Third Sunday of Advent

It's the season for letters to Santa.  Here's one.   Dear Santa, this year please bring me a big fat bank account and a slim body. And please don't mix the two up like you did last year.  Thanks. I suspect Santa probably will mix the two up again.

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent; it's known as Gaudete Sunday. The word “Gaudete” is a Latin verb which translates as “rejoice”: because Jesus, the joy of our salvation, is about to be born.

Christmas Eve is only eight days away, and  Christmas songs are already heard all around.

Many of you know the “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, Catholics in England were harassed for practicing their faith openly. So someone wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a statement about Catholic belief. The carol has two levels of meaning.  On a religious level:

The Partridge in a pear tree symbolizes Jesus Christ.
The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.
The three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
The five golden rings are the Torah: the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
The six geese a-laying are the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming mean the seven gifts of the Spirit.
Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the spirit.
Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.
And 12 drummers drumming are the points of belief in the Apostles Creed.

So, while singing or hearing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” you might want to test your or your family's religious education!

The word of God takes us back to the seventh century before Jesus. The author of the book of Zephaniah sings a hymn of freedom from tyranny. Shout for joy, sing, be glad, the author proclaims. Why? Because “God is in your midst,” and will free you from the tyrannies all around you. And God also is near us, especially in “tough” times.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in Greece, urged them to be joyful and generous, to pray confidently to God, and not to be anxious about their lives.  Yes, the word invites us to cast our worries upon God because God loves us unconditionally.

In the Gospel according to Luke, John the Baptizer preached repentance. When the crowds asked what they should do, John answered simply, help the needy, be fair and honest in your business dealings, and don’t be greedy. John went on to say, “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.”

What caught my attention today was the courage of John the Baptizer.

John had the courage to proclaim repentance--living a God-centered, other centered life—despite the opposition he faced.   John also had the courage to speak truth to power—King Herod--, and paid with his life. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing. He was a profile in courage.

A common phrase in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” Or “Be not afraid.” Between the Old and New Testaments, the phrases appear more than one thousand times. I think God is trying to get a message across to us?

Some psychologists argue that fear is a dominant emotion. Think about it. We're afraid of rejection and failure, afraid of certain parts of town, afraid of certain types of people, afraid of criticism, afraid to say how we really feel and what we really think. We're afraid of so many things. Fears can paralyze us. In fact, fear stops more people from doing something extraordinary than lack of ability.  As an aside, I read somewhere that the # 1 fear in the United States is having to give a speech.   And the # 2 fear is having to listen to one.

Now courage is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear. Look through the pages of history and identify people you admire. Read, for example, Doris Goodwin's bestseller “Leadership” or  Roberts' “Churchill: Walking with Destiny.”Who would these people be without courage? I’d venture to say nothing worthwhile in life is achieved without courage. So much can be accomplished in one moment of courage. By the same token, much can be lost in one moment of fear. 

Courage is an acquired virtue. You learn to ride a bicycle by riding a bicycle. You learn to play a sport, or a musical instrument, by playing. You acquire courage by practicing courage. 

Virtues are like muscles—when you exercise them, they become stronger.  John Glenn, for example, logged thousands of aeronautical miles before he became the first American to orbit the earth.
Starting a new venture, making a sacramental commitment like marriage or ordination, struggling to overcome an addiction, coming humbly before God in prayer: they all require courage.  It animates us and makes so many things possible.   In fact, many argue that the measure of one's life is the measure of one's courage.

It takes courage to do something “just right” as Therese of Lisieux did daily when called upon to choose between careful quality and what’s slipshod or just enough.

It takes courage to stand on principle and an informed conscience, as Thomas More did against King Henry VIII, when More was called upon to speak up for what was right.

In short, it takes courage to choose what is right in decisions that affect work, career, family and social life. We know that in the struggles of life we are not alone. God has given us the seven gifts of the Spirit, especially wisdom, right judgment and courage. With God near, we can move beyond our fear and do the right thing.

The challenges of leading a good life demand courage. In the end, a life lived in accordance with an informed conscience and grounded in courage leaves us at peace within oneself. And only such a life — and the struggle to have an informed conscience and to stand up for what's right — can bestow this peace, this inner calm that comes from being in harmony with God and with our own inner best self.

 So, always seek what is right as John the Baptizer did: not what is fashionable, not what is expected by others, not what is merely acceptable, but simply what is right and good. And having found what is right and good: “just do it.”

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