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The Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary Cycle C
In the United States unemployment numbers are down but inflation continues to rise. Extreme weather conditions are destroying communities but some politicians debunk the cause of climate change. Many countries have more open borders but Pope Francis chastised other nations for turning vulnerable immigrants away.
The first of two Summits for Democracy was hosted by President Biden while Russian troops are pressing in on Ukraine’s borders. And, December 10th was International Human Rights Day as millions of refugees and minorities are held captive by tyranny.
Resilience, transformation and hope are the resounding themes in today’s biblical texts. But given signs of fragility in the world how do these words help us? The message from Zephaniah 3:14-18a is one example. The prophet encouraged the Judeans as they made their way to Jerusalem with plans for reconstructing their Temple. 
Zephaniah urged: “You have no further misfortune to fear, God is in your midst. God will renew you in God’s love.” Where’s the good news? These “chosen people” once gave up on God. Now they are singing a different song of renewed assurance that God never stopped walking with them.
In today’s section from First Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 the people of God are encouraged to “cry out with joy, that they be confident and unafraid. Make God’s deeds and glorious achievements known among the nations.”
How are people who have no power or wealth expected to cry out with joy? Where is the good news for them? This text summons anyone who lives in freedom to do something about breaking the chains of poverty. The expectation is that, somehow, the divine presence that radiates in their lives will make freedom possible for others who are helpless.
We hear this same message throughout the liturgical year — that God calls us to be caretakers of every facet of creation that has been gifted to us. That charge is emphasized today on Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday when the entrance antiphon resounds: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” These lines are found in today’s reading from Philippians 4:4-7. Paul is still in jail urging his readers: remain united, do not be anxious, be thankful, be kind to everyone, and pray.
Why should the Philippians have paid any attention to this message? Why should we? Paul is quick to answer: “The peace of God surpasses all understanding and God has anointed us to bring glad tidings to the poor [meaning anyone living on the edges of society].
According to Carla Works, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary, “Joy, for Paul, is not a feeling that is dependent upon circumstances. It is a theological act. It is choosing to reflect on God’s actions to redeem the cosmos even when all the present circumstances might indicate that some other power had won.”
Putting faith into action can be hampered by the busy-ness of this season, anxieties over an unrelenting pandemic, concerns about dwindling democracies, and the emergence of new places of exile. In her latest book, Ilia Delio, scientist and theologian at Villanova University, adds: “… if you stay true to what you see because the power of God is the light of your vision, then you will change the world because you yourself will be changed.”
Delio believes contemplation and the eucharist are helpful tools in bringing about this vision. For us it could mean learning to meditate. To meditate we have to sit still more often to get in touch with our inner being. “Relaxing and calming the body as we breathe in and out” can bring us joy.  Once energized and transformed we can join others to spread that joy in the world.
We are called to be in communion with all people and not only with members of our respective congregations or cliques of like-minded friends. Catholics will recall that the Church is a “sacrament of Unity.”  Those involved in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogues continue to imagine the creation of a common bond uniting people of all faiths in working to establish a peaceful kin-dom of God now.
Countless people are busy making this goal a reality. There are regional food banks and local food pantries, community collections of toys, refugee centers, neighborhood soup kitchens, counseling services, shelters for homeless families and programs to educate incarcerated women and men. These are examples that God’s sovereignty on earth is slowly emerging.
In the gospel from Luke (3:10-18) we read that everyone came to be baptized  John informed these seekers that personal transformation is essential if they want to follow the Coming One. Initiation into the life of Christ is a life long process involving a constant awareness of our place in the ever unfolding cosmic enterprise. Dealing with injustice and treating all people with kindness and mercy are expressions of gratitude for the favors (graces) of God.
The value of our many religious traditions is that they call us to focus on the gifts of first fruits, light and joy. We are urged to share these blessings with those living on the edges of society at least in our own backyards. These are the best presents we can distribute. They also can nourish and shape our consciences, strengthen our purposes, and bolster our behaviors in the public realm.
Where is the good news? We are the good news.
1. Thanks to the Edict of Cyrus the Babylonian captivity ended in 586 BCE.
2. Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Sit. Berkeley CA: Parallax Press, 2014, p. 51.
3. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 26 is a reference to the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishops. Since the Vatican II Ecumenical Council the word “church” has been used in reference to all Christian churches.
4. From the Greek language the expression “to baptize” means to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe.