Advent 3 Sunday C - Gaudete - Rejoice

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

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 The Lord has repealed your sentence.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!
Viktor Frankl

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.
Mark Link

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

Word manipulation
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

Today’s 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. That’s 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 Saviour’s help, it is possible to be happy even under trying circumstances.”
Daniel Sundararaj in ‘Manna for the Soul’

 Today’s 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. John’s 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. God’s 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: Once upon a time there was a little girl named Jeanne Marie who was afraid of the dark. She wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless all the lights in her room were on. You couldn’t never tell, she argued, who’d sneak into her room at night if it were dark. She absolutely refused to go into her closet because, like the boy in comics several years ago, she thought monsters might lurk in the closet especially at night. She claimed that she could hear the monsters talking about what they were going to do to her. Although she like snow, she hated winter because it was dark so much of the time. She didn’t like to go off to the country for vacation because there were no street lights and the dark was very scary indeed.  

 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.
She came home from school one day with the story of the midnight sun in Sweden in the summer. Lets live there, she said. But in the winter the sun hardly ever shines there, her mommy said. Well, where does it go. To the South Pole. Well, lets live there. It’s too cold. I don’t care, so long as it’s not dark. Then one day her mommy and daddy took her to midnight Mass in the church. It was totally dark inside. Jeanne Marie was terrified. Then the priest flicked the switch and the church was filled with light. Oh, said Jeanne Marie, it’s so pretty. Light always comes on, doesn’t it mommy? If you wait long enough.

 2)    “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 with dire consequences. Today’s gospel presents John the Baptist warning the Jews of the need of repentance and conversion with prophetic courage. 

3)    South Padre Island causeway tragedy:  
A few  years ago, a barge hit a support beam on the causeway going from Port Isabel to South Padre Island in far south Texas. 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.  Every person in those cars died.  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. 

4)    Why not spank instead of baptizing:  

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) 

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.   
 7)    The martyrs in dungeons:

waiting to be tortured and/or killed, waiting to die, waited in peace.  And St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint of Auschwitz, who asked that he be killed instead of Franciszek Gajownachek, a young father whom the Nazis had picked for execution, sat in peace in the starvation cell united to God, waiting to die.  St. Margaret Ward also showed the courage of her conviction and the peace that union with Christ brings regardless of what was happening around her or to her.  You probably never heard of her.  I think it is important that we be aware of the heroic women of our Church as well as the heroic men.  Margaret Ward was an English Catholic during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  St. Margaret refused to tell the whereabouts of a priest she helped escape from prison.  She was arrested and tortured.  Then her captors pretended to be merciful and told her that this all would all end if she renounced her faith.  With all these horrible things happening to her, she still remained at peace until they finally killed her.  Her persecutors simply could not take the peace of Christ from her. And they tried with the viciousness of the devils they were.

8) John was no goose preacher:
Soren Kierkegaard the famous 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 goose 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 were 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.

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,

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. [( 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.   [] 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-ExupĂ©ry’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! 

From the

1)    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.

2)    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.

Sally Sedgwick
3)    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, 
4)    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
5)    Preparation

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.

6)    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
7)    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...