Monday, December 11, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 17, 2006)

Readings for today: Zephaniah 3:14-18a, Psalm 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:10-18.

The Lord is in our midst: let us be filled with thanksgiving, joy, and humility. Let our service to God be evident in our service to others.

First Reading: Zephaniah speaks words of comfort to Israel: Jerusalem should exult because God is returning to them, removing His judgment and turning away their enemies (3:14-15). This refers to the birth of the Messiah, paralleled in the gospel according to Luke: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior (3:16b-17a, Luke 2:10-11).

Second Reading: Paul tells the Phillipians that their kindness should be known to all (4:5). Certainly, we can do this without being the attention-seeking hypocrites Jesus warns about (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18). Paul also implores that they not be anxious and that their requests to God be made by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving (4:6). Here Paul echoes Jesus's instruction on prayer (Matthew 6:7-15). Above all, though, this brief passage from Paul's letter reminds us to rejoice always in the Lord, for he is near -- he is in our midst, as Zephaniah proclaimed. Through rejoicing, proper conduct, and humble prayer, comes an incomprehensible peace from God alone that will protect you. In this Advent season, when everything seems to be focused on rushing and "only 13 shopping days left" and the like, it's comforting to hear that the Lord is near and that he offers a peace of mind that cannot be found outside of him.

Gospel: Luke continues writing about the ministry of John the Baptist. Just prior to this excerpt, John says to the crowd, "Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance", and he warns them not to fall into complacency, saying to themselves "'We have Abraham as our father'" (3:8). Do we as Christians forget that a living faith is fruitful and not sedentary? Are we comfortable just believing in Jesus as our Savior and God and not actually following his commandments to us?

John the Baptist gives the crowd examples of proper conduct:
  • "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (3:11)
  • To tax collectors he said, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." (3:13)
  • To soliders he said, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages." (3:14)
It is interesting to note that he does not speak out against tax collection or the military, but that those who fill those positions should do so with justice and fairness.

Because of his wisdom and justice, people thought John was the Messiah (3:15). John recognized his place as the messenger of the Lord (Malachi 3:1a) and corrected the people, telling them of the one to come after him who would baptize them "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (3:16). Luke writes that John exhorted the people (3:18); an exhortation is an urgent appeal or admonition. Do we still feel that same sense of urgency as Christians? Or do we think of ourselves as above reproach, not in need of admonishment?

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