Zeph 3:14-18 ; Phil 4:4-7 ; Lk 3:10-18.
Advent is a beautiful, rich and complex season. If we are sometimes a little unsure of what it is really about, that is not surprising: the Church itself is unsure!! The Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy unequivocally brings Advent back to its original place and character, putting it at the end of the liturgical year, looking towards the Parousia, and emphasising that it is not a penitential season but one of joyful hope. The ‘Norms’ issued by the Vatican soon afterwards contradicted this, leaving Advent at the beginning of the year, looking towards Christmas, and keeping the penitential character, with purple vestments and no ‘Gloria’. This Sunday, at least goes with Vatican II, mitigating the purple and definitely going for joy.
One of the special things about the Advent liturgy is the wonderful riches of imagery offered to us in almost every reading; ‘visuals’ and pictures abound, many of them very beautiful. It would greatly enrich the season for us if we paid attention – and even visualised some of them. One that I always notice in today’s first reading is: ‘The Lord dancing with shouts of joy over us.’ We know ‘the Lord takes delight in his people’, but what a picture! Are we too solemn and serious and make the Lord so too? Can your ‘Lord’ dance with whoops of joy? Why not?
John the Baptist is clearly an Advent figure. We honour him as the precursor of Jesus and because Jesus honoured him. But John and Jesus are very different. Both are prophets – John the last of the Old Testament, Jesus inaugurating the New Covenant. John recognised that while he preached, Jesus would not just preach but enable with the power of the Spirit. John is an extreme ascetic and preaches moral conversion, sometimes with ‘fire and brimstone’; Jesus comes out of the desert and lives a normal social life and proclaims with compassion the profound truth of the coming of the ‘Kingdom of God’. John is a moralist; Jesus is a mystic. John tells us what we should do; Jesus tells us who and what we are in relation to himself and the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Traditionally, Christians, and especially we Catholics, put a very high value on asceticism and huge emphasis on moral behaviour and avoidance of sin. Many of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus and walk his joyful way. Are we disciples of John or of Jesus?
Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP