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Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Advent


A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah
(Chapter 3:14-18A)
 
This prophecy warns the Jewish people of God’s judgment of the nation because of its sins but, like much of the prophetic literature, it ends with a promise of God’s blessings on those who survive: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”
 
Now, that’s excitement! We Americans have had such moments—most recently VJ Day, the end of World War Two. People came out in the streets, bands played, and a whole country rejoiced at the end of that terrible war. The Jewish people, whose punishment would consist of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon, would ultimately experience similar elation, but Zephaniah wants them to know that all this comes from the power of God. “The Lord has removed the judgement against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. … He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” The prophet is well aware that there are political reasons why this could happen, but he wants the people to know that the mercy of God is the ultimate reason.
 
Today, something positive and important might happen to any one of us for what seem like obvious reasons but there is also the deeper dimension of our Father at work.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6)
 
“Cry out with Joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” When was the last time that you cried out with joy and gladness because of the presence of God in your life? Try to bring back that feeling in your life. It may have been lost among so much other “stuff.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 4:4-7)
 
Here is the whole of this beautiful reading: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: but, in everything, by prayer and petition rejoice! Your kindness shall be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
 
“Have no anxiety at all.” How can that work for us who live in an age of anxiety? Anxiety is a billion-dollar industry of multiple medications and therapies, many of which are extremely helpful in the healing process. But what about spiritual healing? More and more people seek spiritual healing through a variety of methods but all too often give up when they do not receive immediate relief from anxiety and the disorders associated with it. That is where prayer comes in—not a prayer here and there but an ongoing spirit of prayer to our all-loving Savior.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:10-18)
 
People were attracted to John the Baptist. They could hear and feel the power of his message, so they asked him. “ ‘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 has been prescribed.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is that that we should we do?’ He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.’ ”
 
John the Baptist was a challenging prophet and leader, calling on the powerful people of society to act with justice toward the poor and the oppressed. This did not sit well with the rulers of Israel and John died for his beliefs.
 
But in this passage, John says something amazing: “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. This is the same baptism that we receive today, and it imparts to us the presence of the Holy Spirit. That means that you and I are never alone. We have our lifetime spiritual partner living within us, the very Spirit of God. Please remember that, especially in times of trouble, and yes, anxiety.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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