Vigil for the third Sunday in Advent

Sister Helen Mueting, OSB | Dec. 15, 2018

Tomorrow is Gaudate Sunday, a time to rejoice. Why are we called to rejoice at this time, and why above all people to introduce this Sunday, do we have John the Baptist, who prior to tonight’s Gospel reading, addressed the crowd as a “brood of vipers” who are fleeing from God’s wrath? The purpose of John’s preaching was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, which is something in which to rejoice. This coming is imminent, and the people want to know how to get ready for this important guest. Three different groups ask what they must do. John says first to the crowds, “Let those who have two coats, give one to the one who has none.” Those who have food should do the same. To the tax collectors, he says don’t extort money from people. To the soldiers he says, don’t bully anyone or denounce someone falsely.

These people are excited about the coming of the Messiah, but have no idea of how to get ready for such an important guest. I’m not sure that John gave them the answer they were looking for, but his answer was clear. He preached repentance, and this repentance meant not only being sorry for their sins but also changing their lives. We can ask the same question of the prophets today. As we look at the refugees fleeing from violence and dictatorial leaders, the poor living in makeshift homes under bridges and in wooded areas, the earth being destroyed by deforestation and water and air pollution, or even the woman or man in line before us being questioned or treated unjustly, what must we do? As we see walls being built and tear gas being used on women and children, what must we do?

If we are rejoicing because the coming of the Messiah is near, what must we do to prepare a world where Christ is welcome? We know that John called for repentance, for a change of heart. How do we change our hearts?

In a similar way, Paul in Galatians speaks of a change of heart. He begins by telling how to correct someone else’s sins. Paul emphasizes the words “gently set” this person right and carry his/her burdens. We are to be gentle because we could be this person who has sinned. We cannot say we are better than others. Paul says look to our own conduct. We are as vulnerable as others to temptations. We can just as easily sit back and watch the refugee being turned away, look at the effects of climate change on third world countries, or watch a person of another race being treated unjustly and do nothing. We could be the one who belittles another, gossips about another, or makes another’s life miserable.

Are we ready today to hear the prophets’ answer to our question, “What must we do?” Are we ready to be gentle in our dealings with others who criticize us, who irritate us, who stand against everything we value? Can we carry their burdens of doubt, of low self-esteem, of arrogance, of fear? Are we willing to make sacrifices to protect our environment for the future? Are we willing to hear the Pope’s call to care for our neighbor no matter who that neighbor is or from where that neighbor comes?

What must we do to prepare for Christ’s coming today so that we can truly celebrate his arrival? May we rejoice because our hearts and lives are truly being changed as we listen to what the prophets of today are calling us to do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.