Life and Soul

Word this Week

St John the Baptist Baptises the People, by Nicolas Poussin

The prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent prays that we who await the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity might celebrate the joys of so great a salvation with glad rejoicing.

For many the final preparations for Christmas bring stress rather than joy. Perhaps it is not too late to stand back from immediate preparations and allow the spirit of Advent to concentrate our prayer on the lasting joy that it proclaims.

The prophet Zephaniah invited the holy city of Jerusalem to exult, with all her heart, in the Lord who had repealed her sentence. This same Lord, the King of Israel, stood in her midst.

The prophecy referred to events in Israel’s recent past. The Babylonian invasion had destroyed Jerusalem and enslaved her population. Changing world powers had assisted Israel’s restoration, reassuring a broken people that God had heard their cry, that he dwelt in their midst.

We are far removed from these events, but the essentials of Zephaniah’s call to joy remain the same. Whatever our circumstances, we bring a burden of sin to the approaching celebration. Rather than sweeping the past year under the carpet, let us bring it to our approaching Lord. Long ago he had comforted Jerusalem with words of forgiveness. In the days ahead let us seek that same forgiveness, sharing forgiveness in our homes and parishes. Such forgiveness, received and shared, would bring abiding joy to our Christmas celebration. “The Lord your God is in your midst. He 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.”

Let us allow these comforting words to heal our inner wounds, to set us free from the bitterness that clings, the isolation that cannot be bridged. Our greatest joy is to know that, in a busy life, God’s presence reaches out to us. What we cannot overcome, the Lord renews with his love. This is no grudging love. Despite our unworthiness, it is an extravagant love that rejoices in us, that invites us to be embraced in its dance of joy. Such love, once received, is lasting joy.

John the Baptist, the herald of Christ’s presence, reminds us of values that are frequently overlooked in a commercial Christmas. We should be generous, just and kind in all our dealings. In the Spirit of John the Baptist, we should place others, rather than ourselves, at the centre of our preparations. “I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Let us pray for the humility that allows our lives to become the work of the Holy Spirit. Such humility was Mary’s lasting joy in response to her Son and Saviour.

Readings for the third Sunday of Advent, Zeph 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18 (Year C)