire, to burn the chaff, and in the Spirit, to gather the ripe wheat.Glenstal Bible Missal
What Should We Do? How Should We Live?
There was a certain kingdom that had been blessed with kings who were both wise and good. The explanation was thought to lie in a magic ring, always worn by the oldest son who inherited the throne. But then a problem arose as the present king had twins, whom he loved equally. As he fell ill and thinking he was about to die, he hit on a plan. He got another ring made exactly like the first. Then he called his two sons separately and gave them each a ring. When one of the sons, Peter, found out that his brother had also received a ring he made a terrible scene. The king consulted a wise man to help him decide the issue. After examining the rings the wise man declared: I cannot tell which of you is wearing the magic ring. However, whichever of you displays the greatest amount of goodness in his life will prove beyond doubt that he possesses the magic ring. It was agreed. As it happened, the king recovered and after years when he was nearing his end, he called his sons to decide which one had the magic ring. Peter claimed he possessed it. But the people who knew him best thought differently. His wife said he had shown her very little affection and his children said he was never at home. His servants claimed he was hard on them and his neighbours complained that he was forever stirring trouble among them. When Paul came in he made no claims whatever of having the magic ring. The people who knew him said he was kind and they were full of praise for him. He proved a loving husband and a kind father to his children. He treated his servants with respect and he had been a force for peace among his neighbours.
Finally the King asked Peter to produce the ring. I no longer have it answered Paul, as I gave it many years ago to a poor woman to sell and buy some food and clothes. Far from being angry, the king was pleased on hearing this. It merely confirmed him in his belief that the verdict he had reached was the correct one and in due course Paul
ascended the throne and donned the crown. Our deeds witness to our lives.
Flor McCarthy in Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies
From Tony Kadavil:
1) Girl Named Jeanne Marie:
The monsters who had hidden in her closet now wandered the streets of the summer village and lurked in the woods. She was frightened when she went to the movies because the theaters were too dark. Her mother said to her once aren’t you old enough now not to be afraid of the dark. She said, no, the older she got the more reasons she should think of for being afraid of the dark.
5) "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."
6) 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.
9) You Must Get Past John
William Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, says that John the Baptist reminds us of boundaries we must respect and gates we must pass through. At Duke, Willimon reminds the students, "If you are going to graduate, you must first get past the English Department. If you are going to practice law, you must pass the bar. If you want to get to medical school you must survive Organic Chemistry." Likewise, "If you want to get to the joy of Bethlehem in the presence of Jesus, you must get past John the Baptist in the desert." The word from John is "repent," which means "about-face" or turning 180 degrees.
Richard A. Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World.
10) Seeing God
There is a story going around about a man who wanted to see and hear God. So he went out to a hilltop and yelled and pleaded with God. "Speak to me!" And a bird sang. And disappointed he again begged God to speak to him and all he heard was the sound of children playing in the distance. "Please God, touch me!" he cried and the wind blew across his cheek. And discouraged at not having his plea answered the man prayed, "God, show yourself to me!" And a butterfly flew across his path. And when he got home, convinced that God had forsaken him, his daughter ran out to greet him, but he felt abandoned by God.
Now hearing a story like this, it is easy to see God. But in this story this man was as certain about what it means to see and hear God as we are about the end of the stories we heard today.
11) Time to Act
Once the eminent philosopher John Dewey found his son in the bathroom. The floor was flooded and he was mopping furiously trying to contain the water in that room, keeping the damage to a minimum. The professor began thinking, trying to understand the deeper ramifications of the situation. After a few moments, the son said, "Dad, this is not the time to philosophize. It is time to mop!"
Baptism is our statement that we are ready to stop philosophizing and ready to start mopping. Zig Ziglar reminds us that the largest locomotive in the world can be held in its tracks while standing still simply by placing a single one-inch block of wood in front of each of the eight drive wheels. The same locomotive moving at 100 miles per hour can crash through a wall of steel reinforced concrete five feet thick, but it must be moving first.
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.sermons.com
12) The Wayward Bus
In John Steinbeck's story "The Wayward Bus" a dilapidated old bus takes a cross country shortcut on its journey to Los Angeles, and gets stuck in the mud. While the drivers go for assistance, the passengers take refuge in a cave. It is a curious company of people and it is obvious that the author is attempting to get across the point that these people are lost spiritually as well as literally. As they enter into this cave, the author calls the reader's attention to the fact that as they enter they must pass a word that has been scrawled with paint over the entrance. The word is repent. Although Steinbeck calls that to the reader's attention it is interesting that none of the passengers pay any attention to it whatsoever.
