This reflection was published as part of the Advent Guide 2021: A Time of Hope and Healing.
“Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”
- Isaiah 12: 2
For this third Sunday of Advent, in the first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah, we hear, “Shout for joy, Oh daughter Zion!” and in the psalm, “Cry out with joy and gladness!” In the second reading, we are invited to “have no anxiety at all” but rather bring our needs to God,” for then the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
These invitations to rejoice freely without anxiety can feel empty as we face a world full of turmoil and suffering. What do these invitations mean? Where can we find the strength and inspiration to rejoice amidst the challenges facing our society and world?
John the Baptist’s words in today’s Gospel provide some direction.
In response to John’s call to “repent” and “prepare the way of the Lord,” the crowds ask him, “What should we do?” He calls on them to seek charity and justice: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.” To the soldiers and tax collectors he says, “Stop practicing extortion.”
John’s words “[fill] the people with expectation” and make them wonder if he is the Messiah. He replies, “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
John instructed the people to pursue acts of justice and charity according to their means and role in society. In his own life, John had deep faith that his work was only the beginning of the transformation that is to come – he could contribute to God’s mission through his preaching and had a childlike faith that Jesus would fulfill the work he had begun.
His example can help us reflect on how we can begin to set right the wrongs we see in society around us, and yet have faith that our efforts, though drops in the bucket, will be completed and fulfilled by the work of God. The peace and rejoicing we are called to this Advent is not a callous merriment that avoids the reality of suffering, but a divine peace that surpasses our understanding. It is a peace that is cultivated by our taking a first step, responding to God’s call to “prepare the way.”
Every vaccine dose shared around the world, every letter to a representative written, every effort to protect the climate, and every moment spent in prayer is worthwhile, contributing to the deposit of goodness that prepares the way for God’s Kingdom. As we prepare to welcome Christ as a child, may we grow in our childlike faith.
Maryknoll lay missioner Debbie Northern writes, “In my nearly 23 years of mission, I have seen tremendous faith in the people with whom I have worked. In the midst of poverty, oppression, and injustice, they are able to put their trust in God and persevere. As they say in El Salvador, “Dios primero” (God first). As someone who comes from the United States, I often think I can do things on my own and forget to trust in God.”
Questions for Reflection:
When have you been inspired by someone’s example of childlike faith? What is one step you can take to promote justice and charity in your daily life?
Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
-Bishop Ken Untener
Faith in Action:
Urge President Biden to take further action to advance global vaccine access: https://maryknollogc.org/alerts/urge-president-biden-take-further-action-global-vaccine-access
Explore and share resources from the Catholic Cares Coalition, a group of organizations working to advance national and international vaccine access and acceptance: https://www.catholiccares.org/