December 16, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The question posed to John in the desert goes right to the heart of the matter: “What should we do?” “What should we do to prepare for the coming of God?”
His reply challenges his listeners to social responsibility. Acts of justice are what John asks of the people who come for baptism. Repentance for the baptized means doing justice. Making the way for God is a matter of justice.
John speaks to people where they are. To tax collectors he speaks of the justice they can do. To soldiers he speaks of the justice they can do. In whatever walk of life, act justly in your dealings with others.
This message from the prophet of Advent challenges 21st century Americans who worship at the altar of individualism. John’s words rock our world, where individual rights have become an idol. For John the Baptist speaks of responsibilities, the responsibility we have to care for one another.
What we choose to do affects everyone else—family, neighbors, co-workers, the world. We are not free to do what we want when we want and how we want. No, we are not. There is a little four-letter word many people avoid and some even deny these days that gets in the way: DUTY. Every choice carries with it some responsibility or some duty.
What John the Baptist ultimately says to us is that we shall see the salvation of our God when people who have give, not because it is Christmas but because it is our duty. What John the Baptist ultimately says to us is that we prepare for the coming of the Savior when we stop holding on to what we have and share with others, because it is our responsibility to do so.
Give because it is Just, give because it is Right, and because it is our duty. The Justice John speaks of does not come from leftovers nor from guilt; it comes from repentance and a change in life, a change in values, and a change in focus. It is rooted in a spirituality which is free of fear and anxiety, free of selfishness and guilt. It is a spirituality alive with love and gratitude, and it is the way for us to be ready for the coming of God.
Living such a Spirit-filled life produces the fruit of kindness, a kindness which frees us from the torment of anxiety and makes room in our lives for joy to be born and flourish. The duty of love, which produces kindness, makes room in our lives for peace to take root, the peace of God which is beyond all understanding, another fruit of the Spirit.
Those who do not take this approach to life, those who do not give but take, those who hold onto not just their money and their material stuff, but who hold onto resentment and bitterness, are tortured by anxiety and bereft of peace. By holding on instead of giving, by selfishly focusing on themselves, they do not make room for the coming One who is the source of all peace and joy.
As we make room in our hearts for others, as we make room for the Lord to come to us in those who need what we have to give. We then begin to see how we welcome him in those we serve. As we share what God has given us, we welcome God’s son coming to us through them.
When we live our lives in such a way, we discover something truly remarkable. When we give what we have been given to share, we catch a glimpse of God’s reaction.
The God who has given us life and love rejoices over us with gladness. The God who has put a song of gratitude into our heart sings joyfully because of us. And renews us by His life-giving love!