All too often this is our story. Yet, John the Baptist calls upon us to take our sinning seriously. Why? Because God does? Repentance is not just changing our minds, or feeling sorry for something that we have done, or even making bold resolves that we will never participate in certain conduct again. Instead, repentance means to turn around and go in another direction. What John the Baptist wanted his audience to hear was: Turn your life toward this one called Messiah. This is not negative or down-faced. Rather, it breaks the chains of oppression and death that hold us back.
Repent Your Way to a Merry Christmas, Brett Blair and Staff
A few years ago as the world watched the beginning game of the World Series in San Francisco there was suddenly an interruption of the opening interview. The screen blinked and went blank. When the program resumed: A Special News Bulletin. The San Francisco metropolitan area had experienced a serious earthquake. We all watched the live pictures as the huge fire in the Marina area burned. A remote camera crew was there and we saw the firemen fighting the fires. The scene I remember the most, however, was a group of people standing around just looking at the destruction and looking at the fire. All of a sudden a cop came up to the crowd and yelled out to them: What are you people doing just standing there. You must get prepared immediately. Go home and fill your bathtubs up with water. Be prepared to live without city services for 72 hours. The sun will set in another hour and your time is running out. Go hence and get prepared.
A long, long time ago a man came on the scene by the name of John the Baptist. John's message was not told in soft monotones, but rather there was an urgent screaming in his voice. "Why are you not getting ready?" he yelled to the Hebrews. Why are you just standing there. Don't you see that your time is running out on you. You need to be preparing the way. Making the path straight. Go and get ready.
That message may sound very strange to our modern ears, but the simple truth is that is Jesus were standing here in the flesh this morning and we asked him to give a list of the preachers who were most instrumental upon him, he would have listed the name of John the Baptist. There is just simply no question about that. There was no single human being who was more influential upon the life and career of Jesus than John.
14) Christian Hope Had Changed His Life
Some years ago a military airplane crashed at Sonderstrom Air Force Base in Greenland. Twenty-two people were killed. The runway and the nearby fields were strewn with bodies. It was a tragic and horrible moment. There was only one chaplain on the base at the time... and the entire burden was laid on him to bring comfort and the Word of Christ to a shocked community staggered by the horrendous accident. But there was little time to mourn that day. The grisly task of gathering up and identifying the bodies needed to be done.
And so, the chaplain, along with a young lieutenant who had been assigned the duties of a mortuary officer and a group of volunteers went about the awful business of picking up the mutilated bodies and trying to identify the dead, so that their families and loved ones back home could be notified. It was a heart-breaking and exhausting task, but it had to be done. The people worked in shocked silence well into the night until they almost dropped from fatigue. When every last remnant of death had been picked up, they each went silently to their individual rooms.
That night, after midnight, there was a knock on the chaplain's door. Outside stood the young lieutenant, the Mortuary Officer. He said nothing. He just stood there and wept. After some moments, the young lieutenant spoke through his tears and he said to the chaplain, "As we were picking up the bodies today, I realized something. I realized that the only other people out there with us were the people who go to church here. I have always been an unbeliever, and I used to ridicule these same people who were out there with us. Yet they are the only persons who would, or perhaps could, do what we had to do today. It must have been their Christian spirit that could help them see beyond the horror to the hope."
That tragic day turned around the life of that young lieutenant. As he had admitted, he had never been religious, had seldom gone to church except for weddings and funerals, but from that time on he was a new man. Christ was born in his heart. From that time forward, he took an active part in the Christian ministry of that base. Then he did an unheard thing - he extended his tour of duty in Greenland for an extra year. He was the first person in the history of that base to do that. He did it because he wanted to be able to tell others the story of how the power of the Christian Hope had changed his life.
If you want to give your loved ones a great Christmas present this year, give them the gift of Christian Hope. On page after page of the New Testament we find it: the Good News that God will win, that nothing can defeat Him; that ultimately God and goodness will have the victory and that when we put our hope in Him, nothing, not even death, can separate us from His watch care and His love and His triumph. Once each year, Christmas comes along to renew our hope and to remind us that the darkness of this world cannot overcome the light of the world.
James W. Moore, ChristianGlobe Sermons
15) Blessed Are They Who Find Christmas...
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the age-old story of a babe born in Bethlehem. To them a little child will always mean hope and promise to a troubled world.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the Christmas star. Their lives may ever reflect its beauty and light.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the joy of giving lovingly to others. They shall share the gladness and joy of the shepherds and wise men of old.
Blessed are they who find Christmas in the fragrant greens, the cheerful holly and soft flicker of candles. To them shall come bright memories of love and happiness...