The Church invites us to begin this third week of Advent in a spirit of joy. However, we may find ourselves becoming anxious with all the preparations still left to be completed in order to be ready for Christmas Day with family and friends. Our to-do list is growing and our calendar is filling up with activities and parties to attend. Today’s Gospel proposes a question for us as we face this frenzy of preparation: “What should we do?” This is the question that was repeatedly put to John the Baptist by those who were eager to respond to his call to repentance. We ask it of ourselves: “What should we do to prepare well for the coming of the Lord?”
The question of what we should do will receive totally different answers depending on the point of view we take. If we are only concerned about external matters, there are many preparations to complete, enough to take up all our time and energy. From a spiritual point of view, however, we see something more important, the interior preparations we must make. The answers John gives to his questioners are simple and practical, but they are not merely external. To share with the poor, to treat people fairly, to do our work conscientiously – these things flow from an inner change. A true change of heart leads to a change in our behavior, especially our treatment of our neighbor.
Changing our way of life is a serious obligation, but seriousness does not mean sadness. Our looking forward to Christmas should include great joy in the coming of the Lord, “the Son of God who for love of us emptied himself completely and made himself a tiny child,” as Pope Benedict XVI says in this week’s Spiritual Reflection. The spirit of Christian joy prevails over this whole week, beginning with this special day of joy, Gaudete Sunday.
The first reading is overflowing with this spirit of rejoicing and expectation: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” The reading explains beautifully the reason for our joy: the Lord is on our side; he is not holding any judgment against us. His joy in saving us is the basis for our joy in being saved. “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love…” God is coming to renew us in his love! Jesus is coming to reveal to us the Father’s love and to reconcile us with him. He is coming to renew us with his love, that is, with his Holy Spirit! We have great reasons for rejoicing!
With this assurance, we realize that we have no reason to give in to anxiety. As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.” The God who loves us and wants to renew us in his love also wants to strengthen our relationship with him. We can go to him and make our requests known, trusting that he hears and will answer in a way that is for our eternal good. When we hold firm to this truth in faith, we can live without anxiety. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
The third week of Advent is not a time for frenzy and anxiety. It is a time for us to allow God to renew us in his love – which is what Christmas is really about. Yes, One mightier than John the Baptist is coming, and not one of us is “worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals,” but he is coming to save us, to baptize us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” – the fire of Divine Love.
Am I willing to change interiorly? When does anxiety interfere with my sense of joy? Do I seek the inner renewal that God offers to me each day?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.