Homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent 2009

The catchy song that says “Don't Worry, Be Happy” can seem hollow when we are carrying difficult burdens. It is no use saying to someone who is grieving, don't cry, be happy, you will get over it. They can be empty sentiments. Yet it is to precisely at such times in our lives that Advent speaks and calls us to rejoice.

This Sunday is sometimes called “Gaudete Sunday”, “rejoice” in English, because of its emphasis on joy. Both the reading from Zephaniah and Paul urge us to be happy. But we may not be feeling particularly happy ourselves.

It is God who is suggesting to us that we rejoice. In an extraordinary outburst the prophet Zephaniah says God “will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.” God's love is always creative and healing. There is every reason to rejoice.

You may be familiar with what are called “songlines”. From what I have read the indigenous people of Australia have songs and dances with which they identify themselves with the landscape. With these songs they are also able to navigate vast distances across the continent. These songs are like maps. A GPS system! In the dreaming these songs are said to have created the very landscape itself

It is a bit similar here in Zephaniah. God's joy and love for his people will recreate them out of their sorrow and fear. It is of this joyful expectation that Advent sings. This growing expectation is reflected our growing number of stars on our Advent banner over the Chapel. Even though we might be sad in our hearts we can still rejoice because God rejoices in us. Because this joy is not just an emotional one but a joy based on the goodness of God.

Paul seems to be addressing the people of Philippi because they needed to be reassured in their difficulties. The Lord is very near, he says, so there is no need to worry. Just pray.

John the Baptist's listeners shared this feeling of expectancy, so we are told in the Gospel today. Tempted to think that John was the one they could put their trust in John reassured the people that he was not the one. Rather, he baptised only with water. The messiah will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. But Jesus did not live up to even John's expectations. Perhaps this is why John sent messengers from prison to Jesus asking if he is the Messiah. Jesus left any notion of judgement in the Father's hands for sometime in the future.

John's baptism of repentance only prepared for the coming of Jesus. Jesus' mission would be to invite us to respond to the power of the Holy Spirit to take his mission to all the world. Luke tells this in his account of Pentecost when what seemed like tongues of fire descended on the apostles. This is a very different kind of “baptism”. It is not a fire to destroy but to purify and empower.

We, like the crowds, ask what must we do? John did not tell the crowds to live the austere kind of life as he did. Nor did he tell soldiers and tax collectors to resign their jobs which were open to abuse and seek other employment. He suggested simply that they do what they do with honesty and integrity always aware of the needs of others. We don't have to change the world in order to prepare for the reign of God's justice. We begin with just ourselves.

So our hope and confidence does not depend on the fickle price of oil or gold, share price or dollar. Or on the state of our relationships. But the confidence with which we deal with the ups and downs of the economy, politics and our personal life comes from the deep joy we have in God and God has in us.

Fr Graham